Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Plum Crazy

Lately I have taken notice that several people who contribute to this blog do a lot of canning. I am really impressed by the list of items they have preserved this season. Secretly, I am jealous as I am not much of a canning person. Though I LOVE seeing things I have bottled, My joy is short-lived. Once I open a jar of anything I have canned, I end up dumping all my hard work down the drain. My jam turns out looking like syrup with green fuzzy stuff growing on the inside of the jar, applesauce looks like rotten pie filling, my pie filling looks like a glob of toxic sludge (my husband’s definition- I’m not insulted, I thought he was being rather kind) certainly not fit for a pie, and my pickles are soggy and bitter.

Freezer jam. I can actually make freezer jam, but really that’s nothing to brag about since a first grader can make freezer jam.

Really, it’s just best if I don’t even bother to attempt to can food. So, I have learned my lesson. I have pretty much given up the idea of filling our pantry with home grown/canned items and instead, I try to hit the case lot sales for our food storage. No sense putting my families life at risk.

Putting aside my feelings of “canning inadequacy” I did decide to try one more thing that I had never attempted before. I went down to my dad’s to visit for a couple of days. He had two buckets of plums from his tree that he didn’t want to go to waste. He had been drying apple slices all week long so I came up with the brilliant idea that we could use his food dehydrator and make some fruit leather with the plums. How hard could it be?

I looked up a simple recipe on the computer and we proceeded to cut up the fruit. We decided to blend the fruit rather than “mash” it like the directions said. My dad was excited to use this high tech blender he had bought from my cousin who works for the manufacture of this supposedly wonderful device. The blender looked rather complicated to me, but my dad was so proud to try out his new gadget. So I shrugged it off and dumped the fruit in. I should have followed my instinct and gone for the blender made in the 50’s at the back of the cupboard-- “Good Ol’ Reliable,” she had never let us down yet.

I put the weird looking lid on the space age high tech machine and turned it on for all of two seconds. BOOM! The lid went flying off and purple mush flew all over the kitchen until my dad ran over to turn off the machine. I stood there in shock. Finally I looked at my dad. He had plum puree running down his face and in his hair. I couldn’t see his eyes through his glasses because they were completely coated with the globby mess. We had purple goop dripping off the ceiling and running down the walls. Clumps of plums and goo was slopping off my head and down my shirt. It was everywhere.

My dad took off his glasses and said, “What did you do?” I was speechless. I had no idea what I had done. After 45 mins. We got the kitchen cleaned up and we were ready to try it again. “I’ll do it this time,” he said., grabbing the lid from my hand. He put the lid on that crazy blender, tapped it a few times for good measure, and turned on the machine. BOOM! The lid sailed off and puree was everywhere AGAIN! I looked at my dad and said, “What did you do?” After a few choice words, “Ol’ Reliable” was looking better and better to him. We set about cleaning the kitchen for a second time. Then he called my cousin to find out what the lid’s problem was. It never occurred to us that it had anything to do with the operator of the machine. Third time, after being given specific instructions, it happened again. So once more we cleaned up the purple mess. By this time you’d think we would have given up, but oh no, we’re a stubborn lot. This lid would not get the best of us. It didn‘t take us quite as long to clean up the kitchen this time. We had gotten it down to a system. The kitchen was cleaned and we finally figured out how to work the blasted lid on the fourth try. There was enough puree to make a batch of leather. We did it! We were so excited!

Several hours later, we checked our leather. It was done. Once it was cool, we sat down to strip the leather away from the waxed paper and planned to roll into plastic wrap. There was such a sense of accomplishment to know we had finally achieved our goal after such an eventful morning!

We started to pull the leather away from the waxed paper, but what did we find? To our dismay, we learned that the leather had cooked into the wax paper and wouldn’t peel away from it so in the end, we had to throw it all away.

The good news is, my dad’s kitchen is really clean.

With the rest of the plums we made a small batch of freezer jam.

This is why I don’t can.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Book Review ~SHUDDER~ By Jennie Hansen

I am constantly impressed with Jennie Hansen and with every novel that she writes. Her newest release, Shudder is no different.

Though somewhat different from all her other novels, Shudder still tugs at your heartstrings while the mystery and the suspense of the plot keeps you glued to the book to the very end.

Shudder is a story of a lifelong friendship between two girls, Darcy and Clare. The two have been best friends from preschool on through the years until college graduation. They have shared years of hardships, trials, struggled through the deaths of loved ones and even shared celebrations and triumphs.

Now the two friends find themselves in Boise, Idaho where Clare has not only found herself her dream job but the man of her dreams; or so she thinks. Darcy is busy pursuing a teaching certificate. She thinks very little of Clare’s overbearing, rude, boyfriend. For the first time in their lives, the girls find themselves on very different paths, with Blaine, Clare’s boyfriend becoming an object of contention. Eventually his domineering ways forces a separation between the lifelong girls. Blaine not only intrudes on the friendship, but their living space and Darcy finds herself without her friend or a home.

Though the girls reconcile, the distance between them is never greater. Blaine sees to it. Time spent together and calls between them are very limited. Eventually they are all but cut off from each other. The next time they see each other is at Clare’s wedding- which is nothing like what the girls had always envisioned it would be. Darcy is confused, hurt, and disappointed in Clare’s choices.

It doesn’t take long for Darcy to figure out that Clare is trapped in an abusive marriage to Blaine. But entirely cut off from any connection to Clare, Darcy’s hands are tied. Still, she makes any attempt possible to reassure her friend that if she ever needs her, she will always be there for her. Weeks go by with no word from her best friend.

In the meantime, Darcy has found a living arrangement with a woman by the name of Karlene who is in need of a live-in helper. The assistance she needs fits perfectly with Darcy’s teaching schedule and the two women become friends. Karlene confides that the accident that has rendered her a temporary invalid was no accident, she believes someone tried to kill her.

This is where the plot gets so many twists and turns that every time you think one situation is nearly resolved, the author surprises you with another. You have no idea if Clare will survive, and you wonder if Darcy will live to keep her promise to her best friend to be there for her if she were ever to need her.

Shudder is an excellent story as we all can expect from Jennie. It’s a novel that evokes many different emotions all in the same reading; anger, sadness, fear, and so many more. The mystery keeps you guessing to the point you have no idea who the guilty one is. The story of abuse is eerily, sadly, real.

I don’t usually read the acknowledgments before beginning to read a book but for some reason I did this time. It’s beautifully written message had an impact on me which set the tone for the book.

Though Jennie wrote a wonderful story the message is clear, abuse is not to be tolerated. It destroys lives and has a lasting effect. Her dedication and her last paragraph in the book brought a tear to my eye.

I highly recommend this book to be read not only because its another Jennie Hansen winner but because Jennie, in her classic way, brings us to remembrance (or maybe youth who might read this to an awareness) that women deserve to have trusting, lasting, relationships. There is a deeper message to the story and one that shouldn’t be forgotten or taken for granted.

Well done, Jennie!!

The Aaronic Priesthood Choir

There he stood, dressed in a black suit, white shirt, and dark conservative tie. He had just walked into my bedroom, (I was laid up in bed from a recent surgery) and said, “Well, I guess I am ready to go now. Do I look okay?” My heart melted. Did he look okay? I got this huge lump in my throat that stopped me from answering and tears filled my eyes. “Are you going to cry?” he asked with a huge cheesy smile. There’s something about a mother’s tears that makes my son happy. I think he knows that every time he makes me cry, it’s usually in my most proudest moments. So he did the most manly thing he could think of. He walked over to the bedside and gave me a knuckle punch, then he hugged me, gave me a kiss good bye and promised to behave. He turned to walk out the door and said, “Oh yeah, I’ll also try to sing really loud--and try to not watch for the T.V. cameras. The director said if we watch for ourselves or start to laugh, it looks really bad. I‘m just gonna go and try not to forget the words and hope that if they show me, it‘s at a part where I’m singing good.“ That’s my boy.

This night my son was attending the General Priesthood session of Conference. It was only the second he has ever had the opportunity to attend, being that he just turned twelve last March. What made this night even more special was that for twice a week for the last month and a half he has been going to choir practices learning the verses of four hymns that he would get to sing at the Conference center for the Priesthood session.

Having a difficult time, but refusing to give up, Bryan was unclear which verses would be sung for each hymn. In the beginning, he didn‘t know any of the words to the songs, how to read several of them, or even what the words meant. The task to learn everything in time seemed overwhelming for him. So he and I sat together day after day working on memorization and comprehension. We sang together, talked about the songs, sentence by sentence, to gain a more clear understanding of what he was singing to clue him in to what he would sing next and why. Slowly I heard my son learn to sing the hymns with understanding and conviction as he comprehended what he was singing.

I too, gained a greater appreciation for songs I have sung for years but didn’t really take the time to listen to their meaning. What’s more, my son and I memorized all the hymns and all their verses so that he could keep up with the rest of the young men in the choir. It was inspiring for me to watch my son work so hard to accomplish so much in such a little time. It was hard work, but how I loved the time we spent together singing.

Bryan boarded a bus that took the Young Men to the Conference Center at 2:00 in the afternoon. The bus brought him back at 9:30 that night. It was quite a long day. While there, they practiced again and again. On the home front, I kept watching the clock wondering how he was doing.

Tradition has it that after the Priesthood session, the men in our family get treated to dinner. On this special night, Bryan got to choose the restaurant. I was anticipating their arrival home.

Finally I heard them come in the door and Bryan bounded up the stairs to my room. There he was with that big cheesy grin I love so much, “Well, I did it,“ he said. Bryan was so excited about his night. He went on and on about how much fun he had Then I noticed a reverence came over him. His eyes were shinning as he spoke of when the leaders of our Church entered the room. “You could feel Heavenly Father’s Spirit there,“ he told me. What an amazing experience he had had. My heart was filled to overflowing.

Brad found the broadcast on the internet. We all watched while my son sat beside me on the bed. The first sounds I heard took my breath away. Here was this incredible choir of young Priesthood men singing “High On The Mountain Top.” What an impressive sight! Within seconds, there was my own son, singing his heart out, keeping up with those around him. What a grand pay off!

We spent several minutes looking for others in our ward and stake, but when the last number came on, the tears poured down my eyes. (Insert here that Bryan rolled his eyes, said, “Dad, she‘s crying again and got another one of those happy smiles on his face) I just wish I weren’t so inadequate with words, but here were these amazing, handsome young men, the men who hold the Priesthood, singing “Rise Up, O Men Of God“. It was so powerful to me. And there amongst them was my son. Wow. I don‘t have the words to explain the love or the reverence that I felt in that moment as I watched and listened to those young men singing that hymn of praise.

Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and soul and mind and strength
To serve the King of Kings.

Rise up, O men of God!
In one united throng.
Bring in the day of brotherhood
And end the night of wrong.

Rise up, O men of God!
Tread where His feet have trod.
As brothers of the Son of Man,
Rise up, O men of God!

I grew up in a family where music was an important part of our home. My mother was a member of the Mormon Tabernacle choir for over twenty years. Upon getting cancer one of the first things to go was her singing voice which nearly broke her heart, since she loved to sing to her grandkids so much. I remember clearly after she passed away, Bryan came to me and told me not to be sad. He knew where grandma was. “Where is she, Bryan?” I asked. I was curious to see what insight he would have for me. “She’s singing with the Heavenly angels” he said. I hope he’s right, because she would LOVE that. And for that night, I really sincerely hope that Heavenly Father let her catch a glimpse of her grandson sitting in those choir seats. She would have loved that too.

So that you too can enjoy hearing this really wonderful choir, here is a video of their final song. Who knows, maybe we'll see some of our future Church leader’s in this group. And if not, well, I think they're some really impressive young men!