Monday, September 17, 2018

50 Things To Do Before I'm 50 - Take A Cooking Class [La Cuisine - Paris, France]

While Robbie was working in France earlier this month, I signed up for a cooking class at La Cuisine in the heart of Paris! The Les Macarons: Basic 2-Hour Class included instructions for making the cookies using the Italian meringue method and creating two ganache flavored fillings.

There were only 8 class participants (a mom & daughter from Irving, Texas; a mom & daughter from Massachusetts; 2 friends from California; a journalist from Washington, and me). The classroom/kitchen was located in the cave (cellar) of the cooking school, and all the equipment resembled what we normally use at home (making it easier to replicate the recipe in our own kitchens). I was paired up with Jessica, the journalist from Washington, and really enjoyed the small group format. Not only did Jessica and I have FUN, we snapped lots of photos along the way.

Each cooking pair chose a color for their cookies, and I (of course) was thrilled when Jessica agreed on yellow!

Our instructor, Eric, was born in France, but grew up from the age of 8 in California. He studied French literature in college, then returned to Paris to pursue his passion as a pastry chef. He was an excellent teacher, keeping everyone on track and sharing lots of tips for making the perfect macarons.

There are quite a few steps to creating these FUN cookies - preparing the ganache filling (which was placed in the freezer to thicken), preparing the almond paste, preparing the Italian meringue, combining the meringue and almond mixture to the perfect consistency, piping the cookies onto a baking sheet, baking, cooling, piping filling onto cookies, and assembling.

Despite the fact that Eric thoroughly explained and demonstrated piping the cookie dough, as well as coaching each of us individually, our cookies were less than uniform in size.

Did you know that assembled macarons are best enjoyed 24 hours after baking to allow the cookies to absorb the filling and become softer? I have to admit that despite not being quite as uniform as those found for sale in Parisian bakeries, our macarons tasted perfectly delicious!

Have you made macarons? Or taken a cooking class? Please share your experience in the comments.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sunday Musings - God Is Bigger Than Mount Denali

When Robbie and I spent two weeks in Alaska this summer, it was an amazing experience and some much-needed time for just the two of us.
While we checked our email once a day (when internet access was available) and used the GPS on our cell phones as we traveled unfamiliar roads, we basically disconnected from technology and social media.
Before heading into Denali National Park for our final five days in Alaska, we learned that only 30% of visitors get a full view of Mount Denali (the highest mountain peak in North America). There is often cloud cover or fog or rainy conditions that completely or partially hide the dual peaks of this magnificent mountain. Yet, we had two beautiful days of this gorgeous view from the porch of our cabin at Camp Denali near the end of the 90-mile park road. 
Honestly, after several tough months, I needed to be reminded of the greatness of our Lord. As I sat on our cabin’s porch, I knew without a doubt that God was reminding me that He is bigger than whatever we are facing. He could have just given us a glimpse of this view, but He gave us two full days…probably to be sure I didn’t miss Him and this reminder that He is greater and more powerful than anything that comes against us in this world.

Psalm 147:3-5 says: He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure.
Now, I’m sure some of the other campers thought we just lucked out to get such a gorgeous view. And others might think it was just a coincidence that we were the ones who just happened to be there during those beautiful weather days. They might have missed God altogether!

But because I was looking for Him and wanting to hear from Him, I didn’t miss Him! He works in everything we do and experience, and He will show up in the simplest things (like a beautiful landscape) when we need to be reminded of His power and His presence.

In Jeremiah 32:27, the Lord says: Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?
What do you need from God this week? Are you listening and watching for it?

Friday, September 14, 2018

First Ladies: Style of Influence (Educational Field Trip)

My 13-year-old twin nieces are studying government and economics this year; so, when they were in town a couple of weeks ago, I planned a FUN and educational field trip to the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum special exhibit - "First Ladies: Style of Influence."

This exhibit "examines how the role of the first lady has evolved over time, and how first ladies have used their position to advance diplomacy and other social, cultural, and political initiatives." The roles were divided into four spheres of influence: hostess, teammate, champion, and policy advocate. As the girls and I strolled through the exhibit, we learned what each of these roles involves and saw photos, documents, and artifacts highlighting various US First Ladies who excelled in these four areas of influence.

The role of hostess involves coordinating social events and dinners, including creating menus, inviting guests, and coordinating seating arrangements. In this role, first ladies also determine the White House d├ęcor and oversee each year's Christmas trees and decorations.

Among the examples in this role, we learned that in 1814, then First Lady Dolley Madison saved George Washington's portrait along with other White House treasures before the British attacked and burned the White House. She understood the importance of these items to our nation and its history.

Barbara Bush was another example of a great hostess; she was referred to as "Everyone's Grandma" and is considered one of the most loved first ladies. She wrote in her memoir that "...the things that matter are faith, family, and friends." Mrs. Bush passed away earlier this year after living what she referred to as an inordinately blessed life.

In the role of teammate, first ladies support and partner with the president. Eleanor Roosevelt, who was first lady for 12 years, 1 month, 1 week, and 1 day, was a huge supporter of her husband during the war years. Likewise, after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Laura Bush became a comforter and her focus shifted to causes that were tied to the terrorist attacks.

The champion role involves a special cause or passion that the first lady is interested in or worried about. For example, both Laura and Barbara Bush were huge champions of literacy. And Michelle Obama spent her time championing good nutrition and movement to fight childhood obesity.

As a policy advocate, first ladies become actively involved in policy creation, breaking down stigmas, and spurring others to action in and out of government. Hillary Clinton is a huge advocate of gender equality and women's rights.

We also learned that there have actually been 56 women who have served as first ladies, even though there have only been 45 presidents! This is due to the fact that some president's wives did not accompany them to Washington, thus a daughter or sister might have served as first lady. There were also instances where the first wife of a president passed away and the president remarried. There was a photo and short bio of each first lady on an interactive computer set up at the exhibit.

This was a very well-done and educational exhibit, and it was so much FUN to tour it with my nieces, beautiful young ladies discovering their own passions as they grow into women who will influence our world in the years to come!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

March 2018 Scrapbook Layouts

I'm continuing to use INSPIRATION from Shimelle's The 20 Project class and the old BPC 28 Days of Sketches class as I scrapbook this year's photos and stories. This first layout from March showcases one large photo and shares how the Bradford pear trees bloomed mid-month, teasing of spring, but we had several more bursts of rain and cool weather afterwards.

We're always striving to eat healthier, and I can't resist snapping a photo when the food is pretty, too! This layout using four small photos worked perfect to highlight some of our meals in March.

I'm also often inspired to snap photos when we are browsing flea markets, garage sales, and antique stores, so I printed a variety of 2x3 photos from a couple of places we visited earlier this year for a layout where I also included some old lace and buttons.

For these last two layouts, I used a simple two-page kit from Lickety Split called "You Are My Sunshine" (a gift from my friend Amy). Both pages hold photos from the same weekend; however, since they tell slightly different stories, I wanted the pages to go together but not appear as a two page layout. For the first page, I used mostly items from the kit, adding a journaling card and flowers from my stash. I also included a screen shot of a text, which I printed in black & white since the blue text bubbles didn't go with the colors of my layout.

The second page uses the same background paper from the kit, but most of the other papers and embellishments are from my stash. I like the way these two pages flow together while stilling being unique. (Thanks for the FUN kit Amy!!)

I still have a couple of stories to scrap from March as I progress on our 2018 chronological album. How is your 2018 scrapping coming along?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

50 Things To Do Before I'm 50 - Balloon Ride [Ballon de Generali - Paris, France]

When I first set the goal to ride in a hot air balloon (#22 on my list of 50 Things To Do Before I'm 50), I didn't realize there were different kinds of balloons - some use hot air to control the lift while others use gas (helium or hydrogen). The Ballon de Paris Generali is a helium powered tethered balloon located in Paris, France, and I went up in it during our recent trip.

According to the website, this is the largest tethered balloon in the world. It is 115 feet tall and has a 74-foot diameter.

The basket is large and can hold up to 30 passengers, although there were only about 15 on board when I went up on an overcast day.

The balloon is set up in Andre Citroen Park in the 15th arrondissement of Paris.

The Ballon de Generali is authorized to fly up to 984 feet and has equipment on board to study air quality in the area.

It was a little bumpy on take off and landing, but otherwise it was a smooth ride and almost felt like riding in an elevator … with just a netting for the upper walls!

The view was amazing - seeing Paris spread out in all directions and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. It seemed like we went straight up, but when I looked down the tether was at an angle, so there was obviously a little wind. 

So excited to have this item checked off my list! Have you ridden in a helium or hot air balloon? Please share your experience in the comments.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Monday, September 10, 2018

Book Report - Three Great Reads


What Blooms From Dust by James Markert (which I received free from Booklook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review) is set in Nowhere, Oklahoma, during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s. Jeremiah Goodbye, the main character, is in the electric chair, condemned to death for the murder of several men, when a storm blows in and crushes the wall of the prison, killing the guards, and allowing him to escape. He was known as the Coin-Toss Killer, so, true to his nature, he flips a coin and decides to return to his hometown to settle a score with his twin brother Josiah. Along the way, he rescues a young boy, Peter Cotton, and they return to the town that is not necessarily happy to see him return. There are a host of great characters in this book, including Josiah's wife Ellen, the twins' father Wilmington, and Rose, a journalist from New York City who has been investigating the murders Jeremiah was accused of committing.

Many residents of the town are on the verge of giving up after the Black Sunday dust storm, but Peter begins a project that saves them by helping them see why it's worth continuing to fight for life and the town. This is a good read about redemption, relationships, kindness, struggles, and finding hope in the midst of darkness. I definitely recommend this book, particularly for fans of Frank Peretti and/or historical fiction.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi was recommended by new friends we met at Camp Denali on our Alaskan Adventure this summer. This story begins in Africa and alternates between the stories of two sisters who never know each other because they are born in different villages to different fathers. One sister is married off to a white British slave trader while the other is sold into slavery and sent to America. The books begins in the mid-1750s and continues through the early 2000s. Each chapter is the story of a person from the next generation. [For example, chapter 1 is Effia's story, chapter 3 is Quey's story (Effia's son). Alternating chapters are Esi and her family's stories.]

This is a very well-written book dealing with tribal and family dynamics, rituals and customs (especially in the African tribes), slavery, racism and poverty. It's an ambitious book covering a vast span of time and eight generations, yet each chapter tells a personal story about one character. Many of the stories are sad and have unhappy or difficult endings. I found it somewhat arduous to jump back and forth between the families of Effia and Esi and am tempted to re-read the book following first one story then the other. I highly recommend this book!

I first read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in 2009 for a book club discussion. I thoroughly enjoyed it at the time and was excited to learn that there was a Netflix movie based on the book that came out last month. Robbie and I watched and enjoyed the movie, and I re-read the book. There were quite a few changes for the movie, but the overall story is still there.

The narrative of the book is written completely in letters. Juliet, a writer in London, receives a letter from Dawsey, a man on Guernsey Island, who mentions being a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This peeks Juliet's interest and she begins to correspond with Dawsey and other members of the Society. She learns that the Society was formed during the German occupation of the island during World War II. (The story takes place a year after the end of the war.) There are a host of fantastic characters in this story, and the letter format is easy to read and follow. I highly recommend the book and/or movie for a story that is delightful despite the hardships faced by the characters during and after the war.

Which of these books are you adding to your to-read-soon list?