Stalk Thy Neighbor, Love Thy Neighbor

I have no better words than anyone else processing the evil in this world through typed letters.  I read all the headlines, not just Colorado, but every killing, robbery, shooting, suicide.  It is all so very ugly.  Mark Beeson has said any number of times, Mark Waltz has said any number of times, "Hurt People, hurt people."  What can a  tiredbusyselfish mother like me do to change this ugliness in the world?

Not Much.

I know it takes a certain kind of absolutely out of your mind (insert expletive here) sin to kill other people.  Desperation.  Imbalance.  Anger at a raw deal you may have lived through but not grown through.  I know some things have no grounds in reality or reason.  I know that people's angry sin and ugliness will exist no matter what.  Mine does too.  I have it.  You can see it when I am on Facebook instead of playing with my kids.  When I yell at them not because they are really doing anything, but because in that moment what they are doing interferes with what I want to be doing.  Maybe they were dawdling as we try to leave the house, spilling as I am trying to eat my meal. I can see ugly in myself so easily.

I can pray, and I do.  For the hurt people doing hurting, they need it too.  For their victims.  For the families. For the neighbors.  Their neighbors.  NEIGHBORS?  What if we decided to know our neighbors again?  What if YOU baked cookies  or carried in groceries, even if they wave you off?  What if we chose to engage with the people around us?  Could it make a difference?

Would you notice ten small packages a day arriving at your neighbor's house?  Could you be building a relationship that would save?  Would your "Hello's!" and "Let me help you with that!" make you look Truman Show nutty, or would you begin building into another person's life that maybe, just maybe they would reach out to you when they needed to be heard?

CHALLENGE:  Contact a neighbor and let us know how it went!  I know most of my neighbors, so maybe I'll bake some cookies.  Oh, I did invite a walker up on the porch for coffee today.  Mr. Jim has an ongoing relationship with our dog Steve across the fence. We have slowly been getting to know him, it is good.

Weeping Wailing M&Ms

The little ones were whining about whatever they didn't have and John and I looked at each other and then at the clock wondering if it was too early for bedtime.  I ate chips right after dinner because I needed the salt pleasure but then the little ones climbed mount mommy to eat chips too.  I shared even though one had barely touched dinner.  

We bathed them uneventfully and brushed pearly whites unscathed by cavities.  Both littles were crabby crabby crabby and we shuffled them through a bedtime routine without books.  I plucked the littlest little from her crib where a drained Daddy had placed her.  We snuggled and rocked and breathed into each other's hair.

She asked for milkies with a open squeeze open squeeze open squeeze of her sign language gifted baby hand.  I told her no, and no again.  She was weaned two weeks ago with only one slip of the tip *wink* on a very very very bad night.  She snuggled into me again.  We rocked and patted and breathed and listened to Enya.  We prayed, I prayed thanking God for this bit of preciousness in my lap.   I asked Him to guard her all through her long life.  I thanked him she was healthy and beautiful and soft in my lap.

After forty five minutes I began to desire a hands free evening.  I was ready to gently place this doll baby into her veryownbed so I could at long last indulge myself any whim unencumbered by parenting.

SHE. WAS. NOT. DONE.  She screamed and railed and shook her baby head.  She slobbered her pacifier out of her mouth any number of times.  I patted, coaxed, yelled and stomped out cussing. My husband arose from below us to see.  I hissed to him how pleasurable our rocking was, and at last I put her down to THIS.  I felt schizophrenic.  She still cries as I write this.  She may be lamenting even when I dip fingers into the M&M bowl, scooping shiny colored candies to soothe myself.  

Even though I already brushed my teeth. 

This prattle inspired by and part of The Extraordinary Ordinary's Just Write Tuesday.

(Well I am a little Fantastic.) LOVING

A friend who (I am pretty sure) was joking, sent the first Bluntcard to me.  She was joking, right?  Wander over to in your free time and you are welcome.

Lady Gaga Hoochie Girls in Church?

Thanks to for picture
Dear Lovely Young Girl,

Maybe it was part of a bet, but your skin tight butt grazing strappy Lady Gaga dress might not be the best choice for church.  Even if it is a casual flip flops and jeans kind of church.  I am not a Baptist.  In my twenties I did wear tight and short dresses to go clubbing.  I have not always been a Christian, and when I wasn't one I REALLY WASN'T ONE.  I feel that I am a pretty liberal Christian, unsure about some details, loving and inspired by Jesus, but not always his people.  So as a woman who abhors judgmental folks, imagine how I feel when flames of judgement erupt in my brain, usually in viciously catty language like:

"How could you wear THAT to church, you Hoochie?!?! Do you have a mother and did she not see you heading out to church this morning?  I know you are a teenager, so someone had to drive you here and you aren't carrying (or wearing) a trench coat!" 

I wish this wasn't my response, Dear Lovely Young Girl, but it was.  I thought about you all through the service.  You might have noticed me as you were walking out after the first service;  I was the mother holding my two young girls who stopped and actually rudely stared at you walking with your two girlfriends.  I noticed their high heels and short tight skirts and then your tight short  tan skirt with black straps all up and down the back.  It looked a lot like Lady Gaga's strappy number in back from the waist up. You are beautiful, you have a fabulous figure, but unless you wore that dress to church on a bet, I wonder about your life. This makes me wonder about my life, too. 

I want desperately for my daughters to know how beautiful they are inside and out.  I want them to enjoy their sexuality without seeking valdiation through it like I did. It is a much more powerful feeling to be desired for all of you, mind body and spirit than just for your body for awhile. After becoming a Christian in my thirties and choosing abstinence, I realized a man wanting to sleep with me wasn't flattering.  Of course they wanted to sleep with me, I was darling!  But a man who would wait to sleep with me...who would put off his desires, respect me deeply and wait, in our case till marriage...THAT was flattering.  I also really learned about his personality, how he treated people and what he had to offer me when it wasn't clouded by sex.

As I struggled with my judgmental attitude, I wondered, maybe your mother just died and your father didn't know what to say when you got ready to leave for church.  Maybe you were forced to go to church, so you forced them to endure your outfit choice.  Maybe you went with friends and you are trying so hard to prove how grown up and cool you are and they did not know any better either.

I know it is better for everyone to be in a church where they can find love and acceptance.  No matter how they are dressed.  It is better for you, Lovely Young Girl, to be in church especially if you are dressed like you are for sale.  Because you were bought for a price already and you should know how valuable you are.  You should be embraced and encouraged instead of stared at.  I hope there are better folks than me around you to love you and encourage you.  I am sorry I stared and thought horrible things.  Maybe next week we will see each other again and I will smile at you.  I hope so.  But I will try not to look at what you are barely wearing.  


That Woman

Friends, how can I change my judgmental heart?  I swear too much, I loosely attend church, I have faltering beliefs....who am I?  NOBODY.  Have you dealt with this sort of issue and do you have stories or ideas to share?

TRK Box vs. Scratch: How Good Can Chocolate Cake Really Be?

Listen to this on NPR station WVPE, just Click Here

Death Match by Chocolate: 

Betty Box vs. Heather Homemade


Oh yeah, I see your eyes lighting up.


Pretty much any cake is good, even if it is the plasticy gritty sugary bad cake we have all had and regretted.  Even as we served up the second piece.  Cake is cake, and sometimes working in an office you might as well just have another piece even if it isn't that good.  Right?

As for me I usually am not into cake without some ice cream next to it.  Unless there isn't any in which case...uh....I still eat cake.

I read this most awesome guest post by "Food Babe" Vani  on 100 Days of Real Food blog.  In it she investigates store birthday cakes including the local grocery store and Costco.  Read it and weep.  And then be smarter about your delicious indulgences.  OK?

The post made me wonder about box cake mixes versus scratch cake baking.  I wondered how many ingredients, how much time commitment  there would be and would people really know the difference?  

Was it worth it to bake cake from scratch?  

(Still missing the red bowl, even after Shawna found it for me.  SAD!)
For me, I get to stay home and also love cooking and baking so from scratch ain't no thing.  (Except what I picture the finished product looking like is never what it actually looks like.  It is like my brain thinks "Martha Stewart!" but my kitchen interprets that as "Fourth Grader!".  No offense to fourth graders, I am sure they are very nice if not culinarily deft.)

I posted on my Facebook page that very soon it would be Cake Day.

Today was Cake Day.

I totally expected Hershey's to beat up Betty!
The challenge for me was to bake a box cake with canned frosting the same flavor as a from scratch cake and frosting to see how much longer it took and what the ingredient difference was.  

Then I would have taste testers determine which version had better flavor, and was it enough of a difference to bother going from scratch?

The cake mix was Betty Crocker "Super Moist" Devil's Food Cake.  The great thing was I only had to add 3 eggs, 1/2 cup of oil and 1 1/4 cup of water...easy peasy.  Stir and done.

BUT  there were 18 items in the ingredients list,  six of which I couldn't pronounce or tell you where they were from or what they were for.  The first three ingredients were flour, sugar and cocoa so I was a little impressed.

The frosting was Duncan Hines "Creamy Home-Style" in "classic chocolate".  It had 18 ingredients also (!) including coloring, oil and artificial flavoring. The first three were sugar, water, vegetable oil.  Yummy. 

Lots more stuff for me to mix up my cake batter from the Joy of Cooking cookbook.
My cake recipe was Chocolate Devil's Food from the "Joy of Cooking" cookbook. It had only ten ingredients and the first three were sugar, cocoa and sour milk for part one, sugar, butter and eggs for part two. I didn't actually have butter so I called  my neighbor Steve.  He was happy to be "Butter Boy"for me.

(Insert embarrassing jokes here, you bored and 
immature cake junkies!)

The cupcakes baked up gorgeous from both batches.  

QUESTION:  Does anyone know how to keep the cupcake paper liners from folding up into the batter when you pour it in?  I had some ugly folks and would like to know better next time.

So here is PART ONE of the big reveal:  Baking cupcakes from a box takes about 14 minutes from box to bowl to ready to fill cupcake cups.

You know how long it took me to bake the from scratch ones?


Four minutes longer, even with sifting and handling more ingredients. I will caveat that I was wrangling a one and three year old all day so my numbers COULD be a  But I think the first point is it REALLY doesn't take that much longer.

Ten Tasters, Day One
BUT according to taste testers, ten total on day one.....the actual cake flavor differences are not so great that one couldn't use a box mix here and there without shame!

PART TWO:  Frosting was another matter.  It added about 7 minutes to my time, making scratch take twice as long as box mix....but the frosting was the bigger impact according to all ten tasters the first day.  Rachel for one said she "totally" preferred the homemade frosting, and that there "was more difference in the frosting than the cake".  

Meaning: if you must, use box cake mix but make your own frosting always!

Of course I had my two trusty 'helpers' though I would rather just be honest and say there isn't much helping going on with them.

Check out those cake CRUMBS and the ruthlessly cast aside binky underneath my helper's stool.

My deepest thanks for falling on the sword of friendship and eating cake for my bloggity whims.  Steve, Whitney, Pino, Rachel, Michael, Francesca, Amber, Linda, and of course my Husband John and little girlie pies. All of these folks like cake.  Surprised? 

Poor hubby battled a baby to even taste his cake.

Hubby John wrongly guessed the  smoother frosting for homemade (guess he thinks I am just that good!).  When I asked him for more thoughts he said "I dunno, I can't think right now: screaming baby!"

The tallies were 9/10 preferred the homemade cake to the box cupcake, and Steve shouldn't really count since he doesn't' get out much.   Seven specifically mentioned the frosting as the draw and the biggest difference in cupcakes.  For me,  I got a little nervous there wouldn't be much of a difference but when I tasted the canned frosting I could actually taste the plastic packaging too.  That grossed me out bigtime.  And to think before using whole foods I bought canned frosting for everything from cake to cookies!

Day Two of the test was startling.  

For one thing, I have the kind of sense of humor to bring a dozen cupcakes to my 5:15 AM spin class at our local YMCA.  Yup.  I brought cake to an exercise class.  Let's be honest, wouldn't we all go if cake was offered?

I explained the deal and clarified that they had to have not one, but two cupcakes to taste test!  Once they stopped laughing, I enjoyed the look in their eyes.  They decide to try it before class, imagine that!  Bob, Lily, Liz and our instructor Karen.  THEY. ALL. ATE. CAKE.  Then Lorrie, Lora, Amy and Jeff from the YMCA front desk sampled too. Eight people.  And they all voted for the box cupcake hands down without exception.  I about fell over.  I was stunned and confused.  And annoyed.  I figured they are all at the gym because they have gobbled a lifetime of fake food and must not know any better.  I wondered if the early hour skewed their taste buds?  I spent the entire class befuddled and confused.

On the way home my spin pal Lindsay made a brilliant observation:  Maybe the preservatives in the box mix made it taste better the second day?  


When I got home I did what any self respecting investigator would do:  I ate cake.  

The scratch cake: dry and heavy but with awesome rich chocolately frosting.  

The box cake chock full of garbage and chemicals?  DELICIOUS.  Moist.  Springy and fresh.  I actually finished both of the box cupcakes.  The day before, I only ate half of one. I also remembered the carrot cake I baked for my daughter's birthday a year ago, and how it passed the company taste test for healthy low sugar items, but the next day tasted dry and frankly unpalatable without ice cream. (Maybe because we left them out overnight configured like a train too.  That probably didn't help!)

So I guess if you have to make a cake the day before you will be eating it....we need to come up with ways to make scratch taste fresh and light and awesome.  The best bet?  Get up early and make it real. 

Anyone have a great German Chocolate Cake recipe?  I tasted J's mom's cake three years ago and still think of it's buttery goodness.  

I would love to hear your stories of cakes-oh-so-right and cakes-oh-so-wrong.  Please include the ice cream. 

Mountains, Angels & Crying Babies, OH MY!

I am BAAAACK!  What a wonderfully long trip to the mountains.  We were gone TWELVE DAYS, four of them were driving days so do not be too jealous.  Driving with two little girls under three.  Traveling overnight while the kidlets slept Did. Not. Work.  So we spent a chunk of dough on TWO hotel stays.  Oh Well. Thank God we have the resources, right?

Dreamland Cabin= HEAVEN

We started out at our Estes Park cabin, "Dreamland" which holds so many memories for me.  I miss my Grandpa and Grandma Lutes so very much.  I can remember them so clearly there.  Dreamland was Grandpa's favorite place in the whole world.  I think it might be mine too.  It is hidden in the Big Thompson canyon and so close to the river even a girl can throw a rock from the deck into the river....marvelous. The piney mountain smell of freshness fills my soul there.

We got to spend time with my mom's brothers, Uncle Ben, Uncle Frank and Aunt Ruth.  There was a big ol lunch on the 4th of July with extended family and Dad and Kim too.  They were headed to the Curlee Reunion also of course.
Bear Lake, RMNP.  Merry Christmas!

We hiked Bear Lake with the littles, thanks to the marvelous Katie Seibel for KINDLY LENDING US Ergo and Oh Snap PACKS!  Or I might have the names wrong.  They were used much.
I might need another pair of eyewear here.

And motherhood on vacation can be hard.  I wasn't my best self.  I needed a vacation from my vacation so John let me run away for an afternoon.  

I cried in a gift shop.  
Cottage Bliss Angels

I met angels in said gift shop.  God reassured me that he loved and adored me.  He also told me to buy a bunch of darling stuff.  (Hi JOHN!  See, it was GOD!!!) I want to share that story more indepth later.

Then we joined up with the Curlee Clan for a y'all come at MacGregor Lodge in Estes Park.  There was singing.  Drinking (YAY BEER!) 
My Preshups Cousins Josh and Ericka

Inappropriate cousin greetings by moi: "Cousin Portia, what is the vodka situation?"  (Hey, it had been a rough few days up to that point...this mama needed to unwind!)  Curlee Cousin Kereoke adventures at Lonnegins in which a certain cousin didn't actually know the words to the song she picked out. The DJ thought maybe he should put on the right song, when I assured him that nope...that was the right song, I just didn't really know the words.  AT ALL.  NICE. And in which another cousin of obvious Elvis and Napoleon Dynamite breeding rocked his patootie off.  And made us laugh ours off.  

We had a tie dye adventure.  A fishing adventure.  MANY eating adventures.
Road Tripping?

There may have been yarn bombing.

MacGregor Lodge, Estes Park CO

And an irreverent visit to my mom's grave. 

Sterling Colorado Cemetery, Curlee headstones in background

With more yarn bombing.

A long drive with impatient little ones,  safe travel amidst mountains, rainstorms, other people's car accidents and tired folks....and we are once again on Elmhurst.

I am so glad to be home.

One of many pit stops.