Golden Book: Make music a part of your life

It’s official. I have joined the Valparaiso Community/ University Concert Band. My initiation was complete when I played my first concert with the group at the Porter County Fair. Often people’s ears seem to perk up when I tell them I’m in a band. The ensuing confusion at hearing that I play the flute in that band is equally amusing. It’s true that I’m no hip new singer and I can’t lay down an amazing guitar riff. However, when it comes to more traditional, classical ensemble performances, my passion for music is still very much alive. 

I started taking piano lessons around kindergarten and I’ve enjoyed playing ever since. I grew up used to the cycle of recitals broken up by weekly lessons. When I reached middle school I decided to pick up the flute and join the band and I count that as one of the best choices I ever made. Despite a ridiculous course load all through college, I always saved a slot in my schedule for band and it never felt like a wasted hour. Band was always a place where I could go to recharge and turn off the daily stresses of everything else. It’s incredibly therapeutic to watch your own growth and improvement. In this area, success was never defined by grades but by my ability to play a passage that I’d been struggling with for two weeks or by the first time I nailed a 32nd note run or by the time I figured out how to play vibrato. I knew I was getting better because I could hear it. 

One of my biggest fears moving into adulthood was that music might go by the wayside in all the hustle and bustle of everyday life so when I came to Valpo, one of my first steps was to seek out a community ensemble. I’m so happy to have found VCUCB. In this group, people from all walks of life come together to share their passion, make friends and have fun. All the hard work and Tuesday night rehearsals paid off on July 24th in the Porter County Fair Veteran’s Day Recognition Program that would have given my mom goosebumps. This performance, in all its star spangled glory reminded me of all the reasons that I love to play music and I look forward to many more concerts with this group.


Golden Book: Try a New Recipe

This isn’t technically written anywhere in my favorite little golden book but it’s in keeping with the theme of achieving my goals so, why not. Today for the first time ever, I attempted to recreate my mom’s famous chocolate eclair all by myself. Of course we were in constant text communication throughout the process which was a lifesaver for the tricky bits. This fancy sounding delicacy is nothing more than a pile of graham crackers and vanilla pudding blanketed by a layer of rich dark chocolate. 

Some eclair essentials.
  • Combine 2 packages of French Vanilla Pudding with 3 cups of cold milk.
  • Fold in 2 containers (8 ounces each) extra creamy Cool Whip until smooth.
  • Butter a 13 X 9 inch Pyrex baking dish and cover bottom with graham crackers.
  • Spread 1/2 of pudding mixture on top of crackers. Place another layer of crackers on top of pudding and add remaining pudding. Cover with another layer of crackers (You”ll need a little less than 1 box of crackers in total).
  • Using a double boiler, melt 2 squares unsweetened baking chocolate, 2 Tbsp. Karo syrup, 1tsp. Vanilla extract, and 3 Tbsp. milk. Stir until smooth.
  • Mix 1-1.5 cups powdered sugar with the chocolate mixture until smooth and poor on top of crackers. Use a spatula to smooth to edges and corners.
  • Refrigerate.

This recipe is the perfect means of impressing friends and neighbors at summer picnics and barbeques and is unfathomably simple in all ways but one; the chocolate topping. After a disastrous attempt involving my sister and which resulted in a bitter tasting chocolate lump, I stayed away from this particular recipe. However, years later, I have finally discovered the secret to the perfect chocolate eclair. It is absolutely essential that no water reaches the chocolate mixture as this will cause it to crystalize and congeal into something utterly unappetizing. A very slow heat is also critical to success. 

Make sure to spread your chocolate evenly over the crackers and voila! The perfect chocolate eclair! I’m happy to say that this was a huge hit. I will definitely be making it again for the next summer get-together. 

Golden Book: Learning Something New!

In today’s world we are taught to keep a sharp eye out for unfriendly or unwanted attention. Particularly the ladies. We’ve taken to carrying an assortment of emergency items; pepper spray, knives, even a hammer just in case. It’s impossible to know what shady characters are lurking around the next corner. However, really buckling down on self defense can be just as intimidating. I grew up going hunting with my dad and learned the basic rules before I was old enough to carry my own gun. 1. Keep your finger off the trigger unless the sights are locked on something that you actually plan on shooting. 2. Never, EVER point the gun at anything that you don’t want to destroy. Spending time around firearms operating under these rules while hunting deer and elk instilled in me a healthy respect for what they could do.

However, it’s possible to understand and practice gun safety without truly understanding the gun itself. Through hunting, I learned to operate an open sights .30-06 rifle but each firearm always seemed to have its own bells and whistles and keeping track of each distinction was a daunting task. I never felt totally confident at the shooting range or in a gun store without the careful supervision of someone with many more years of adulting under their belt. Obtaining a concealed carry permit was always a goal but I never knew how to go about achieving it. To anyone who has ever felt this way, I recommend the Pistol Basics class at Blythe’s shooting range in Valpo.

Half of the course was spent in the classroom reviewing proper gun safety and handling while the other half was spent practicing with different types of handguns. The instructor spent time with each student to ensure that everyone left with a full understanding of the variety of firearms available, how they function, and the pros and cons for each. I’m still no sharp shooter but I left this class with the confidence I need to get started. I have an idea of what I’m looking for in a self defense firearm and the knowledge to go to a range and try out a few. If walking into a gun store scares you or if you just want to learn more about how firearms work in general, Pistol Basics is a fantastic place to begin.

Golden Book: Today’s a New Day!

I’m thrilled to say that I have finally reached a stage in my life where I’m able to make good on all the promises I made to myself years ago. Of course it doesn’t happen all at once. For instance, I currently don’t have the funds or vacation time to take a month long trip to New Zealand to fulfill a lifelong dream of visiting the Shire. That item remains on my bucket list. However, I was recently reminded of goals that I set for myself long before I came to Indiana by a little golden book. My mom gave me Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow as a high school graduation present. It was fitting at the time as I was moving out to begin life as a slightly more self sufficient college student.

This book has become my all time favorite self help book for a number of reasons. It’s beautifully illustrated pages describe the life that I have always wanted to live. There are a few things that I already have a good start on like treating myself and staying clear of shady characters. I have recently made music a part of my life by joining the Valparaiso University/Community Concert Band. Someday I’d also love to be better at keeping in touch with old friends and making new ones. I want to exercise everyday, go dancing, learn to cook and sing even when I can’t hold a tune. 

It seems like this little golden book was made just for me. Without meaning to, I’ve used it as a template for many of the decisions that I made in the last four years. I always enjoyed the illustrations associated with each life goal but never gave much thought to them until I moved to Valparaiso and began work in the steel industry. One of my favorite pages is the “Work hard” page which I only recognized as an illustration of a basic oxygen furnace after accepting my current job at a steel mill! My goals all seem to be wrapped up neatly in one little book.

New Home, New Hazards

Why did the turtle cross the road? He wanted to get to the other side obviously. It’s a joke so simple that any child could tell it, although my version usually involved a chicken. However, that was not the conversation which occurred in my brain as I headed home from work at 3:00 in the afternoon. I instead found myself wondering why that rock in the middle of the road was moving and why on earth it had legs. In my experience turtles are found in zoos or the homes of old friends from elementary school. They are not found in the wild. I was utterly unprepared for one to cross right in front of my car of its own volition as I left work that day. 

This is one of many differences that I’m getting used to in my new home. Mornings regularly include melting between my apartment and my car, defogging my car windows in the heat of the summer months, and now watching for the occasional turtle crossing on my way to work. Despite all the changes, I am constantly floored by how lush and green everything is here. The world is teeming with fresh life. I’ve come to the Emerald City where lamp posts look more like wizened tree trunks beneath a mesh of vines, where every roadway is lined by towering sentinels and the sky is obscured by their leafy canopies.   

People are generally surprised to find that I left Colorado to live in the flat lands of Indiana. They often ask why. It’s true that I am first and foremost an alpine flower, having previously thrived in the thin dry Colorado mountain air. However, it’s incredibly refreshing to start again somewhere completely different and bloom in new landscape. I’m happy to report that I think I’m starting to get the hang of growing in this new ground, although I’m sure there are many more surprises still to come.