Friday, February 28, 2014

Hello there. Life has been a little crazy this week, thus the lack of blogging. But here is something I've been playing around with. I want to take some of the thoughts I have and share them online like the one below. I'm trying to get a feel for paint.net in the process. Next week I have an author interview planned and a Happy Birthday post for my brother. I hope you'll come see.



Friday, February 21, 2014

Longing for Spring

Longing for Spring

Cookie Perfection

I've been considering sharing this for a while. Although it means I have to give up my dream of owning a little dessert shop called "The Brownie House," I am finally willing to do it. I don't know why God cursed me with the ability to make amazing cookies, but He did. So I make them. I perfect them. I eat them. And now I'm sharing a recipe with you.

In my opinion, these are the best chocolate chip cookies ever. Better than Mrs. Fields, better than Neiman Marcus, better than your mother's. I know because I've created chocolate chip cookie snobs. My kids will occasionally take a bite of someone else's cookies, or store bought. Then they turn up their noses and try to hide the remainder where nobody will notice. Sometimes they refuse after one glance. I can't blame them. I do the same thing.

So, here it is. Enjoy!

Melissa Lemon's Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 sticks butter, room temperature (Seriously, this is important. Let them sit on the counter overnight or for a few hours at least.)
1 cup white sugar (I'm liking organic these days)
1 cup brown sugar

Cream these together. Maybe preheat your oven here if you want. 350 will do it.

Beat in 2 large eggs (Sometimes if it is super hot and humid in the summer I use medium eggs.)

Beat in 1 tsp. of vanilla, 1 tsp. of salt, and 1 tsp. of soda.

Let your kids fight over the beaters. This is the fun part.

Stir in 2 3/4 cups flour and 1 bag chocolate chips (I prefer the 12 oz., but if you're a chocolate lover, don't let me hold you back. (I'm kidding. 12 oz. should do it, even for chocolate lovers.))

I hand stir in these last two ingredients. (When I say hand stir, I mean I use a wooden spoon with  my hand. I think sticking your hands in there is disgusting.) Some people have fancy mixers, and I'm sure that works too, but for me, stirring in the last two ingredients by hand actually improves the recipe. It's like talking to your plants. It just helps them turn out a little better. And it gives your arm a workout.

Scoop them onto a cookie sheet. Make them small, make them big, whatever.

Bake them for 8-13 minutes, depending on the pan, your oven, and probably the altitude. Here's the trick: they should be dry on top and still light in color. If the bottom edges start to brown I pull them out.

Let them sit on the pan for a minute or two. Transfer them to a cooling rack. Invite Cookie Monster over. Okay, never mind. He would eat them all.

I like to freeze some dough. That way I can still have dough to munch on, or I can have fresh, warm cookies the next day. But these are amazing even when they're not fresh and warm.

Trust me. I just ate one.

And sorry this picture is bad. It doesn't do them justice. Maybe some day you could come over and I could make a batch just for you. Then you could see them for real.



Some optional ingredients: 1-2 cups oats, 1 tsp. cinnamon. Or, throw in some butterscotch chips. Yum!
Nuts are really not an option.
Or anything else.
Unless you're weird like that.

Happy cookie making!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

This is So Embarrassing

I hesitate to share things like this. I don't know why I have so many insecurities about my drawing abilities, but I do. However, I also know that I am much more marketable in today's publishing industry as a children's book author if I can also illustrate. So sometimes I practice. Here are some recent sketches and projects.

Some of these characters are from The Flea's Sneeze by Lynn Downey with illustrations by Karla Firehammer (cool name, right?)



This was an exercise I did trying to imagine the scenery of Sleeping Beauty and the Beast.


And I drew these while my kids did their homework one night. Don't worry. I'll keep practicing. :)





Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Spice Makes a Fort

In fact, she's the fort queen. She loves to be in enclosed spaces, wear cozy pajamas and cuddle. When was the last time you built a fort? No, really. Here is a challenge for you. Build a fort sometime this week. Remember what it was like to be a kid, to practice the survival skill of creating your own shelter, to occupy every blanket in the house at the same time, and to have your own special place to be you.

Love my Spice.

Here's another fort we built last week.


Monday, February 17, 2014

It's More Than Friendship. It's Providence.

I hope you had a great President's Day.

Mine was fantastic.

Have you ever had a friend that you knew was placed in your life at a certain time for a certain reason? I've had a few of those and let me tell you, they are precious gems.

Today I got to spend some time with one such friend. Let me tell you how we met.

Once upon a time, I put an ad on KSL (sort of like Craigslist for Utah locals). I needed a few extra music students and thought this might be a good way to get some. I received one call. One. This mom was looking for a guitar teacher for her daughter. We set up a time and guess what? They showed up. At the first lesson I was a little . . . excited. I had just received my first offer for publication earlier in the week and just couldn't contain my excitement. So I told them. And my student's mom was like, "Really? I'm a writer too." And the rest is sort of history. A long, blessed history. We've been friends for three years now, but it feels more like we are sisters. Really and truly. It's like I've known her forever.

Well, you might think this is the happily ever after part, but you'd be jumping the gun. Almost two years ago, when we'd only been friends for about a year, she decided to move to Maryland. I was sad, but not too sad because I have a sister in Maryland. I knew I'd get to visit her someday. And I knew we would talk on the phone and stuff. But I was still a little sad.

Then less than a year after that my husband and I decided to move . . .  to Maryland! What are the chances? Some might call this coincidence. But that's just too many coincidences involving the same two people. Did I mention? We each have three children. They're roughly the same ages. (Except her youngest is a boy and so Everything Nice sometimes has to hang out with male company and my friend's boy has to occasionally watch movies like . . . Ella Enchanted, for example.)


So you see, it's more than friendship. It's providence. We even look like sisters. Love you, Mist!

And if you're looking for a good book, check out her Austen rewrites. Pride's Prejudice came out last year. And her covers are amazing. So here it is.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The World is Coming to an End

Sorry I've been . . . absent. I've been preparing for the great storm. Maybe I'll eat my sarcastic words and we'll actually get a few feet and experience some power outages, but this girl is from the mountains and to me, snow is part of life, fun, awesome, and NOT to be feared. Respected, yes. Feared? No. This is my first winter in Maryland and it's a little surprising/shocking/appalling that school is cancelled because a few flakes are falling or there's an inch of snow on the ground. Frankly, I think it's ridiculous. A friend of mine from Utah told me recently that they got 12 inches of snow. People got out their shovels and went to work and school. On time.

Okay, maybe there's some scientific reason for Marylanders being afraid of the snow. Maybe it gets icier faster and the roads are just slick and dangerous (humidity? Proximity to Ocean?). Maybe there are so many people here that don't know how to handle it that THEY are the danger and not the snow. (In which case, shouldn't they just take a driver's ed class from someone who knows how to drive in the snow: slow down, pump your brakes if you have to stop quickly, don't try to jerk your steering wheel out of a slide and just wait for your car to get traction again, call your insurance company if you get in an accident). Maybe there isn't a scientific reason. Maybe it's all just a bunch of hype. Guess what. People get in accidents without any help from the snow.

Here's another shocker. People will actually abandon their cars in the middle of a storm and walk. Because that's so much safer. If someone hits you in your car, at least you've got air bags and big hunks of steel around you. If someone hits you as a pedestrian, you could be dead. Instantly. Really, it's crazy, illogical, and just plain dumb.

Here's what happens if you allow fear mongering when it comes to snow: your children fear the snow. And your children's children. And your children's children's children. I recently commented to my oldest daughter how grateful I was that both my parents were good examples of confident drivers. If you don't have confidence at the wheel, you are a danger. True story. I'm not talking about speed or cutting people off, or thinking you're a better driver than everyone else. I'm talking about confidence in your ability to know and follow the rules, take the initiative, navigate the roads as you carefully take notice of those around you. In my opinion, all of this hype causes unnecessary panic which could lead to a lack of resources when there is a true weather emergency.

Personally, I'm not afraid to drive in the snow. And I want to teach my children to not be afraid to drive in the snow. I've done 360's on the roads before (intentionally and unintentionally) and I lived. Was it scary? Yeah, a little, at least the unintentional ones. I've driven through Wyoming in a blizzard as semi-trucks passed by me, further blinding me with their output of swirling storm. Was it scary? Yeah. Was I grateful I had a passenger who helped me know when I was going off the road? Yeah. Did I live? Yep. Did I vow never to drive in the snow again and hide in my house every time the sky threatened a winter storm? Nope. Because that would just be irrational, and I'm really trying not to go there anymore.

Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to go knock on some wood so I don't get in an accident today. (Because I can't be expected to give up all my irrational behaviors.)


Friday, February 7, 2014

Gratitude Poem

This just sort of came out one night and I thought I'd share. I don't love it, but I like the idea that came out of the exercise. When writing this, I just let the pen fly, taking me wherever. What I felt as I penned those last six phrases: "Give thanks, give thanks, give thanks, give thanks, give thanks, give thanks," is that when we feel gratitude, things are steady and even. Rather than having super highs and devastating lows, rather than going one way just to realize you need to turn around and go back, life has a steady, rhythmic heartbeat.

The last three "give thanks" are supposed to resemble a heart monitor.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Running

I did a 5 miler this morning and it has been a long time. Bring on the headache! I love running. It felt so good to just set a steady pace, stick the earphones in and RUN. Sometimes I have to do it just to remind myself that I really do love it.

The Case of the Mysterious Penguin Pajama Pants

This really has me baffled.

I got some cute pajama pants for Christmas, blue with white, black and silver penguins. I opened them, wore them several times, and then put them in the washing machine.

Now, I'm not sure what happened after that. Maybe the little ogre who eats socks got a hold of them. I don't know. But when I pulled them out, they looked like this.



You see that big huge wrinkle in the front? They're actually sewn together like that. So my question is: Were they really like that all along and I just didn't notice? Or did something strange and mysterious happen while they were in the laundry? Hmmm. I guess I'll never know.

The end.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Closeup of My Nose



This post isn't really about my nose, but there it is so I had to say it.

This post is actually about why I am only wearing one earring lately.

A long time ago I got my ears pierced. I was five. At first, I loved wearing earrings. So much so, that a few years later I got my ears pierced for the second time. Then I got even older and kind of stopped wearing them. Maybe it was because I began playing sports and had to take them out for that. Maybe it's because I decided it wasn't my style. Maybe my ears were sensitive. Whatever the reason, wearing earrings became something I just . . . didn't really do. Most of the time.

So my ears began to close up. Because that's what the body does. It was made to heal itself so if there's a hole there, and nothing to keep the hole open, it will seal up again. Crazy, right? (Wow, that is really profound in other ways, but I'll save that for another day.) Well, every once in a while I would still wear earrings in my first holes, but one was just a little stubborn and I always had to really push hard to get it all the way through. And it hurt. A lot.

On one of these days last year, my daughter tells me she thinks I should keep some studs in for a while so my holes stay open and I don't have to do that. I decided she was right, and that since I'm not putting on a catcher's helmet on anymore I may as well. But I didn't have any studs. So I just picked a random earring and stuck it in. Not sure what happened to that one, but I found another. On Sundays I make the effort to put an earring in both ears, but the rest of the week, I just do this.

It's funny because someone asked me about it the other day, concerned I had lost an earring. "Nope," I said. "It's sitting on my bathroom counter."

What can I say? I'm only keeping the one in because I have to in order for the hole to get set right. Did you know? Sleeping with two earrings in is worse than sleeping with only one? And when morning comes I simply forget, or just don't want the other one in.

And that's why I'm only wearing one earring lately.

The end.

Atheism at the BSO

*Thank you for your interest in this post. I just wanted to give an update. After filling out a contact form, the Director of Education at the BSO contacted me today (February 7th). Calling it an "oversight," she assured me it would be fixed.*

I had the rare privilege of attending the symphony yesterday. As a musician, this is an experience I treasure. I have fond memories of attending the Utah Symphony with my elementary school in the fourth grade and working as a volunteer for the Salt Lake Symphony's Vienna Ball for extra credit in High School. It's been a long time since I went to the symphony, and I had been looking forward to it for a long time.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra played a selection of pieces highlighting the grandiosity and diversity of American landscapes. It began with the thrilling Hoedown by Aaron Copland, and included readings by a geologist, two solos by Robert Cantrell, and a poetry reading by an award winning high school poetry reader. As I sat and listened to the inspirational music, studied the amazing landscape portraits projected onto the giant screen above the symphony, and listened to the geologist explain how long these amazing formations were in coming, I thought of God. I marveled in the idea of creation. I thought of how the bible's account of the creation being seven days is really only a metaphor, since "all is as one day with God," and time is something He gave to us. I'm with the characters of the movie I.Q.. "Time doesn't exist." Not really. Not to God, at least not as something He needs, relies on or worries about. (See Alma 40:8 and Doctrine & Covenants 88:44.) I thought of the millions of "human years" it must have taken to create the earth. As the geologist mentioned dinosaur fossils in the great plains region, I considered the different theories I've had about dinosaurs throughout my life as far as the creation is concerned. I imagined God placing dinosaurs on the earth in its early years just so that when man finally got here, he would have something to study and wonder about. Dinosaur fossils are another gift from God, along with all the gorgeous scenery to behold on the earth. It is all a testimony of His love and His grace. In short, I was having a deeply spiritual experience.

Finally, the narrator, Marita Lister, announced the closing song, and instructed that following her singing the first verse, the audience would be invited to sing as well. Let me tell you that middle school students are a little hesitant to sing in front of each other. But I sang. How could I not sing such a song after having such a moving experience? "America, America, God shed his grace on thee." I admit I wasn't focusing on the words as Ms. Lister sang. I cannot say if she mentioned her creator or not. But as the words to the song came up on the screen for the audience to sing, I saw something disturbing. The beloved and well known lyrics to Katherine Lee Bates' poem had been altered. There had been some delay in changing the pictures on the screen, and I had already sung the lyrics I know by heart before the stunning display of ugly re-written lines appeared. This is what I beheld: "We shed our grace on thee." Stunned, I wondered at such a re-write. Some of the majesty of the experience began to seep out of me as I realized what must have happened. God had been omitted.

I cannot understand it. First of all, it is an insult to the author of the poem, who began to pen the words after hiking to the top of Pike's Peak in Colorado. I haven't been on this hike, but I've been on many others. I don't think atheists do much hiking, because being on top of a mountain is a deeply spiritual experience for me. Moses and Nephi also had greater contact with deity on the tops of mountains. One cannot stand on top of a mountain and not feel something stirring inside that is a manifestation of God. At least, I don't think they can. Changing the words to this poem to omit the creator of the mountain it was penned on is disrespectful and defaming in my opinion.

Second, it does not actually make sense. "We shed our grace on thee?" Since God accompanies the word grace in the original lines, it is safe to assume Ms. Bates was not speaking of the grace of a ballerina. The very word grace implies God. In fact, after using several sources to look up the word, including an Oxford dictionary, an online dictionary, and a religious dictionary, I could not find a definition of the word that did not also include the word "God" or the words "Jesus Christ." People cannot shed grace because it is something that comes from God.

Third, taking God out of an American patriotic song is absurd, since the founding fathers and greatest leaders of this country knew the importance of religion and religious freedom. I believe they also knew how to ask God for help and grace, and their asking led to some miraculous things in American history, for example winning the revolutionary war and ending slavery. As a Mormon, this attempt to remove God from the equation of normal life concerns me, since the Book of Mormon warns about this. (See Ether 2: 10 & 12 and 2 Ne. 1:7.) I wonder, is it even possible to not believe in God AND be patriotic? Or to be patriotic and not believe in God? Just wondering, because my patriotism is something that is connected to my spirituality.

So the question of the day is: Why are we taking action to appease a minority, if that's in fact what the BSO was attempting to do? This is America, America the Beautiful. Last I checked, the majority voice is the one that is supposed to rule. Perhaps it is because minorities can often be loud and obnoxious. Well, so can I. Here I am, asking the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to get it right.

FYI
Here are the definitions of grace I found. From an Oxford dictionary: "the love and favor of God toward human beings." From Google: "(in Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings." From the dictionary of the LDS printings of the King James version of the Bible: "The main idea of the word is divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ."

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What DO Moms Do All Day?

One day last week, I . . .

Made sandwiches for my kids
Helped my youngest do the dishes
Read a book to someone
Took the kids to school
Went back home
Exercised
Rearranged the furniture in my kids' room
Showered
Made some toast to take on the road
Went to my sister's house
Read lots of books to her kids
Made lunch
Cut up burritos
Helped my nephew say a prayer
Helped the other one say a prayer because he thought he needed a turn
Supervised eating (trying to keep the floor clean)
Smiled
Sang more songs
Encouraged my niece to eat so she could get ready for school
Brushed her hair
Washed toddler #1
Washed toddler #2
Got spanked by toddler #1
Walked my niece to the bus
Sang Mary Had a Little Lamb about 12 times
Played "This Little Pig" about 7 times (x 2 because with twins, everything is x 2)
Changed diaper of toddler #2
Sang jingle bells about 8 times
Went home
Cleaned the mess I'd made earlier when I'd rearranged the furniture
Checked e-mail
Blogged
Welcomed child #1 home
Talked with her
Went to pick up child #2 & child #3
Ate a snack
Supervised the washing of hands because everyone knows if you didn't see them use soap, it didn't happen
Got them all excited about a "surprise"
Showed them their room
Smiled again
Supervised homework
Read through a stack of papers from school
Signed their folders
Signed their homework
Reminded my daughter she had to practice the cello if she wanted time on the computer
Listened to child #1 and child #2 practice their instruments together
Looked up a healthy recipe for pancakes
Made pancakes
Cooked pancakes
Welcomed husband home
Heated up syrup
Asked husband to set the table
Ate dinner
Talked with family about who they missed most from Utah
Went to my sister's house
Watched child #2 entertain two toddlers by teaching them how to play hide and seek
Talked with another sister
Watched Curious George with toddlers
Read car book to toddlers
Helped toddlers say prayers
Put toddlers in cribs, making sure both blankets were on top (I've made blanket mistakes before and the outcome isn't pretty)
Sang a song
Played a game with child #2
Put my niece to bed
Sang her a song
Listened as child #3 sang her a song
Watched Wild Kratz with child #2 and child #3 (and part of magic school bus)
Went home
Encouraged child #3 to get ready for bed
Said prayers
Tucked child #2 and child #3 in
Sang a song
Read a book while waiting for child #1 to get ready for bed
Talked with husband
Said goodnight to child #1
Checked on child #2 and child #3

That's pretty much how it goes.





Monday, February 3, 2014

What I Love About Being a Mom

1. Waking up to so many people who love me.

2. Doing something for them that they didn't expect me to do.

3. Talking with them about their day.

4. Feeling their arms around me when they are comforting me because I am having a bad day.

5. Having help.

6. Reading stories out loud to them, particularly the ones I write.

7. Seeing them succeed, especially when something has been hard or frustrating.

8. Welcoming them home from school.

9. Baking them their favorite cookies.

10. Seeing their embarrassment because I am dancing or singing.

Being a mom is the best.

The end.