Monday, February 24, 2020

Living Without Electricity - Book Review, Notes, and Memories

I'm working on my list of books to read on Goodreads. This week I read Living Without Electricity by Stephen Scott and Kenneth Pellman. The book focuses on how the Amish live without electricity and also explains how they have created ways to light their homes, heat their homes, be entertained, communicate without a phone, and get around without a car.

The authors explain that the Amish value simplicity and self-denial over comfort, convenience, and leisure. So they try to discern the long-range effects of an innovation before deciding whether to adopt it.

Amish home in Southeastern Minnesota.
Olivia visited the business here when 
we were in the area camping in May 2018.

Some interesting facts from the book:
- While electrical power was available to many city dwellers in the early 1900s, the majority of rural North Americans had no access to current until the 1930s or 1940s.

No power lines leading to the house is 
one sign that an Amish family lives in it.
(Taken in May 2018.)

- Most Amish believe that the number of devices that can be operated by a battery or generator is limited, and that careful use of such items poses minimal risk to community values.
- An old-fashioned pitcher pump provides cistern water for washing in the kitchen. (As a side note: I remember visiting my Uncle Walt and Aunt Beulah's farm in Illinois and they had a water pump like this inside their home.)
- Windmill towers topped by large, flower-like fans...are often used to pump water into elevated storage tanks and to fill water reservoirs near or under the house which are tapped by hand "pitcher" pumps. (Side note: My uncle and aunt had a windmill and outdoor pump as well. I remember using it when we would visit them.)

Windmill that Olivia painted in 2016 
for a customer.

- Wood-burning water heaters [and] gas and kerosene water heaters [are used by the Amish]. (We have a gas water heater at our farm.)
- The Amish hang their laundry on clotheslines year-round. In some communities, very long wash lines attached to large pulleys extend from house to barn. In Lancaster County, the clothesline often runs into the wash house. This allows the person doing the laundry to hang up the wash inside and convey it out through a door. In wet weather, clothes are placed on wooden racks inside or hung on lines in the basement or another room. A drying rack often is positioned above the cookstove.

Clothes drying on lines at an Amish farm.
(Taken in May 2018.)

- Wedding festivities last all day.
- Fellowship meals follow each bi-weekly church service.
- An important part of Amish life is informal visiting. Families often visit one another without advance notice, and it is common for unexpected guests to stay for a meal.

Olivia and I stopped at an Amish bakery business at someone's home.
There were many visitors there that day as evidenced by the buggies.
We could hear singing inside the home.
(Taken in May 2018.)

- Women and girls usually sew, quilt, knit, embroider, cross-stitch, or do other kinds of needlework.
- Checkers, chess, Parcheesi, and even Monopoly are among popular table games.
- Amish children act out farming practices or horse-and-buggy trips. Baler twine serves effectively as reins, and a wagon as a buggy.
- Though musical instruments are strongly discouraged among the Amish, some families enjoy singing together without accompaniment.
- Many Amish participate in circle letters, in which people of similar interests, occupations, or situations (such as widows, teachers, or harness-makes) correspond with one another. Typically, a person receives a packet containing letters from each person in the circle. The receiver takes out the portion he or she had written for the last round and adds a new letter, before sending the whole batch to the next round.
- One of the weekly newspapers in the U.S. is the Budget. The letters include reports on weather, visits, illnesses, accidents, church services, births, deaths, and marriages.
- Convenient transportation tends to make it easier to yield to temptation. With a car, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want .This is especially harmful to young people.

Following a horse and buggy at a safe distance.
(Taken in May 2018.)

- The Amish point out further that cars are often objects of pride and can become status symbols. The feature of style, speed, comfort, and convenience...are in direct opposition to the Amish values of nonconformity, simplicity, self-denial, and humility.

There was a section about different types of lighting systems including natural gas and pressure lanterns. It reminded me of learning how to use propane gas lights in a cabin. It was a bit unnerving at the beginning using them, but I became more comfortable once I used them more.

Another section of the book discussed cooking with propane gas and how some Amish are permitted to use bottled gas and can cook on gas ranges like those used by non-Amish people. This is no different than what I use right now. My parents had an electric stove upstairs and a natural gas stove in the basement in the laundry room. They would use that when they did canning and when we had company and needed a second oven or stove to make food.

Since moving to our farm in 1995, I've used propane and a gas stove. I like that there is immediate heat versus the gradual-heat-up of an electric stove.

I had to laugh about the refrigeration methods used and how they sound like what we do sometimes: "The most conservative Amish groups use only natural refrigeration for food items. In cold weather, setting perishables outside or in unheated parts of the house suffices." I can't even count the number of times we've done this same thing. We have an unheated mudroom that we have put things in as an extension of our refrigerator.

One of the things that was difficult for me to see was a picture of a horse hooked up to a device to pump water. The horse had a wooden circle it would walk on to generate the power for the water pump. They also use horses like this for powering a washing machine or turning a lathe. I thought it would be a sad life for a horse to have to walk around in a circle for a prolonged period of time.

These horses, thankfully, were not hooked up to devices to pump water.
This Amish farm had a variety of large horses and young foals
who were enjoying galloping in the pasture and
relaxing and watching people. 
(Taken in May 2018.)

There was a chapter about doing laundry. There was a picture of a wringer washer. My parents had the same exact wringer washer as is pictured in the book. The difference is that my parents plugged their washer into the wall to use it while the Amish would use a gasoline engine, compressed air, or a hydraulic pump. I remember getting my hand stuck in the wringer part when my mom stepped away from the washer momentarily. It really hurt. Thankfully, none of my bones broke when that happened.

The chapter also described hanging clothes inside in wet weather and outdoors in all other types of weather. I remember my parents doing laundry and hanging up clothes outside. My mom typically would do this. However, when my dad was on summer break from being a school social worker, he enjoyed hanging up clothes outdoors as well.

My mom asked me sometimes to help. The "rules" were that personal garments (underwear) were hung on the line under the deck out of neighbors' view; and the other clothes were hung on the lines that extended from the house to the trees (east to west). The wind from the north and west would blow the clothes and give them that fresh outdoor scent. The only thing I didn't like having line-dried were towels.

What I thought was insightful was the concern about using a machine that allows one person to do a job that used to require several people to do that job. The Amish aren't in favor of that because, although it does save time, it prevents a sense of community from developing.

Another Amish farm and greenhouse business 
that Olivia and I visited.
(Taken in May 2018.)

Near the end of the book was the statement, "The Old Order Amish are not against change, but try to carefully determine which changes might adversely affect their church and community." I think this thoughtful approach to life is with merit. What if each person carefully considered how the decisions they made would affect themselves, their families, community, and world? What a different world we would live in.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Beginner's Grace - Book Review and Notes

I recently read Beginner's Grace - Bringing Prayer to Life by Kate Braestrup. As I began reading the book, it seemed familiar - as if I may have read it at some point.

Nonetheless, it was interesting to read the book (perhaps for a second time) and reminiscing about some of the prayers that I either said and/or heard a lot while growing up. Others were new ones that were written by the author.

This was a familiar prayer. I remember saying it nightly. I had a little angel that glowed in the dark that was on my shelf on top of my dresser. It provided a sense of comfort after I said the prayer.

Now I lay me own to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I like this prayer for its simplicity and something that I could say at the beginning of each day.

May love and strength be in my hands
May love and courage be in my heart
May love and wisdom be in my mind
May love be with you and work through me today
And in all my days.

I like the thought of doing this - even as an adult. With so much negativity and violence in today's world, this would be good to remember to do:

When he was a little boy, Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers)...would go to a theater to see a film in those days. The feature would be preceded by a cartoon and then a newsreel, which, Mmr. Rogers reports, was usually pretty awful. During one particularly heartrending newsreel, Mr. Rogers's mother leaned over to her son, "Look for the helpers." Lo and behold, in the midst of whatever mayhem was unfolding, little Fred would always be able to find someone - a firefighter, an ambulance driver, a passerby - trying to help. 

This is a short prayer the author says when she sees an ambulance or other emergency vehicle:

God grant courage to those who suffer;
Strength and peace to those who help.

I found this interesting:

Human beings share about 98 percent of their DNA with chimpanzees, and biologist Jared Diamond has claimed that Homo sapiens should really be classified as a species of chimpanzee, given that we are closer in our DNA to chimps (whether Pan troglodytes or Pan paniscus, the Bonobo) than a horse is to a zebra or, indeed, than an African elephant is to an Indian elephant.

Something to keep in mind regarding your attitude:

What you think becomes what you feel, and your feelings flow from your body as magnetic energy waves that travel over vast distances, somehow causing the universe around you to vibrate at exactly the same level or energy as your feelings. 

I thought this would be a fun game to try with others to see what they say:

Q: If you were a domestic animal, what kind of domestic animal would you be?
A: ___________________________
Q: Why?
A: Because _______________________s are ________________ and ________________.
Q: Okay, if you were a wild animal, what kind would you be?
A: ___________________________
Q: Why?
A: Because _______________________s are ________________ and ________________.

The domestic animal represents the way you think other people see you. The wild animal is how you see yourself.

I like this simple prayer to be said before a meal:

We are thankful for the food
And for the hands that prepared it
And for the our family and for our friends.

This is the prayer that my parents and us kids would say before each meal when I was growing up. My parents would say it until they died (or, in the case of my Dad, until he was no longer able to remember it due to Alzheimer's Disease):

Bless us, O Lord and these thy gifts
Which are about to receive from Thy bounty
Through Christ our Lord

This is another nice thing to say or think before a meal:

For the food before us
And the friends beside us
And the love that surrounds us
We are truly grateful.

When I read the prayer below, it reminded me of going to Camp Lockslea and other Girl Scout camps and singing this song before a meal:

Oh! The Lord is good to me
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me
The things I need
The sun and the moon and the apple tree
The Lord is good to me.

I've heard pastors at church say this prayer:

May the Lord bless and keep you
May the Lord make His Face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you
May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you
And give you peace.

When I read this prayer, I could hear the lyrics to the song. It brought me right back to being a child and hearing my Dad play this song on his record player. He really liked this song:

Day by day, dear Lord,
These things I pray...
To see Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
And to follow Thee more nearly,
Day by day.

This was noted as a Parent's Prayer in the book. I like the message of it and wouldn't hesitate to say or write it to Sophia and Olivia:

May you comport yourselves with dignity and treat others and yourselves with kindness.
May you remember to say "I'm sorry" when it counts;
And "I love you" when it's hard to say, and therefore matters most.
May you both express and experience thankfulness.
May this be a life of courage, kindness, and honor. May it be a life of joy.

Hearing The Lord's Prayer was something familiar that I heard and would say at church each Sunday. My parents expected that my sister, brother, and I would go to church. We did until I was 15 years old when I stopped going. It hurt them deeply that I no longer wanted to go to their church, yet I didn't feel a connection to the church and all of its beliefs.

Our Father, who are in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name,
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us,
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
Forever and ever. Amen.

One final prayer that I liked in Beginner's Grace  follows:

May God bless and protect me
May God smile on me and smile through me
May God befriend me and let me be a better friend
May God make me peaceful and a maker of peace.

I enjoyed reading this book and am happy to have a collection of prayers now that represent memories from childhood to ones that fit my life right now.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Hawaiian Poke Bowl

After going to a restaurant and bubble tea bar in St. Paul a couple of times, I wanted to see if there were any recipes for a poke bowl that I could make at home since Sophia and I enjoyed them so much at the restaurant. This is what I was hoping to replicate at home:

I found a recipe for a Hawaiian Poke Bowl on a pin on Pinterest that led to Contentedness Cooking. This is a vegan and gluten-free recipe (if made according to the recipe). My modifications made it neither vegan or gluten-free since I used chicken and yum yum sauce.

As a side note, after I took the picture, I realized that it probably would be more visually-appealing to put the sauce in a squeeze bottle so it didn't come out in clumps.

Anyway, the recipe says that the prep and total time is 10 minutes. However, sushi rice takes longer than 10 minutes to prepare, so the recipe does take longer to make. I used the recipe below as a starting point and adapted it to what we had on hand. If made exactly as the recipe says below, four people could eat.


1 cup sushi rice, uncooked
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 cups white cabbage, shredded (I didn't use cabbage)
sriracha mayo (3/4 cup vegenaise, 1/4 cup sriracha) (I used yum yum sauce instead since that is what the restaurant used)
1 cup edamame (I didn't use edamame - never have cared for them)
salt, pepper to taste

Optional add ons:
3/4 cup shredded carrots
1 cup cucumber slices
4 tsp seaweed (dulse) flakes (I didn't use these)
1 small bunch scallions, chopped (I didn't use these, but would next time)
1 avocado, sliced into cubes (I didn't use this, but would next time)
1/4 cup sesame seeds (I didn't use these, but would next time)
1/3 cup chopped macadamias (I didn't use these, but would next time)
tamari to taste (I didn't use this)
2 tsp freshly grated ginger (I didn't use these, but would next time)


Cook the Sushi rice according to the package directions.

Prepare veggies like white cabbage, edamame, and optional add ons (carrots, avocado cubes, cucumber slices, chopped macadamias, seaweed flakes, scallions).

For the cabbage: After mixing vegenaise and sriracha sauce, you can add the full amount to the shredded cabbage or reserve 1/4 for topping.

Next and last is assembling the Hawaiian poke bowl: start with rice, next is cabbage, veggies and your optional add ons.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder- Artist Study

Pieter Bruegel the Elder was born in the Netherlands. According to A Child's Introduction to Art by Heather Alexandder, Bruegel apprenticed for a painter and publisher in Antwerp, which was a city of wealthy bankers who hoped to fill their homes with art. He took a trip to Italy, and on the way back home, he became fascinated by the Alps Mountains and surrounding forests.

Bruegel liked to paint peasants, or farmers, in the countryside. However, he was not a peasant himself. In fact, he was quite wealthy and lived in a large city. In order to paint them, Bruegel, along with one of his patrons from the city, would dress in peasant clothing and go out to the countryside Together they would sneak into fairs and weddings, pretending they were invited guests.

He would study the rural people's looks and gestures, and then make quick sketches. Later, he would go back to his city studio and paint the scenes he remembered.

In Splat! The Most Exciting Artists of All Time, by Mary Richards, there are some interesting facts about Bruegel:
- His paintings tell the story of everyday life and ordinary people at work and at play.
- Bruegel's work included oil paintings, drawings, and prints.
- He lived in Antwerp and Brussels, in modern-day Belgium.
- There are about 40 surviving paintings including Children's Games, The Hunters in the Snow, and The Harvesters.

Below are six paintings that Pieter Bruegel the Elder created. Olivia studied each of them and shared some things that she remembered about them.

The Tower of Babel
Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Oil on wood panel
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Olivia remembered:
- In the picture, there is this great big building that is round.
- The walls look like they are a standstone, but the inside is a reddish color.
- There are people walking on the ledges that stick out from the walls - so it is like a big ramp that goes all the way around.
- At the bottom of the tower, there is a bay with ships in it. On the beach there looks like they have brought in more of the red rock.
- To the right corner of the picture, there is a quarry - maybe - because there are more of the same rocks that they used to make the walls.
- There are people by the rocks and it looks like they are having a conversation.
- One has a white cloak, the other is dressed in a yellow tunic, while some of them look like they are guards and have spears.
- Behind the people in the distance is a town or village, but it is very big.
- Below the people, it looks like there is a small flock of sheep.
- To get to the tower, you need to go over a bridge that is made of stone. And the tower is so tall, that there is a cloud covering the front of it.
- The sky is blue and it looks like a very nice day. There are clouds in it.
- The land is very green and you can see the ocean a little bit in the distance as well.
- The tower seems to have a lot of doorways and windows in the wall, so you can always see out to the land.
- People all over the tower - they're just walking around and maybe working or bringing things up to finish the tower.

Hunters in the Snow
Oil on wood panel
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

According to "50 Artists You Should Know" by Thomas Koster, Bruegel did not depict only the work and pleasures of peasants, but also the large and small misfortunes and mishaps of daily life. In this painting, a house is on fire and some of the skaters are taking a tumble. 

In the book "Splat! The Most Exciting Artists of All Time," by Mary Richards, it is noted that this painting was from the series called "The Months," which showed peasants at work hunting, harvesting hay, picking fruit, chopping wood, ice skating, sledding, and drinking in a tavern....People agree that there were probably six [paintings in the series], one for each pair of months. In which case, the view of April and May is still missing!

Olivia remembered:
- The picture is set in the winter and it is a very hilly, mountainous terrain.
- There are two ponds - with one being connected to a river.
- There are people on the ponds ice fishing, and the river has a small stone bridge crossing it.
- There are some houses on the left side of the picture while on the right side there are houses going down the hill.
- There are three hunters on top of the hill that are being followed by dogs, and they are carrying wooden sticks. Some of the other hunters have a fire going next to the house. It looks like they are going to cook some of the birds they caught.
- There are birds in the trees above the hunters, and there is one flying.
- In the distance, there is a mountain with a grove of trees.
- The sky looks like it is the same color as the frozen pond, with a few clouds in the corner.
- The picture itself looks like it is a bit dreary for something that could be happy.
- The only thing that appears to be bright in the picture are the houses.
- By the fire, there is a stand which holds the caught birds or pheasants.
- The dogs are mostly shadows or just black, but some of them have the same reddish-tones as the houses, except a tad bit darker. There are all different size dogs - there are big ones and little ones.

The Peasant Wedding
Oil on panel
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

According to "Splat! The Most Exciting Artists of All Time," by Mary Richards, this piece is full of lively characters eating, drinking, and having fun. Bruegel pays great attention to the expressions on their faces and the details of their clothes.

Olivia remembered:
- The first thing that you notice in the picture is a man in a blue shirt with a white apron and he's got a kind of a funny red cap on his head, and he is holding the end what looks like a big tray with pies on it or porridge.
- The people are in a big room and in the back of the picture there is a little window that looks like it would be for bringing dishes to or getting more food.
- On the back wall there is a tapestry with a picture of maybe Mary or a saint, and I believe they are praying and there is a candle lantern above it. I don't know if it is part of the tapestry or not.
- In the left corner of the picture, there is a child who is sitting on the ground with a plate or very shallow bowls and he is licking it, and he is leaning against a tub full of cups.
- Next to the tub is a man and he is holding a cup, and he has a big pitcher that he is pouring ale or water...actually I don't think it is water. It is some kind of alcoholic bubbly.
- There are two men next to a table and they have bagpipes - some sort of musical instrument. They are playing.
- At the very crowded tables, are people sitting and talking and having a good time. There's lots of food on the table. I'm not sure what that window does because there is lots of food already on the table.
- Then on the right side of the picture, you have a woman and a woman sitting across from one another, and the woman appears to be talking to them and gesturing. The woman is dressed in white and the man is dressed in black with white or silver accents.
- The clothes are much nicer than the other people. I'm thinking now that they are the married couple.
- Most of the men and some of the women have caps or hats on their heads. They are all different colors - some are red, some are green, and some are brown. That goes with what they are wearing. Some of the women are wearing aprons too.
- There is a man sitting and as the two men who are carrying the big tray of food - he is reaching over and grabbing one and putting one on the table.
- The wall kind of has a yellowish-golden brownish color to it and it looks like it was made from the earth and clay.
- Instead of chairs, they have benches that look like they were handmade.
- The brightest color that you see is the red and then the white.
- The bride looks upset and her husband, the groom, has a red beard.
- Other than that, everyone seems very happy to see one another and talking to one another.

The Harvesters
Oil on wood
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

This is one of the six paintings in a set of six that depict the seasons. 

Olivia remembered:
- In the picture, there is a big wheat field and there are people harvesting the wheat.
- There is a path in the wheat on the left side and there are people walking through it.
- One person is carrying a bucket and is walking towards the people - the other people further down the path are walking away.
- On the right side, there is a tree and beneath the tree are people. One man is sprawled out underneath it and appears to be taking a nap.
- Next to him, a little ways away, is sitting on a wheat bundle and she appears to be rocking a baby and talking to the other children. They are sitting on a wheat bundle.
- On the right side of the picture, there is a smaller section of the wheat field and there are three workers. Two are tying the bundles of wheat together and one is cutting the wheat.
- In the distance, it looks like there is a house and the house has lots of trees in front of it and a little ways into the trees, it looks like there is a little building along with smoke - or what looks like smoke.
- On the left side, there are workers - one is cutting and the other is tying the bundles of wheat together.
- All the wheat bundles are tied together at the top and look like they look like they look like legs. I guess you could say they look like a moustache too.
- These people are dressed in mute colors and nothing too bright.
- Most of the men have pants and shirts on; and the women all seem to have aprons.
- In the distance, you can see the ocean or a river, since they are on top of a hill.
- It looks like it is a nice day. In the distance, there are big, dark clouds that could be from an incoming or retreating storm.
- In the distance, near the river or ocean, there are towns or houses.

Parable of the Sower
Oil on wood
Timken Museum of Art, San Diego, California

Olivia remembered:
- In the picture, there is a hill and on that hill there are trees and homes.
- In the distance, you can see the mountains. At the base of the mountains, there is a city and away from the city there are beaches - they are not very big and they don't look tropical.
- Above the mountains, there are clouds and it looks like a storm is coming in.
- On the hills, there is a house and there's a person walking up the hill with a basket in their arms.
- The forest has reddish and brownish colors to it - like there was a fire there.
- There's a church a little ways away and a road leading to it with people and maybe an animal with them.
- Beyond the church, there is the ocean and you can see ships coming in.
- Nobody is waiting for them at the church.
- The sky is a light blue where there aren't clouds. There are a couple of white, fluffy clouds.
- In the mountains, there is a valley or canyon in between them.
- The hill that the person is walking on looks kind of steep.
- All the houses are light-colored, and the city - if it wasn't being shadowed by the clouds - would look very light colored. I think there's a palm tree there.
- Really the only people are on the hills. The mountains seem more barren.
- There aren't very many people.
- There's a tree that got chopped down on the hill side.

The Wedding Dance
Oil on wood
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan

Olivia remembered:
- This is outside in the forest, and amongst the trees there are these huts with grass roofs. There are quite a few people and they all have kind of bright colors on.
- In the middle of the picture, you have a group of people dancing and some of the men are pot-bellied or chubby. You can see where they keep the pouches of money and these people look very well fed and happy.
- Near one of the huts on the right side of the picture, there looks like a kid and he has a big vase or urn and he's drinking out of it.
- Kind of right in front of him there looks like there are two people kissing.
- There are people playing bagpipes and appears that most people who are dancing are doing the same steps. Some people, though, are doing their own steps.
- In the background, there is an open field and there looks like there are rows of dirt. Next to the field (but within the trees) is a board and string tied to two trees with a cloth hanging over it.
- Next to the field is a woman and she has a big basket of something.
- There was a man standing on the right side of the picture, watching the dancing and he doesn't look too happy.
- Everybody again is wearing caps - at least the men are - and they are all different colors. The women appear to be wearing aprons.
- Bright colors - like blue and red with some black and dark green - are present.
- The trees look like they are mix of deciduous and conifers.
- Either the men only have tight clothing or that's how they like to wear it.
- You can't really see the sky, but you can see it is a blue.
- You don't see the married couple much.
- The grass is very green.
- There are people there who look like they are not enjoying themselves.
- Others look like they are having fun.
- There's a man who is standing to the side who doesn't look very happy.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Spicy Thai Noodle Bowls

I've been looking for some recipes for vegetarian meals and came across this pin on Pinterest that led to Life Made Simple Bakes for Spicy Thai Noodle Bowls.

The recipe is easy to make and took about 20 minutes to make. The recipe is for 6-8 servings. I used half the noodles (1/2 pound) and the full amount of sauce ingredients. This worked out really well - Olivia and I liked the amount of sauce for the noodles and it was the right amount of spice for her.

She ate her noodles without the vegetables and I had mine with the vegetables. We both like the custom versions we made. I definitely would make this recipe again.

20 Minute Spicy Thai Noodle Bowls


1 lb. spaghetti (I used linguine)
¼ c. vegetable or canola oil
1½ tsp. sesame oil
5 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. rice vinegar
½ tsp. Sriracha (more to taste)* (I didn't use this)
¼ c. peanut butter
2 tbsp. honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green onion, minced
½ red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 carrot, julienned
⅓ c. cilantro, chopped (I didn't use this since I didn't have it on hand, but would use it next time)
½ c. dry roasted peanuts, chopped and whole
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 tbsp. sesame seeds


Bring a large pot water to boil. Add spaghetti and cook till al dente.

Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, combine the vegetable oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, Sriracha, peanut butter, honey, minced garlic and minced green onion. Whisk vigorously until smooth.

Drain the noodles and return to the same large pot. Add the sauce, red bell pepper, carrot, cilantro, peanuts, crushed red pepper flakes and sesame seeds. Toss until combined, serve and garnish as desired.

Braving the Wilderness - Book Review & Notes

For the past couple of weeks, I've been reading Braving the Wilderness - The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown.

I'm not sure who recommended this book or where I heard about it, but it was well worth my time in reading. I wish I would have read this book decades ago.

Some things that Brene Brown wrote about that resonated with me are below.

- I used whatever (addiction) I could find to not feel vulnerable - drinking, smoking, caretaking, and overeating.
- You bend and stretch and grow, but you commit to not moving from who you are.
- Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutions for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
- We must sometimes stand alone in our decisions and beliefs despite our fear of criticism and rejection.
- BRAVING - Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault (don't share information or experiences that are not yours to share), Integrity, Nonjudgment, Generosity
- Use the words for assessing your level of self- trust:
B - Did I respect my own boundaries? Was I clear about what's okay and what's not okay?
R - Was I reliable? Did I do what I said I was going to do?
A - Did I hold myself accountable?
V - Did I respect the vault and share appropriately?
I  - Did I act from my integrity?
N - Didi I ask for what I needed? Was I nonjudgmental about needing help?
G - Was I generous toward myself?
- If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That's why it's your path.
- True belonging doesn't require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.
- Loneliness is the absence of meaningful social interaction - an intimate relationship, friendships, family gatherings, or even community or work group connections
- As an introvert, I deeply value alone time, and a I often feel the loneliest when I'm with other people.
- I don't think there's anything lonelier than being with people and feeling alone.
- Denying you feel lonely makes no more sense than denying you feel hunger. We feel shame even when our loneliness is caused by grief, loss, or heartbreak.
- When we feel isolated, disconnected, and lonely, we try to protect ourselves.
- It's not the quantity of friends but the quality of a few relationships that actually matters.
- Living with air pollution increases your odds of dying early by 5%. Living with obesity, 20%. Excessive drinking, 30%. And living with loneliness? It increases our odds of dying early by 45%.
- It's easier to be angry than it is to be hurt or scared.
- Pain is unrelenting. It will get our attention. Despite our attempts to drown it in addiction...pain will find a way to make itself known.
- Our families and culture believed that the vulnerability that it takes to acknowledge pain was weakness, so we were taught anger, rage, and denial instead. But what we know now is that when we deny our emotion, it owns us. When we own our emotion, we can rebuild and find our way through the pain.
- Sometimes anger can make a far more  difficult emotion like grief, regret, or shame, and we need to use it to dig into what we're really feeling. Either way, anger is a powerful catalyst but a life-sucking companion.
- Courage is forged in pain, but not in all pain. Pain that is denied or ignored becomes fear or hate. Anger that is never transformed becomes resentment and bitterness.
- For the first three-quarters of my life [I felt] like a square peg in a round hole.
- There's an unspoken message that the only stories worth telling are the stories that end up in history books. This is not true. Every story matters.
- Viola Davis lives by a few simple rules:
   1. I'm doing the best I can.
   2. I will allow myself to be seen.
   3. Got further. Don't  be afraid. Put it all out there.
   4. I will not be a mystery to my daughter. She will know me and I will share my stories with her - the stories of failure, shame, and accomplishment.
- I felt alone in the wilderness, but it was okay. I may not have been liked, and that didn't feel so great, but I was in my integrity.
- Neglecting to keep in close contact with people who are important to you is at least as dangerous to your health as a pack-a-day cigarette habit, hypertension, or obesity.
- Research shows that playing cards once a week or meeting friends every Wednesday night...adds as many years to our lives as taking beta blockers or quitting a pack-a-day smoking habit.
- In those vulnerable moments of individual or collective joy, we need to practice gratitude.
- Pain is also a vulnerable emotion. It takes real courage to allow ourselves to feel pain. When we're suffering, many of us are better at causing pain than  feeling it. We spread hurt rather than let it inside.
- We can spend our entire life betraying ourselves and choosing fitting in over standing alone. But once we've stood up for ourselves and our beliefs, the bar is higher.
- Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, joy, trust, intimacy, courage - everything that brings meaning to our life.
- When we let people take our vulnerability or fill us with their hate, we turn over our entire life to them.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Spicy Smoked Sausage Alfredo Bake

Olivia's birthday was last month and one of things we did was let her pick what she wanted to eat at each of the meals that day.

For breakfast, she wanted biscuits with cheese and bacon in the center. Lunch was at Burger King because she wanted to taste one of their shakes. For dinner, she picked a recipe off Pinterest for Spicy Smoked Sausage Alfredo Bake. The pin led to Lets Dish Recipes.

Spicy Smoked Sausage Alfredo Bake

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes

The tubes of pasta and smoked sausage were covered in a creamy, cheesy sauce. Olivia liked the sausage in it, but the rest of us were mixed about whether we liked the sausage in it or would have preferred it on the side.

Either way, it is a delicious and easy-to-prepare dinner. Olivia really like her birthday dinner.


16 ounces dry pasta
3 tablespoons butter
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups half and half
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I did not include the flakes because Olivia doesn't like spicy food)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese, divided
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 (12 oz) fully cooked smoked sausage, any variety


Cook pasta according to package directions until just al dente; drain.

While pasta cooks, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Stir in flour.

Whisk in chicken broth until smooth, then stir in half and half.

Add salt, pepper, cayenne, and red pepper flakes and simmer until sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes.

Stir in Parmesan cheese and 1 cup of mozzarella until cheeses are melted and smooth.

Slice sausage into 1/4 inch pieces and add to the sauce, along with the chopped parsley and cooked pasta. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed.

Preheat broiler. Pour the pasta mixture into a lightly greased, 9x13 inch baking dish. Top with remaining mozzarella cheese. Broil for 2-3 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and golden. (I didn't do this. It would have put a nice, crusty cheese cover on the pasta, though.)

Saturday, February 8, 2020

My Favorite Photos - January 2020

During January, there were some special occasions we celebrated, the trail cam captured more images of wildlife, and we enjoyed ordinary days. Below are some photos from January.

We went out on January 1st to celebrate New Year's Day as we normally do. We went to the Chinese buffet that we have gone to in the past. 

We had mixed reactions. We like going here because of tradition. However, after going to some restaurants to celebrate the girls' adoption days in  November and tasting some very well-prepared Asian food (Chinese and Japanese), our meal felt a bit too "American buffet like" and less like authentically-prepared Chinese food. Regardless, we still enjoyed spending time together.

A few days later, one of Sophia's friends from college flew back to Minnesota from being in California. After picking her up at the airport, we went to a Hawaiian poke restaurant and had a delicious meal with bubble tea.

On Sunday, January 5th, we went to see a huge snow sculpture. This is in someone's front yard! They create a different sea-theme snow sculpture each year and raise money for clean water in Africa. This year they raised over $62,000! It doesn't cost anything to visit the snow sculpture. This is money they collect from people wanting to make a donation.

One afternoon, I saw a flock of wild turkeys in the cornfield near us.

I love how three of the dogs rest in the bathroom with me when I take a bath. The floor is heated (which may be a factor why they like to be in there). They each have their own rug or towel when they lay down.

I moved the trail cam to different parts of the property. One night, there were two deer that walked by the trail cam.

This is the second one. She must have heard something behind her. There wasn't another deer - so perhaps she heard the horses in the barn.

One day we were having a snowstorm. Who should be out, but Hoss (the miniature horse) who was having a run time galloping through the pasture. I think he knows where the camera is because there are an awful lot of photos of him.

We celebrated Olivia's 17th birthday. She had hoped to get her ears pierced, but - after driving 50 minutes to the tattoo parlor (which also does piercings) - we found out they needed a birth certificate since she was a minor. Since they are regulated by the state, we needed to prove she was who she was and that we were, in fact, her parents.

She wanted to eat at Burger King for lunch, so we did that. We wanted to do something special since there was a big snowstorm that day and it was limiting what we could do.

Olivia asked for a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting for her 17th birthday. Her birthday banner is hanging in the background by the woodstove.

She blew out all the candles.

We ate at college with Sophia with a couple of times in January. There's a stir-fry section in the dining center which you can never go wrong with.

The snow lingered on the trees because of the cold weather and no wind.

The crabapple tree still has some fruit on it for the birds who will be migrating back to Minnesota next month.

Hard to believe, but in a few months the birds will be looking for birdhouses and places to nest.

 On January 25th, Olivia and I taught 4-Hers how to make suet bird feeders. The warm suet/birdseed mixture was poured into cupcake holders and had little yarn holders so they can be hung from trees.

Olivia and I taught an iris folding class after that to some of the 4-Hers at the winter workshop day. This is my example of iris folding. It's a simple pattern.

Olivia did a more complex one with more papers. I helped her cut out the design and the tiny part that marks the division between the body and tail broke off. Of course, I put the tape on the wrong side of the project. (You work from the backside of the paper to create the design.)

Olivia took a cupcake decorating class after that.

When we got home, an eagle was in one of the trees next to our driveway. The St. Croix River Association was having a Bald Eagle Count that day which we were participating in. We didn't see any other bald eagles - except this one right at our home!

It didn't stay too long. When we came back out of the house to get some photos, it flew off. It's hard to see, but its gold talons are right under its tail.

We went back to the tattoo shop a week later - in the afternoon of the 25th - to get the girls' ears pierced. Olivia had hers pierced when she was much younger. She went to Claire's where they use the ear-piercing gun. The back of her earrings ended up getting covered with skin and they had to be surgically removed. She debated if she ever wanted her ears pierced again after that. She did some research and found out that piercings are done differently at tattoo places and she wanted to get it done that way instead.

Ended up that the holes from the previous piercing was already there, so they just had to be re-opened. Much easier.

Sophia had a second piercing done in each of her ears. She actually had to have them pierced so it was interesting to watch the difference in procedure from using an ear-piercing gun.

Afterwards, we went to a new Chinese restaurant in the University of Minnesota area to celebrate Chinese New Year. We enjoyed the meal and had plenty of leftovers!

The next day, our friend the eagle came back. We were able to capture one photo of it before it flew off. It flew across the cornfield and towards the trees where at least a dozen crows started mobbing it. They did not want the eagle around their trees and territory.

The flowers from some of our flowering bushes stay on during the winter. They turn a tannish color (from being white with a hint of pink during the summer).

The suet feeders are on the tree. The birds - and squirrels - love them. The chickadees and smaller birds sit right on the feeder. The larger birds, like cardinals, sit on a branch and eat from there. The squirrels...well, they do everything possible to eat and take down the suet feeders.

All is not lost if the feeders end up on the ground.

The cardinals will quickly eat up the suet.

I placed the trail cam in some new locations. This time I placed it near the ground and got a lot of squirrel photos. This one makes me smile, with the squirrel looking like it is hopping over something.'s just the way they run.

Scooby celebrated his 13th birthday on the 13th. He picked out one special flavor of food for the dogs to share. Danny is practicing his pointing so he can pick out a flavor of food on his birthday.

The girls and I went to the salon on Friday, the 31st. They had their eyebrows waxed and I had a massage (a gift from Christmas). It was a special treat before we were coordinating a major service event the following day.

On the evening of the final day of January, Sophia was home and the pets were excited to see her. Here she is with five out of the seven indoor pets. All the dogs are in the photo. We're just missing two cats.