Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Gospel According to Find My iPhone

In today's news is a story of a woman who was stuck in a ravine at the foothills in San Jose, California, for 19 hours while rescuers tried to locate her.  She was driving a GM car fully equipped with OnStar and when she careened over the 500-foot ravine, it triggered a call to authorities.  The problem?  OnStar was way off.  When the police went to search for the car, they had no luck locating it at the indicated location.  Two hours later, the OnStar system sent a new alert indicating the car was in downtown San Jose.

Once the search came up null, a very smart detective asked her Mom if she had an iPad.  She did and he was able to crack the iPad code to get in.  Word on the street (or at least the Today Show) is authorities are equipped with ways to crack into mobile devices for emergency purposes.  Once he got into her iPad, he used the Find My iPhone app and was able to find her exact location.  Amazing.  Hate on Apple all you want folks, but this one saved a life.

I recently added an app to my phone, Life360, that puts me in the Blackwell family circle.  My friend, Beth, lives about 10 minutes from her house and if I become unresponsive to calls or texts, she can locate me.  Since I live alone, it's a good safety feature.  But, at times, it is inaccurate.  Not OnStar inaccurate, but not perfect.

When I heard this story this morning, I thought about how this woman depended on that great OnStar add-on to her vehicle for safety purposes, but if that was all she had, it would let her down.  Thankfully, the officers knew other mechanisms that were more precise that would help them find her and her car before it was too late.  Good thing, or this story would not have had a happy ending.

So many times when we are in the ravines of life, we are depending on a faulty backup plan to get us out.  We figure we can handle things in our own strength and have all the resources we need to get out of the pit.  But, that's not the case.  We need the One who always knows exactly where we are...whether we are on the mountaintop or upside down in a ravine.  Though Apple isn't infallible, our God is and we are the apple of His eye.  He can spot us wherever we may find ourselves, wherever we may run to hide.  He will always be our Rescuer. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cooking at the Cottage

Every year my company hosts an annual event called "Day Away."  When we were first acquired, this consisted of flying every employee in North America to San Francisco for a one-day event.  We were told that every other year the Day Away would be in Lake Tahoe.  Obviously our mouths were agape at the thought of such a swanky event.  After the first Day Away we participated in, the event changed drastically...and probably for the good of the company.  No more expensive jaunts, but a picnic hosted at headquarters for the office and a budget provided for remote offices to host their own event.

Last year we brought in barbeque and gelato for the day, which food always makes our office happy.  This year, our office VP wanted to do something more "off-site" that everyone would enjoy.  I suggested a cooking class at a local establishment - Cooking at the Cottage - and he began to investigate.  I'd never been to this place, though we had done a similar cooking team building experience at another location prior to our acquisition.  It's a fun time where you get to work with your peers and eat the results.  And, as I said earlier, we always love food.

On Friday, we all headed over for our "Day Away" which was really a "Half-Day Away."  One of our co-workers had organized the teams of two and we were ready to go.  The day began with all of us donning our aprons and it felt like we were stepping on the set of a cooking show to amaze the world with our talents.

Our first course was a Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup.  I love sweet potatoes and I love hot things, so I was excited about trying this recipe.  We mixed up all the goodness in a pot which included spices, brown sugar and the chipotle adobe sauce as our sweet potatoes got nice and mushy.  Then, we pulled the pot off the burner and used an amazing kitchen tool - an immersion blender.  I've seen them before, but never live and in action.  This tool is a must for creamy soups.  As my teammate, Lindsay, blended (because she has one and is a pro), I added the coconut milk.  The chef came over and called our soup beautiful and my day was complete.  A squirt of lime and cilantro on top and this course was in the books...and our stomachs.

The second course was a grilled salmon, pan-crusted with ginger and garlic with grilled veggies.  Salmon (or any fish for that matter) is tricky to cook...or more appropriately, not over cook.  Lindsay and I watched the salmon like a hawk and though it cooked up beautifully, our pan was done.  The recipe allowed for the remaining spices to be used in the same pan while grilling the veggies.  But, since our salmon was REALLY pan-crusted, we had to disband that option and start with a fresh pan.  As we proclaimed, "overachievers unite!"  Our veggies turned out just fine and the chefs provided some white rice to each of us to pair with our salmon and veggies.  It was yummy.

The final course was a poached pear wrapped in phyllo dough and drenched in chocolate sauce.  The chefs had already poached our pears to save time and then demonstrated how to wrap the phyllo dough for maximum performance.  It was the easiest of the courses and involved chocolate, so you can't go wrong there.  It was deliciously delectable and spawned other ideas on ways to poach other fruits and prep for the same kind of dessert. 

Everyone in attendance had a blast.  It was a huge success and I'm sure we'll do it again.  I rarely cook, though I do enjoy it and was not only delectable but educational.  Look out Martha Stewart, here I come!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Easy Coffee Cake Recipe

I'm always looking for easy recipes, especially when I need to bring something for a brunch or breakfast.  I'm not the happiest of bears in the morning, so getting up to whip up an eggs-stravaganza is not my idea of how to start a morning.  I found this gem on Pinterest and it turned out absolutely lovely.  This is a picture of my finished product.  Here is the recipe you can try for yourself.  
What you need:

1 pkg of yellow (golden) cake mix
1 instant vanilla pudding mix (the size that serves four)
1 cup of vegetable oil
1 cup of water
4 eggs
4 tbsp of brown sugar
3 tsp of cinnamon

In a large bowl mix (electric mixer) the cake mix, pudding mix, oil and water.  Add one egg at a time into the mix and beat for one minute after adding each egg.  Pour half of the batter into a greased (I used Pam) bundt pan.  Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon.  Sprinkle half of that mixture over the batter in the pan.  Pour the remaining batter in the pan.  Top with the remainder of the sugar/cinnamon mixture.  And, finish by doing my favorite part! Swirl through the batter with a knife.  

Bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean.  Wait for 5-10 minutes, then invert and pop out of the pan.

You can use this same recipes with other variations.  Lemon Cake mix and Lemon pudding mix and cover in a powder sugar glaze.  Even a chocolate cake mix with banana pudding mix would be yummy!  Be creative and enjoy!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Word Art Crafts

Fourteen years ago today, my Mom passed from this life to the next.  I miss her every day and look forward to the day I'll see her again.  I expect our first hug to be amazing and her still smelling of Estee Lauder's Pleasure perfume.  One of the many traits I inherited from my Mom was her love for crafts.  We would take classes together, shop in craft stores for hours, and watch all those crafty shows on television.  With the busyness of life and work and school, I needed to find my craft groove again.  In June, I decided to find a craft class that looked appealing and I found one at the local Michael's store.  I ended up being the only student in attendance and had one-to-one attention.  Below are the two products of my class and a brief description of how to do it in case you'd like to try it at home.

You start by determining what phrase you want to use on your canvas.  This one was for a sweet couple who open their home as a wonderful bed and breakfast and I affectionately call their home Robinson Mountain.

Here are the supplies you'll need:

 - 12x12 canvas
 - Scrapbooking page - design of your choice
 - Opaque Mod Podge
 - Alpha Stickers (Be sure that the stickers are at minimum 1/4 inch thick)
 - Acrylic Paint to complement the color scheme of your scrapbook page
 - Fabric Flowers (ones to assemble are more fun!)
 - Bling for your Flower Centers

Dampen your scrapbook page to make it more prepped to accept the Mod Podge.  Spread the Mod Podge on the canvas and then place the scrapbook page on top.  To secure the page, spread another layer of Mod Podge and allow to dry.  Determine the layout of your phrase and position your letters/numbers on the page to see how it looks.  Once you have determined the layout you like, stick the letters on the page.  

After the stickers are placed, paint the complement color over top, covering the entire canvas, even the edges.  Once the paint dries you can peel off the letters.  The beautiful scrapbook design will show through.  The second picture is a phrase to describe my friends' little boy, Levi, and his mission to change the world.  

Once you've removed the stickers, apply another layer of Mod Podge and allow to dry.  The flowers I used were different colors, designs and sizes that allowed for creating a 3D effect.  I used Tacky Glue to create them, and then to attach them to the canvas.  I used some bling brads that were easy to use for centers, but when I ran out of those, I used....drumroll...nail art!  Those fun glittery stickies are just the right size to also play the part of a flower center.  This part of the craft is the most fun as I was able to be creative on making the flowers and placing them on the canvas.  

And voila!  Your project is complete.  This was fairly easy and inexpensive for the supplies.  Other ideas for this technique...using it for wedding gifts, by using the wedding colors and putting "The Smiths - Est. 2014."  Or maybe even for a new baby with the birth date and name.  Instead of flowers for boys, you could use more masculine 3D items, such as scrapbooking cut-outs.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lessons Learned from Buford 2014

Once again, my friend, Christie and I headed down south to see the Todd family in Buford, Georgia.  This has become an annual trip to wherever their destination may be.  We've been to Adel, Georgia, enough to feel at home there (and know our way around) and this was our third trip to Buford.  We still aren't completely familiar enough to take off without some help from Siri or Tracy, the human GPS, but we're getting there.  Laughter and fun are always a part of the trip.  If I haven't left with sore ribs from laughing, the trip isn't complete.  Mission accomplished.

This year, my recap will include lessons learned from the view of parenting.  I'm not a parent, but I do love me some preschoolers.  Living a few days at Hotel Todd, you learn all sorts of great lessons on raising children and the life they lead on a daily basis. Here are just a few lessons I learned on this year's trip...

Twistable Crayons are the best invention since, well, crayons - Coloring is a daily activity with Allison and Logan.  As we busted out the paper and crayon box, I noticed these intriguing plastic covered crayons.  Tracy enlightened me that they are twistable crayons.  I was in love!  She said they last longer, no paper to tear off or sharpener needed.  Where have these been all my life?  When I returned home, I had to go shopping for some new sunglasses that met their demise while on our trip.  As I perused the aisles at Walgreen's, I noticed they had the twistable crayons and colored pencils buy one get one free.  I may or may not have bought two boxes.

Car rider lines are fascinating - When I was in elementary school, I was a "car rider" but when school was out, my Mom just parked out in the school parking lot and I walked out until I saw her car.  Pretty low tech.  These days, the car rider pickup logistics are amazing.  On Friday, we went with Tracy to pick up Allison from Kindergarten.  When we approached the turn-in to the school, Tracy hung up her number.  One of the school workers was there to text/radio back the number.  As we wound around the parking lot to get to one of five pick-up spots, we could see Allison, all ready to go with her Elsa water bottle and backpack.  We pulled up, she hopped in and off we went.  We were never this organized when I was in school.  The anticipation of seeing your child waiting to be picked up was exciting.  Clearly I need to get out more.  And, if you need your child picked up from school, I'd love that!  

Chick-Fil-A is more kid-friendly than I realized - I'm a Chick-Fil-A fan, but even more so now.  Of course, I knew you could trade in toys in the kid's meal for an ice cream.  And I knew many of their locations had indoor playgrounds, but after a visit at Chick-Fil-A with Allison and Logan, I learned even more goodness!  They provide plastic place mats!  As Tracy was ordering the food, Chad was setting up the seats and pulled out these plastic stick-able place mats for the kids.  How ingenious!  The Twistable Crayon folks must have come up with this one!  Once we were done, we could just peel off the place mat, wrap up all the trash and voila!  Clean!  Actually, I suspect Tracy engineered these.  

Kindergarten is the new First Grade - I'm amazed at the level of learning in Kindergarten now.  When I went to kindergarten, it was a half day and we had nap time during that time.  I remember learning about presidents, and voting for kool-aid flavors.  We had birthday celebrations where we could pick a birthday buddy to sit with us and share a cupcake.  And we learned how to roast pumpkin seeds.  Allison is in a whole new realm of learning.  There is music, PE, art, literacy, along with her regular class.  She goes for a full day and is learning all sorts of 2D and 3D shapes.  Friday was hexagons.  I don't think I knew what a hexagon was until later in elementary school.  Still don't as I quizzed Allison with a stop sign...which is an octagon, not a hexagon.  She even has homework!  After coming home on Friday, Tracy reviewed her backpack to pull out her homework and a newsletter to parents.  Good thing Tracy is organized because there were a ton of things to keep up with - picture day, homework, and teaching Allison how to open her own applesauce and punch in her own Capri Sun straw.  No wonder sweet Allison zonks out on the couch every day.  That's a lot for a little one to soak in.  

Kids hear everything and repeat it - Ok, so I already knew this lesson, but it was even more hilarious during our trip.  On Saturday we decided to go to Chuck E. Cheese.  But as we discussed the other options, we gave it the code name of "Charles E. Cheddar" to keep the children from figuring it out.  One day, they'll figure out the code name, but hopefully that'll be after Chuck E. Cheese has lost its luster.  Anything I said, Logan would repeat.  When playing Guitar Hero, I said "Daddy's guitar is on fire!" to which Logan repeated that phrase.  Logan wanted to play another game on the Wii.  Tracy said no (which is a rarity folks, she's a softie...especially with that long-lashed boy...and, I can't blame her one bit!)  Logan asked Daddy if we could play the game and Chad said, "No Mommy poo-pooed the idea."  Logan replied "Poop?  Who pooped?  Where's the poop?"  He was seriously looking for someone who had poo-pooed.  Hilarious.  

Another fun trip to the Todds has come and gone.  And I miss getting my good night hugs from Allison and Logan and playing games with their parents...and them.  Until next year's lessons, I'll just look at their picture on my desk at work in those moments when I need the right perspective on life.