December 30, 2012

Something sweet for the new year

Growing up, these yummy little squares were featured fairly prominently on the potluck and special dessert rotation. This is my Mater's recipe -- I believe that it came originally from a Mennonite cookbook.

They take a bit of time to bake but are super quick to put together. It's a great dessert to pop into the oven right before you sit down to dinner so that they're nice and warm when you're ready for dessert!


Butterscotch Squares

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts, or oats
1 tsp vanilla

Melt butter and blend with sugar; add egg and beat vigorously.

Combine dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix well.

Add chopped nuts and vanilla.

Spread dough into greased 8x8" pan.

Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.

Cut into squares while still warm.

December 29, 2012

Please tell me you're kidding

So I read a lot of blogs, and some of them are on tumblr -- and because I can't figure out how to comment on tumblr without having an account, I'll just rant here a bit.

Ok, here is the post (bowdlerizing mine):
yesterday i was hanging out with a friend of mine who i really like and we were talking about the hobbit (he’s seen it, i haven’t)

and we were talking about the movie and the book and etc. and i mentioned how disappointed i was that there weren’t any female characters in the book (and therefore likely not in the movie)

and this friend of mine was like “well it’s not like it’s EXPLICIT that there are no women”

and it’s just like

your barometer is so [expletive]

[expletive] [expletive] i should not have to try this hard to find a character to identify with in your series

i should not have to rely on “well the author doesn’t explicitly say ‘THERE ARE NO FEMALE DWARVES’ so i mean, that means there’s probably AT LEAST ONE, SOMEWHERE, and so he’s not a misogynist!!1”

just….. what? are you being serious right now?

ESPECIALLY when the companion series has a seven to one male to female character ratio and all of the female characters are ultimately super [expletive] disappointing

i’m not saying you can’t like tolkien/lotr/the hobbit/whatever,

i’m just saying let’s not pretend it’s not a [expletive] problematic series if you happen to be a woman

(or a person of colour! but i’m not even gonna get into that)

This kind of thing makes me tired.

A short quiz for the post author:

1) Imagine that I change your summary to read "i mentioned how disappointed i was that there weren’t any male characters in the book" and "the companion series has a seven to one female to male character ratio and all of the male characters are ultimately super [expletive] disappointing":

a) Would there still be a problem here? Or would you just assume you were reading, say, Judy Blume?

b) If you don't have a problem with a 7-to-1 female/male ratio or "super ... disappointing" male characters in a novel or movie, please elaborate: why is it only a problem the other way around?


2) Regarding the term "problematic series", please explain:

a) Why does the inclusion or exclusion of a certain demographic make a series "problematic"?

b) Seriously, what do you mean by "problematic"? Does it hurt you? Does it hurt women? Is it problematic to write about men? Are men problematic?


3) Regarding "i should not have to try this hard to find a character to identify with in your series", please explain:

a) Is the author ethically, morally, or otherwise obligated to include a character of any particular demographic in his or her novel, regardless of whether said character fits into the story he or she wishes to tell?

b) Would you really rather have a character of a particular demographic included in a story for the sake of including a character of that demographic? Isn't that what we call "token characters"?

c) If part of the draw of fiction, especially of the science fiction or fantasy variety, is the ability to encounter and empathize with characters who are not like us, is it possible that you're missing the point?

d) If we're only relating to characters based on their surface characteristics (race, sex, etc.) rather than on their interior characteristics (personality, emotions, etc.), isn't that bit on the shallow side? Not to mention the racist/sexist side which you are trying so hard to position yourself against?

e) If you find it impossible to identify with characters who aren't just like you, is that the author's problem, or yours?


December 22, 2012

This is the way the world ends

... not with a bang, but a snowstorm. 

Well, as we all know, the world didn't come to an end yesterday -- go figure -- but we still got walloped with a wonderfully-huge dump of snow yesterday. This is great for me; we don't have a car, but I do have great big snow boots, and as far as I'm concerned, the more white stuff on the ground the better. I am a creature of winter, like a cardinal... or a yeti...

This afternoon Stan and I will be taking the train to my parents' house for Christmas with the (extended) fam. I'm pretty excited; I've seen my family a few times in the last year as they've come up to visit us, but I haven't actually been home since last Christmas. Happy day!

The big drawback, though? Where my parents live, the winters are weaksauce. The first year I was living here in Rivertown, I went back for Christmas in The City and I wore my big winter boots -- because we had snow here. But there wasn't snow in The City, and so I was stuck in gigantoid boots as I tramped the bare pavement... like a dork.  

The weather conversation with my Vater yesterday went something like this:

Christine: Yeah, we're getting a foot of snow today! Is there snow where you are?

Vater: They're saying we might get some flurries overnight....

Sad, I tell you. Sad. 

December 17, 2012

Things I never get tired of

1. Eating pomegranate seeds (juicy rubies you can crush between your teeth!)

2. Watching the way the wind blows snowdrifts over a frozen river

3. The way that a dried-up sponge expands when water hits it

4. Stomping around in great big winter boots

5. Wrapping Christmas presents just so

6. Spontaneous toddler hugs

7. Fart jokes

December 15, 2012

Easy, yummy oatmeal bread

Stan is out of town on a business trip at the moment, which means that I had a whole Saturday morning to myself. So I thought I'd make bread! This is one of my favourite recipes. It makes a dense, sweet oat bread that's perfect for toast and great for sandwiches. I like to eat it slathered in butter. (Though who am I kidding? I like to eat anything slathered in butter. Heck, I just like eating butter.)

The amounts listed below are enough for two loaves.


Ingredients:

1 cup oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp canola oil
2 cups boiling water
2 1/2 tsp yeast
1/2 cup warm water
5 cups white flour

Combine oats, whole wheat flour, brown sugar, salt, and oil in large bowl. Add boiling water and stir.

In a separate bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add to large bowl when the boiling water has cooled to lukewarm. Stir in white flour.

When dough is stiff enough to handle, turn onto floured board and knead 5-10 minutes. Place in greased bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled. Punch down, divide, and let rise in 2 greased loaf pans.

Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes. Cool on rack.

A few notes:

1. You're not going to get much height on your second rise. Like as I said, these loaves end up short and dense.

2. It can take a while to get all the white flour incorporated into the liquids. Persevere. Adding it one cup at a time helps a lot.

December 14, 2012

PSA: Please excuse this superfluousity of posts

Ok, so I'm importing a blog that I used to write, just so all of my archives are in one place, and I notice that every! single! post! is being grabbed by my rss reader... even though they're all 3-5 years old, they're only counted as being "published" now.

If you're seeing all of my ancient posts popping up, I apologize. I'm not a spam-bot! Carry on with your lives!

We are getting out of debt, and it is doable

When Stan and I got married we realised that we were facing a combined debt load of nearly $50,000. It had multiple sources; some was student loans, some was credit cards, some was personal debt and a string of questionable decisions. But however it got there, there it was: $47,000 in owed money, give or take a few hundreds here and there.

That's a lot of debt for anyone. That's especially a lot of debt for a young couple just starting out. And it would be easy to look at a number like that and become paralysed. Despair is easy! Big numbers are scary! Et cetera!

But instead, we are getting out of debt. We are getting out of debt and it is doable. It takes hard work and discipline, but it is totally doable. I calculated yesterday that in the nine or so months since we got married, we've paid down over $23,000 of that debt. That's not really halfway because of interest (dang you, interest!) but it's incredible progress!

Not only that, but we're saving $500-625 a month while paying that debt down.

Here are things that are working for us:

1. We treat debt repayment as a fixed expense. It's awfully hard to get out of debt if you wait until the end of the month to see if there's any money left to put toward it. We treat debt repayment the same way we treat paying the rent and giving our tithe: no matter what, that money is going to be used for its intended purpose. Every month we repay about $1150 on our loans. If we have to wait on other purchases, so be it. If we skip eating out, so be it. Debt repayment is a fixed expense.

2. We negotiated with our bank for lower interest rates. This is something that you can just do! We've done it for credit cards and we've done it for the line of credit. It never hurts to call your bank and ask for a lower rate. And if you're paying less interest, you're taking bigger chunks out of your principal. Hooray!

3. We repay as much as we can afford over the minimum amount. Our bank automatically debits our chequing account for the minimum amount due on the line of credit each month. Once that happens, we top it up with an extra payment, so that our monthly payment amount on the line is $900. That extra payment is applied directly to the principal, and it really helps us whittle down the amount we owe.

4. We don't treat dividends as spending money. Any time that extra money comes in -- wedding gifts, bonuses from work, tax returns, etc. -- that money is put directly onto the line of credit. As above, these extra payments get applied directly to the principal. Yay!

5. Savings: we set 'em and forget 'em. For a while we were trying to remember to set aside money for savings every month, and some months we'd remember, while other months... not so much. While we were trying to treat savings as another "fixed expense", it wasn't really working. Then Stan hit on the (brilliant) idea of setting up an automated savings plan with our savings bank. Now every Wednesday $125 gets automatically moved from our chequing account to our savings account -- that means we're putting away $5-600 dollars depending how many Wednesdays there are in the month. It's really encouraging to see our savings growing so steadily, and amazingly we've found that we don't really miss that extra money. (We save with ING; if you're considering opening an account, consider using our referral key -- 15769833S1 -- and we'll both get a bonus!)

Now, obviously this isn't always a walk in the park. Stan and I are fortunate in that we're both working full time right now, and so there's enough money coming in that we can make some pretty big strides here. This can be harder if you're a couple with one income, or you're in school, or what have you... but take heart. Getting out of debt is doable. And when it finally happens, it's going to feel amazing.

December 11, 2012

In what non-hygienic world is this a good idea?

Goober, at snack the other day:

1) Picked up his yogourt and sneezed on it.

2) Put down his yogourt. Picked up his spoon and sneezed on it.

3) Picked up his yogourt and proceeded to dig in, with gusto.

Sick toddlers are disgusting.

December 9, 2012

For your pleasure, edification, and delight...

After a pretty busy weekend, I'm a bit light on post material -- so here are some interesting things I've been reading lately:

How to Guard Sabbath for our Children -- now, Stan and I don't have children yet, but the principles laid out here are super sound. It's actually a good reminder to us to work on guarding Sabbath for ourselves now.

The Curse of Low Parenting Expectations for Teens -- Again, we're not parents, and so it's funny how much time I spend reading parenting articles... goes with the job, maybe! This is a fantastic post by the equally fantastic Sheila Wray Gregoire. I think that my parents had pretty high expectations for me, and that definitely helped me to set high expectations for myself. I hope to be able to provide the same sort of framework for my children one day.

Inherited Memories in Organ Transplant Recipients -- True? I don't know. Fascinating? Heck yes.

Your Beautiful Eyes -- This is a gallery of super-close-up pictures of people's eyes and they're crazy beautiful, and also just plain craaaaaazy. Highly magnified pictures of body parts kind of freak me out a bit, but these are amazing.

Man Travels England Licking Anglican Cathedrals -- is anyone surprised that this was to win a bet?

December 7, 2012

Friday evening thankfulnesses

A while ago, following the example of Ann Voskamp, I decided to start writing down a list of things that I am thankful for. You know, attitude of gratitude!, and all that (I feel as if that phrase always ends with an exclamation point whether warrented or not). As promised, I did actually notice a change in my internal habits of thought -- and perhaps a lessening of my cases of the grumples -- as I tried to intentionally notice God's small gifts all around me. It was good.

Like most of the habits I try to start, however, this practice fell by the wayside after too short a time, and the special little notebook I bought rattled its lonely way around my purse for some weeks without being pulled out. But I think that it's time to start being thankful again. I need to be reminded.

Here are some of today's thankfulnesses:

- This morning I put out the nativity set, as a surprise for Stan when he got home. I'm thankful that Christmas is coming.

- Yesterday Goober said his first complete interrogative sentence: "What is this?". The twins have expressive language delays and so it's really encouraging when they make strides like that.

- Tonight I got home from a singalong performance of Handel's Messiah, which is my all-time favourite piece of music in the world ever -- both to listen to and to sing. It was amazing to sing it with hundreds of other people. The soloists were very good this year, particularly the alto, and I had a great time. I'm thankful for singing, and for music, and for Handel, and that I was able to get off work early so that I could make it to the rehearsal on time!

Things I'm not as grateful for:

It's Christmas (well, almost), which means Christmas decorations, which of course means bringing out our favourite ornaments from our separate pasts (this being our first Christmas and all), which means that Stan has gotten out his creepy, creepy nutcrackers. Although he's kindly placed them facing away from the bed, I just realised that this means that they're just watching me in the mirror. They are CREEPING me OUT, honey.

He just whispered that they're plotting against me. Thanks, babe! I'll sleep well tonight!

December 4, 2012

Om nom nom, brownies!

I made brownies at work with the kiddos today, and they turned out so well that I copied out the recipe to take home. The cookbook was one of those church-published jobbies (by the Main Centre Mennonite Brethren Church, in bustling Main Centre, Saskatchewan -- last reported census population zero). The recipe looked pretty good on its own, but I can't leave well enough alone, and so I include my modifications in italics, below:

Best Brownies

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup melted butter
2 Tbsp cocoa
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch salt
chocolate chips

Mix all of the ingredients except the chocolate chips together in a bowl. Spread batter into a greased 9x9 pan (or smaller if you'd like thicker brownies) and sprinkle with chocolate chips.

Bake at 350F until done, about 25 minutes in a metal pan or 30 in glass. Dust with icing sugar before serving.

I made these with nuts at work and without at home -- yes, they were so good I made them twice today -- and they are equally decadent in either form. The cinnamon pairs beautifully with the cocoa, and I'm surprised that more recipes don't use them together. Note that these are a bugger to get out of the pan, even when it's greased; maybe more flour would fix it? If not, feel free to do like I do and eat the pan-scrapings with a spoon.

Enjoy!