Archive for October, 2010

Happy talk, keep talkin’ happy talk,
Talk about things you’d like to do.
You got to have a dream,
If you don’t have a dream,
How you gonna have a dream come true?

Rodgers & Hammerstein

#1 – Habits of Happy People
What do happy people do to help them to stay happy? Read this article to learn about 21 habits of happy people.

#2 – Stories of Inspiration
Inspirational-Short-Stories.com focuses on brief stories that are intended to quickly inspire you. I’m big on positive affirmations, so here’s one that’s titled Words of Affirmation.

#3 – The Happiest Place on Earth
Test your knowledge of the Happiest Place on Earth. Take this Mental_Floss trivia quiz and find out little known facts about Disneyland!

#4 – Foods That Make You Happy
Can diet affect your mood and behavior? Read this article from Men’s Health about 30 foods that research shows will change the way you feel. You’ll be happy you did!

#5 – Definition of Happiness
Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.
Denis Waitley

Have a great weekend and a Happy Halloween, too!

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“What happened to your house?” the little boy said as he quietly stood at my front door. I eyed him with a puzzled look and replied, “What do you mean?” But just as soon as I said those words, it dawned on me – I knew exactly what he meant. I squatted down to his level and said apologetically, “I’m so sorry. My boys grew up.” This little boy, dressed up as a devil, had come trick-or-treating at my home with the anticipation of finding my traditionally scary-looking house, but instead he found only a few fake spider webs strewn across some bushes. As I closed the door behind him, I felt the weight of his question and thought about what had happened to my house.

Halloween was always a fun time around our home. “What should I be for Halloween, Mommy?” was a question I anticipated every October 15th. Costumes were either purchased at a store or made by me – sometimes in advance, but most often at the last minute. And selecting which treats to pass out was always a dilemma. Being a dental hygienist, I didn’t like to pass out sugary sweets, but every year I relented when my kids pleaded that it wasn’t cool to pass out toothbrushes or dental floss. Other Halloween memories involved delivering secret “BOO” treats to neighbors. We would do reconnaissance by driving around the neighborhood to see which family did not have a BOO sign on their front door and later when it was dark, we’d sneak off and place a bag of treats on the doorstep, ring the doorbell, and then run like the dickens!

The most fun Halloween memories, though, are always centered around decorating the house. After my children were born, I started collecting little whimsical pieces of decorations, but as the children grew older they wanted to be more involved in the decorating. My sons, in particular, had their own ideas about how to transform our house for Halloween. With their help our Halloween decorations got more elaborate and progressively creepier. One year a skeleton hung from an oak tree in front of our house, but the next year bloody-looking, fake body parts joined it. Eventually, shrieks, screams, and bone-chilling music drifted out of a window and floated down the driveway. Playing the eerie music on our karaoke machine led to an unusual use of it – the boys discovered that by using the karaoke’s microphone, they could scream into it and scare unsuspecting trick-or-treaters. One son would man the microphone while the other peeked out the front window. If they knew the trick-or-treater’s name, they would personalize their ghostly greeting like this, “KYLE!!! . . . What are you doing heeeere? . . . I wouldn’t come any clooooser if I were yooouu . . . !” Add some swirling fog and orange-colored spotlights to the mix and our house evolved into one scary destination.

Then it happened. First one son went away to college and then the second one followed him. Although my daughter was still home, she was not into the gore of Halloween or into decorating the house. I enjoyed the “feminine” side of Halloween as my daughter grew up, but it just wasn’t the same without the boys’ antics.

Since the kids left, Halloween has always stirred up feelings of empty nesting in me; I miss my kids most around this time of the year. But with feelings of empty nesting come feelings of renewal and revival. I look forward now to going over to my son’s new home to see what gross and eerie scenes he’ll create with a bin of slightly used body parts and the old karaoke and fog machines of his youth! So to all the kids in his new neighborhood . . . BEWARE!

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The bright orange color of golden beets combined with the rich red of pomegranate seeds make this salad a lovely fall dish, but mention beets and pomegranates to almost any mother and I bet her response will be “STAIN.” Both beets and pomegranates are well known for their stain-making abilities. Just ask my kids why for many years I wouldn’t let them eat pomegranates. Pomegranates are like piñatas – you have to work hard, before you are rewarded with a spray of treats! A spray, though, hardly describes the scene I found on what would be my kids’ last day of eating pomegranates in our house. Explosion is a far better word. As I approached my kids sitting at the nucleus of the explosion, my eyes took on a wild-eyed look that only a mother with three children who had just turned her white kitchen into a red polka-dotted one could have. I looked at them. They just sat there, looked back at me, and said, “What?” If not for a kitchen remodel that occurred years later, I’m sure I’d still find pomegranate juice stain somewhere in the kitchen!

Even if you think you don’t like beets, try this recipe. You might be pleasantly surprised!

Golden Beet and Pomegranate Salad
Recipe from Elise Bauer’s Simply Recipes

3 golden beets
1 cup diced red onions
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup chicken broth (or vegetarian broth for vegetarian option)
3 Tbsp Triple Sec or other orange-flavored liqueur
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 cup pomegranate seeds
2 cups arugula and butter lettuce leaves
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1. Cook the beets – either boil them for 45 minutes or roast them at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour. Let cool. Peel and dice into 1/2-inch cubes.

2. In a medium skillet over high heat, bring diced beets, onion, vinegar, broth, liqueur, sugar, and orange peel to a boil, stirring often, until liquid is reduced to 2 Tbsp, about 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.

3. Stir in pomegranate seeds into the beet mixture and salt to taste. Serve on top of salad greens on individual plates. Sprinkle with feta cheese.

Serves 4.

Linnell’s Notes:
The beet mixture could be made ahead. Before serving, stir the pomegranate seeds into the beet mixture. I added a little freshly ground black pepper to the beet mixture. For my greens, I mixed baby spinach leaves and a spring salad mix together. I plated this salad on a beautiful blue platter (complementary color of the orange beets) instead of individual plates. This delicious salad really does not require any additional salad dressing, but if you feel the need for dressing, either make a pomegranate vinaigrette or buy a good brand of raspberry vinaigrette.

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Two little birds were delighting in a round of Birdie Hokey Pokey – jumping in out and shaking all about – in the bubbling water of my fountain. The sun was low in the sky when I stood under a tree in my backyard hoping to snap a photo of these bathing beauties. With their thirst quenched and feathers cleaned and fluffed, the happy pair ignored the clicks of my camera and quickly flew off into the autumn sky. I don’t know who enjoyed the bird bath more – me or them.

#1 – Don’t Forget to Guess!
Don’t forget to email me your three guesses for the Birthday Contest. Click here to view the mystery photo and read the contest rules. Remember, I only have a point and shoot digital camera, but have a great imagination! The Contest ends on November 1st, so don’t miss out on an opportunity to win a unique prize!

#2 – What’s Your FRAX?
Osteoporosis is a concern for both men and women. According to the latest edition of Nutrition Action Health Letter, “One in two women and one in four men over age 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis . . . . By the time you are 40, your body starts losing more bone than it makes. Losing just 10% of your bone mass can double your risk of fracturing a spine or hip.” The article provides information to reach a site where you can use FRAX (Fracture Risk Assessment Tool) to estimate your risk of fracture. Open the page, click on Calculation Tool and then answer the 12 questions. It immediately calculates your percentages. Supposedly, you can still use the FRAX whether or not you have had your BMD (bone mineral densit) tested. I was pleased to discover that the ten year probability of my fracturing a hip was 0.0 percent!

#3 – 9 Yummy Drink Recipes for Fall and Winter
Couldn’t pass up this one up when I read the title in Mother Nature Network. Pumpkin Pie Smoothie, Spiked Apple Pie Punch, Eggnog Latte, and Cranberry Martinis were some of the recipes that looked interesting enough to try. Check out the recipes here to see if you agree!

#4 – Reusing Plastic Bottles and Caps
Thanks to those of you who sent me emails with this tip. With a sharp pair of scissors, very carefully cut off the “neck” of a plastic bottle (one with a threaded cap such as a water bottle or a soda bottle). Make sure to cut it so that no sharp or jagged areas remain that could possibly inflict injury. Recycle the bottom part of the bottle, but save the “neck” and cap. After rinsing and drying these parts, they can be used to seal plastic bags. Insert a plastic bag through the bottle neck, fold over some of the bag and then screw the cap back on. I found this worked better with thinner plastic bags such as produce bags. This idea didn’t work well on thick or stiff plastic bags such as cereal bags, but nonetheless, it’s a great idea and worth experimenting with larger plastic bottles and caps.

#5 – Don’t Underestimate Your Power
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
Leo F. Buscaglia

Enjoy your weekend!

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Picnics or parties, that’s how versatile this easy do-ahead recipe is. It makes a great main lunch dish or a delicious dinner side dish. Bean threads are also referred to as cellophane noodles, Chinese vermicelli, crystal noodles, or glass noodles. They are transparent Asian noodles usually made from mung bean or yam starch. The dried form can be found in many grocery markets now and after reconstituting them with boiling water, they can be used in soups, stir-fried dishes, and spring rolls. Do not confuse bean threads or bean vermicelli with rice vermicelli, which are made from rice and are white in color rather than clear.

Shrimp and Bean-Thread Salad
from the Noodle Shop Cookbook by Jackie Passmore

Serves 4, or 6 to 8 sharing dishes.

Salad ingredients:
5 ounces bean-thread vermicelli
12 medium shrimp, in their shells
2 teaspoons nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon palm or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped whole scallions
1/4 cup finely sliced straw mushrooms
1/3 cup sliced water chesnuts
1 cup fresh bean sprouts, roots and seed pods removed
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and julienned
1 red onion, peeled and finely sliced
1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro (Chinese parsley) leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed mint leaves
2 teaspoons vegetable oil

Salad Dressing:
1-1/2 tablespoons nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon palm or dark brown sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons corn oil or other flavorless vegetable oil
2 teaspoons Thai sweet chili sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic (optional)

Soak the vermicelli in boiling water for 1-1/2 minutes. It will be semi-transparent and crisp-tender. Drain in a colander and cool under running cold water. Use kitchen shears to cut into 3-inch lengths. Transfer to a mixing bowl.

Combine the dressing ingredients. Pour half over the vermicelli, mix well, and set aside.

Shell the shrimp, leaving the last segment of the shell and the tail in place (reserve heads and shells for stock or bisque; they can be frozen until needed). Make a deep cut down the center of each shrimp’s back and pull away the dark vein. Press the shrimp open. Place in a dish and season with the fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar. Set aside.

Prepare the remaining ingredients, except the oil, and add to the vermicelli in the bowl. Mix in evenly.

Heat the oil in a small pan over high heat and stir-fry the shrimp until they turn pink. Remove and add to the salad, along with the reserved dressing. Toss for a few moments to thoroughly combine the ingredients and moisten evenly with the dressing. Pile onto a platter and serve.

Do-ahead note: The salad can be made ahead, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated for several hours before serving.

Linnell’s notes:
The salad dressing recipe made a very small amount. I was skeptical that this would be adequate, especially since the bean threads would continue to absorb the dressing as it sat in the refrigerator. I doubled the dressing recipe and was glad I did. Although the minced garlic is optional in the dressing, I would include it. Don’t skimp on the herbs, either. They bring a wonderful fresh flavor to this salad. Enjoy!

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What’s a birthday celebration without games and prizes? To celebrate the first birthday of What About This? I’m holding another challenging, but fun, mystery photo contest! It’s simple – just identify the subject matter in the photo above, before anyone else does, and you win!

Is the prize a trip to Paris or a million dollars? Hardly, but I can guarantee you that you’ll never come across a prize such as this in any other contest! The lucky winner will receive a set of fabulous, one-of-a-kind note cards made by moi! I will be spending many, many hours creating these note cards, so that the winner receives a wonderful collection! Some of the cards will be crafted in the detailed and time-consuming mosaic-style (see Teacup, Slice of Cake, and Bridal Shower) in which I recycle photos, calendars, magazines, and scraps of pretty paper. Some of my very favorite blog photographs will grace the fronts of other note cards. In the right hand column headed Categories, click on the entry entitled “Handcrafted Cards” and you can view more examples of my work. There are very few people in this world who have received my special cards! Note that there may always be variations on a theme, but no two cards are ever the same. This set of creative note cards will include envelopes, a selection of printed sentiments for you to choose from and adhere to the inside of your cards, and adhesive.

Before the guessing begins, please keep in mind that I only use a point and shoot digital camera for all of my blog photos and that I did not travel out of the galaxy to take this particular photo.

Here are the rules:
1. Send your best guess of the photograph’s subject matter via email to me.
2. To keep it fair, only three guesses per email address, please.
3. The contest will run for two weeks from today, so get your guesses in quickly!
4. In case of a tie, the time each email is received will determine the winner.
3. So that I can mail the winner this fabulous prize, he/she will have to provide me with a full name and mailing address.

Good Luck! Be on the look out for notification of your win in a future post!

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The days are noticeably shorter now. How can these lovely fall days have the same number of hours in them as those hot summer days that seemed to stretch on forever. If each day has twenty-four hours, why do I feel like I’ve lost time lately? With the waning daylight, so goes my ability to accomplish everything that needs to be done. Interesting, isn’t it?

#1 – Share Our Strength
The statistics tell the story: nearly one in every four children in America face hunger. Share Our Strength is an organization whose goal is “to make sure no kid in America grows up hungry.” Helping can be as easy as hosting a bake sale. Check out how you can participate in the Great American Bake Sale.

#2 – Sharing Smoothie Recipes
Do you like to drink smoothies, but are bored making the same ones over and over again? Need a little creative boost? Here’s a collection of healthy smoothie recipes from Men’s Health Magazine.

#3 – Borrow, Share, Trade or Barter
Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense to buy something you’re only going to use once, so maybe it would make more sense to borrow it from someone else. Or perhaps you have an extra saw in your garage and would like to trade it for someone’s extra hammer. With the struggling economy, websites that promote borrowing, sharing, trading, bartering, or just plain giving away are popping up on the internet. Check out these sites:
Share Some Sugar
Snap Goods
Care to Trade
Trade a Favor
Joe Barter

#4 – Sharing Fabulous Photos of Faraway Places
Photographer Steve McCurry is probably best known for the photo he took of an Afghan refugee girl whose story was told through her piercing green eyes and whose portrait graced the cover of National Geographic magazine twenty-five years ago. Referring to his body of work, Mr. McCurry says, “Most of my images are grounded in people. I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person’s face. I try to convey what it is like to be that person, a person caught in a broader landscape that you could call the human condition.” Kodak gave Mr. McCurry the last produced roll of Kodachrome film. The photos he captured on this roll will be the subject of an upcoming National Geographic documentary. View some of Mr. Curry’s photographs on his website – they’ll make you want to grab your camera and travel.

#5 – Stop to Enjoy Happiness
“Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn’t stop to enjoy it.”
William Feather

Share some happiness this weekend!

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David M. Schwartz, the author of popular children’s books, once told me, “There are numbers in stories and stories in numbers.” Over the years I have come to appreciate how numbers tell stories. So what kind of story do the numbers 1, 149, 433, 680, and 16,584 reveal? They tell an immensely satisfying story about this blog.

One year ago What About This? or W.A.T? was born. In many ways its creation was similar to having another child. Creating a platform for my creative endeavors and helpful ideas was a notion conceived in my head and thanks to my husband’s technical assistance, delivered into existence. Akin to nurturing a child, a blog requires constant tending. For blogs to grow and develop, they need to be continuously fed ideas and thoughts. For them to thrive, they need love and the constant support of others.

Like a child, W.A.T? has experienced growing pains, but has also reached some incredible milestones. For someone who did not consider herself a writer and who never wrote on a regular basis, I’ve managed to find enough words to write 149 posts thus far. The diversity of topics that’s been covered on W.A.T.? is well represented by the number 680 – the current count for the number of tags (searchable topics) I have entered. Because W.A.T? is not a typical blog, in the sense that the subject matter cannot be categorized under one main subject heading, it may never reach astronomical readership numbers that pure food blogs, pure craft blogs, pure gardening blogs, etc. can reach. Life cannot be put into neat little categories, so I’ll never be able to restrict myself to writing about one subject matter.

As my baby grew, amazing things occurred. On January 21st of this year as I reviewed W.A.T?’s daily stats, I could not believe my eyes. The computer graph, representing the number of views for the day, had spiked to a high of 433! That number represented evidence that people were starting to discover What About This? It was also proof that my husband was not sitting at his computer all day long, clicking on my site multiple times just to make me happy!

What’s a birthday without gifts? W.A.T? has presented me with many unexpected gifts. I would sincerely like to thank all who have either just dropped by for an occasional visit or who have loyally followed my journey throughout the year. Your visits to my blog have been gifts of joy to me. As of this minute, What About This? has been viewed over 16,584 times, a number that has far exceeded my dreams. When first starting this blog, I had no expectations whatsoever. I assumed I would always have at least one reader – my husband – so any number above one would be a bonus! In addition, researching topics, photographing subjects, reflecting on my life and feelings have helped me to grow intellectually and emotionally. Readers’ comments about posts have validated my feelings and lifted my spirits. Unanticipated links to people, some newly made connections and some re-connections, have made my life fuller. I am so appreciative of all of these gifts.

To celebrate this special occasion, I’m posting another challenging Mystery Photo Contest! Get the scoop on the contest and read about the prize in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!

“Sharing and encouraging joy in life” is my tag line for What About This? Stay with me as I continue my journey and help me spread the joy by sharing What About This? The best is yet to come!

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18,969 was the number displayed on the screen of my pedometer yesterday. My goal of walking 10,000 steps every day has been made so much easier by the delightful fall weather we’ve been experiencing. Some people run for fun, but I walk to talk. Walking with my husband or my friends is amazingly therapeutic for me and it’s provided me with some of my best brainstorming, problem-solving sessions yet!

#1 – Pictures of the Week
The adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” was never more true than in this collection of photos posted by the Denver Post. The site reads, “Each week, the Denver Post compiles some of the week’s most poignant photos from around the world.” They indeed will tug at your senses and are most definitely worth viewing.

#2 – Black is the New Brown
We probably all know that brown rice is more nutritious than white rice, but now brown rice is being bested by the antioxidant-containing black rice. Not my usual source for health information, but according to an article in Elle Fashion, “black rice may be the next big superfood, boasting more antioxidants, fiber, and Vitamin E than blueberries.”

#3 – Boost Your Brain Power
“Researchers found that a woman’s memory can be impaired for at least a year after giving birth, although the effects are minor.” Well, too bad my kids are beyond the age where this excuse could work for me! In an online article titled, 14 Research-Proven Ways To Boost Brain Power by eMedExpert, I learned a few new things about keeping my brain “nimble.”

#4 – More Games
Speaking of brain power – the Bitsong site has some interesting activities to play at your computer while you take a short break. Some are more of the relaxing-distracting type and others are the brain-boosting sort. Some of the activities have music (think harp) or sound effects, so turn down the volume if you don’t want people to know you’re playing games instead of working or studying! Instead of writing this post this morning, I played these: Star Rescue, Sunroom, a flower arranging activity, and Match Flowers, a concentration-memory game.

#5 – The Purpose of Life
“I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.”
Leo Rosten

Make a difference to someone this weekend!

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Heat up those ovens and start your baking! Now is the time to consider sending out care packages to all the first-time-away-from-home college students you know! Just think about the smiles on their faces when they receive your packages in the mail! Here’s a recipe from the famous Dorie Greenspan for Espresso-Chocolate Shortbread Cookies that are easy to make and travel well. The combination of espresso, chocolate, and butter will go great with all the Starbuck’s coffee students use to fortify themselves. For more ideas of what to include in care packages, check out my post College Care Packages.

Espresso-Chocolate Shortbread Cookies
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon boiling water
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, or ¾ cup store-bought mini chocolate chips
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)

1. Dissolve the espresso in the boiling water, and set aside to cool to tepid.

2. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and confectioners’ sugar together on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is very smooth.

3. Beat in the vanilla and espresso, then reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, mixing only until it disappears into the dough. Don’t work the dough much once the flour is incorporated. Fold in the chopped chocolate with a sturdy rubber spatula.

4. Using the spatula, transfer the soft, sticky dough to a gallon-size zipper-lock plastic bag. Put the bag on a flat surface, leaving the top open, and roll the dough into a 9-x-10½ -inch rectangle that’s ¼ inch thick. As you roll, turn the bag occasionally and lift the plastic from the dough so it doesn’t cause creases. When you get the right size thickness, seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible, and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours, or for up to 2 days.

5. GETTING READY TO BAKE: Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

6. Put the plastic bag on a cutting board and slit it open. Turn the firm dough out onto the board and, using a ruler as a guide and a sharp knife cut the dough into 1½-inch squares. Transfer the squares to the baking sheets and carefully prick each one twice with a fork, gently pushing the tines through the cookies until they hit the sheet.

7. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point. The shortbreads will be very pale – they shouldn’t take on much color. Transfer the cookies to a rack.

8. If you’d like, dust the cookies with confectioners’ sugar while they are still hot. Cool the cookies to room temperature before serving.

Makes 32 cookies.

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