Taking Heart

It seems that my last post was a little prophetic. Work has indeed been crazy, and I haven’t posted anything in days. Boy, what a week! I have accomplished so much, received affirmation on my work, and interacted with great new people, but I have also been challenged by the late nights, the big projects on my plate, and some personal disappointments.

I will admit, proudly, to wearing rose-colored glasses. In my chest beats the soft, squishy heart of an idealist! I see so much good in the work that I do and in the place that I work. It is disheartening to be reminded that my good intentions (and expectations) are not shared by everyone, everywhere. We live in an imperfect world.

Disheartening. To cause to lose spirit or morale. To make a person lose confidence, hope and energy.

As we get older, it is so easy to be disheartened. Our spirits, not just our bodies, become stiff and inflexible. When we fall or fail (or are failed by others), we are slow to trust again, to get back up and jump back in. How do we avoid becoming cynical?

Some people would say, let the world harden you. I’m not one of those people. I believe that we are made stronger by compassion, by our empathy for other human beings, and that true resilience means weathering the storm without losing your capacity to be inspired and surprised by life.

So, what’s the take-away here? Be elastic in your judgements, and in your self-righteousness, because no one is perfect and change is gradual. Don’t be disheartened. Take heart in knowing that every day of your life is a ripple that changes the world just a little.

I’ve found it is the small everyday deeds
of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.
Small acts of kindness and love.

Gandalf, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I love this quote, even if it’s not original Tolkien. 😛 And I promise to post fun, craftsy, light-hearted things this weekend!

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Blogger’s Block

Having a blog is great … when you’re feeling creative, or being productive, or thinking interesting thoughts. Having a blog is not-so-great on a day like today: a lazy, cold Sunday when I have absolutely zero motivation to do anything!

I don’t feel like baking, nor should I indulge in any more sweet treats. Two days of Pretzel Jello Salad for breakfast is pushing it. I also don’t need to cook anything as my fridge is still full of leftover lasagna. And it is far too late in the day (and the weekend) to revamp the cool double-tiered side table I bought at the antique mall or to upcycle that old armoire we aren’t using anymore.

So, what do I blog about?

I spent all day yesterday shopping with my sister-in-law. We found a great fabric shop and great sales at Steinmart and ended the day with junk food and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. A wonderful Saturday, in my opinion, but not really blog-material.

It seems that I have my first case of blogger’s block, but I can tell you it feels more like blogger’s guilt. If I can’t be fabulous every day, or at least every other day, then I don’t deserve to be a blogger. This thought actually crossed my mind. What an outrageous expectation!

In life, we can’t be ON all the time. I need to give myself the same luxury with my blog and not perceive a lapse in posts as a reflection on my abilities or personality or commitment. Sometimes, life and work will be too crazy to post regularly. Sometimes, for no particular reason, I just won’t feel inspired. And that is okay.

So today, I am giving myself permission to stay in my sock monkey pajamas and spend quality time with Pinterest and Netflix! 🙂

Pretzel Jello Salad

Happy Valentine’s Day! As a present to my sweetie for an awesome day, I made one of his favorite desserts: Pretzel Jello Salad!

Now, the family recipe I have is for Strawberry Pretzel Jello Salad, but I have created my own version, Peach Pretzel Jello Salad. That’s the wonderful thing about this recipe, though; you can really do any variation of fruit and Jello!

First, get the cream cheese out and put it in a mixing bowl to soften. I always forget to do this! Don’t forget to do this, unless you really enjoy softening the cream cheese by creaming it for five minutes. Hand cramp, anyone?

For the crust, you’ll need:

  • 2 cups crushed pretzel twists
  • 1 and 1/2 sticks butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Crush the pretzels into small pieces, add in the sugar, and then pour in the melted butter. Stir until the pretzel pieces are well-coated in sugary goodness.

Sugary Goodness

Sugary Goodness

Pour the mixture into a 9X13 baking dish (I usually spray it lightly with Pam) and then use the back of a wooden spoon to pat the pretzels down into an even layer. It should look like this:

Pretzel Crust

Pretzel Crust

Cook at 350° for 10 minutes. Let it cool completely (no refrigeration) before putting on the next layer. Let me just say, this crust is to die for. If this came in candy bar form, I’d be in trouble!

For the middle layer, you’ll need:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 9 oz Kool Whip (French Vanilla is the best!)

Combine the sugar and cream cheese first. Once they are well-mixed, fold in the Kool Whip.

Don't over mix!

Don’t over mix!

When the pretzel crust is cool, spread the cream cheese mixture over it. Make sure to seal the edges of the dish; this prevents the jello from seeping through the layers.

For the Jello layer, you’ll need:

  • 6 oz flavored Jello (in this case, Peach)
  • 2 cups pineapple juice
  • 20 – 30 oz frozen or canned fruit (in this case, sliced peaches)

To make Strawberry Pretzel Jello Salad, use 20 oz of frozen strawberries from the freezer section and Strawberry flavored Jello. For my Peach version, use two 15 oz cans of sliced peaches in lite syrup and Peach flavored Jello. Drain all the liquid from the peaches and cut them into bite size pieces. Then, let them sit in the freezer while you prepare the rest of the Jello layer.

Microwave the pineapple juice for about 3-4 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, combine the hot juice and Jello. Stir until dissolved. Then add the chilled peaches (or fruit of your choosing). Depending on how the Jello sets, you may need to pop the bowl in the refrigerator for 5 minutes. When the Jello starts to thicken, pour over the top of the cream cheese layer. And make sure the fruit pieces are evenly distributed across the top.

Jello Layer

Jello Layer

After that, it’s the waiting game! Let the dessert set in the refrigerator for a few hours. Cutting the slices is a bit of a wrestle because of the caramelized pretzel crust, but it is soooooo worth it! And it may not come out pretty, but your taste buds won’t care!

Peach Pretzel Jello Salad

Peach Pretzel Jello Salad

Monday Musing

I woke up this morning knowing it was going to be a bad day. I knew it before I even opened my eyes. I knew it as I mumbled and grumbled and rolled out of bed. When I left for work and opened the door to a rainy, chilly world, I felt vindicated. It was just as I suspected, a gloomy Monday.

I suffered through traffic, a glitchy printer, spilled coffee, and a paper-cut, to name a few tragedies. And as I worked through my lunch, I found myself wishing this day would go faster. Could it be the weekend already!?

Then, unexpectedly, I was asked to come along on a visit to one of my favorite alumnae of the College, a birthday visit. In my sour mood, I had completely forgotten that today was her 101st birthday. And as I sat next to this lovely woman, still brimming with humor and spit-fire in the face of illness and old age and loss, I felt ashamed.

How dare I write off an entire day because of some rain clouds? How dare I wallow over trivial inconveniences? How dare I wish away precious time when we are only blessed with so many days?

In her 101 years, there were many rainy Mondays, but I doubt that she regrets a single one. There were even days when she lost a loved one or dear friend. Of all the days to wish away, but even those days were a gift: a chance to say goodbye, to feel how deeply her heart could ache, and to find peace on the other side.

Today may not be the day for a rainbow or a holiday or a breakthrough in my life, but it is another day on this earth. As I encounter the good and the bad, I need only remember the jesting words of a very grateful 101-year old on her birthday:

“I’m glad you came today. I might not be here tomorrow!”

Jello Fruit Snacks

I love fruit snacks!!! Always have, always will. So, when I saw this recipe from Six Sisters Stuff for DIY Jello Fruit Snacks on Pinterest, I couldn’t resist adding it to my Pinterest Challenge!

Here is what you need: whisk, saucepan, liquid measuring cup, rubber mold, unflavored gelatin, flavored Jello, and water.

Jello Fruit Snack Supplies

What a lovely coincidence that Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I just happened to own some heart shaped ice cube molds from IKEA that I have only ever used once! ♥

I used the Knox brand of unflavored gelatin which is packaged in small envelopes. You just need one package of Jello, but I selected my four favorite flavors of Jello to make several versions.

Recipe:

  • one (3 oz) package Jello, any flavor
  • two (.25 oz) envelopes unflavored gelatin
  • 1/3 cup water

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat and stir until gelatin is completely dissolved. Pour into molds and allow to set at least 20 minutes.

It seems like a very small amount of water, but it will all mix together and dissolve. Just keep whisking. And whisking. 🙂 Use a small spoon to fill the tray. I only filled the hearts halfway and came out with 20 fruit snacks, about one and a half trays. The trick here is to work quickly. If you pause too long, let’s say to take pictures for your blog, the last few spoonfuls will be mighty goopy!

So, was this a WIN or a FAIL?

Six Sisters Stuff's fruit snacks.

Six Sisters Stuff’s fruit snacks.

Shiny Happy Peebles' fruit snacks.

Shiny Happy Peebles’ fruit snacks.

I’d say a WIN! Flavor-wise, they taste really yummy. I think if I had cooked them longer, they might have become clearer, but in my opinion, they don’t look half bad! 🙂

Except for this one.

This actually looks like a human heart. Gross.

This one actually looks like a human heart.

Update: I made the other flavors and tried cooking them a little longer; definitely improved the look and the texture!

Strawberry, orange, grape, and watermelon!

Strawberry, orange, grape, and watermelon!

Kitchen Wisdom

I come from a foodie family. When I say that, I don’t mean food snobs, I mean folks who really like to cook, bake, and eat!

My mother’s talent for baking is something supernatural. People rave about her desserts, especially her Chocolate Chip Cookies. If they only knew her recipe came from the back of the Nestle bag!

This is her secret. Just four simple rules:

  • Never bake distracted.
  • Never bake in a bad mood.
  • Always bake with good ingredients.
  • And always bake with good intentions.

Now, my father taught me a few things, too. Like how to make your own popcorn. And how to create an awesome meal from what’s left in the refrigerator. Good cooking often comes from inspiration and improvisation!

I don’t know a lot of fancy tricks, but I know how to make a mouth happy and a tummy full. Comfort foods, holiday traditions, tried and trues — I like to make memories, not masterpieces. Because the really great recipes have a story.

One of my favorite family recipes is Strawberry Pretzel Jello Salad. The name is strange, I know, but it’s delicious, I swear.

When I look at the stained recipe card for this dessert, I remember watching my mother in the kitchen. I remember the pride I felt the first time I made it on my own. And I remember Thanksgivings at Great-Grandma Near’s house. We always had Strawberry Pretzel Jello Salad.

A year ago, today, my Great-Grandma Near passed away. When we lose loved ones, their absence from our daily lives is painful. As time goes on, and we adjust to the change, what really hurts us is the forgetting. Our memories become unfocused, and suddenly we can’t recall exactly how they looked, or how they smelled, or how they laughed.

If we are lucky, we are blessed with a trinket, a trigger that takes us back. I have my keepsakes from Grandma Near: her magnolia pin and one of her handkerchiefs. And yet, what really brings her back to me is this recipe card.

Just a list of ingredients and directions. No sentimental comments. It’s not even in her handwriting. But there’s a piece of her there. And when I read it, I can remember the crocheted pillows on her couch, the quiet way she ran Thanksgiving from the kitchen, and the exact sound of her voice.

Because the really great recipes have a story.

Me and my sister, Rachael, with Great-Grandma Near.

Me and my sister, Rachael, with Great-Grandma Near.

A Few of My Favorite Things

Raindrops on roses …

Winter Camellia

And whiskers on kittens …

Oliver's New Spot

These are a few of my favorite things!

Saddlebrooke Sunrise

When I saw the beautiful sunrise this morning, it put me in such a great mood. Sunrises and sunsets are definitely some of my favorite things! Sadly, I don’t always take the time to enjoy them.

I referenced that song from The Sound of Music, partially because I adore that movie and as an excuse to post happy pictures of my yard and my cat, but mostly because of the message. Even when things are scary, you can control how you feel and turn the situation around:

I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad!

Sometimes, I forget how attitude and perception affect the way we experience life. Seeing the sunrise didn’t change what had already happened this morning, and it didn’t change the events that followed, but that moment of appreciation did alter my mood and how I went about my day.

For example, instead of worrying if I would be on time, I sang really loudly in my car to happy music during my drive to work. And don’t you know that commute seemed to go by faster?

It all goes back to the little things; when you take the time to enjoy the little things, you start to see that your life is full of goodness and beauty and bounty.