Golden Book: Believe in Love at First Sight

Good enough for now is never that for very long. Change is the only constant for humanity. You’re both growing. The only question is whether you grow together or apart. In school and in work, perfectionism can be a terrible trap which holds you back from your true potential when a good enough job will do. But when it comes to people; friends, family, romantic interests, don’t ever settle for good enough for now. Be a perfectionist. Believe in unicorns and fairytales and the existence of true love. 

More than that, live in such a way that you can look in the mirror everyday and find yourself capable of both giving and receiving that kind of love. It’s not easy. Convincing yourself that you deserve to be deeply and truly loved is one of the most difficult things you may ever do and even if you succeed, you might find yourself doing it all over again the next day. Every person on the planet has wondered this at some point but it’s a battle worth fighting. If you can hold out for the right people and take the initiative when they do come along, you’ll have a life of few regrets. 


Golden Book: Learn to Cook (Stir Fry)

It’s been a while since I posted about my favorite Little Golden Book but I recently had an exciting breakthrough in the kitchen and it seemed like a good time to revisit it. Learning to cook isn’t technically one of the golden book rules but it’s in keeping with the theme of trying new things. This week I attempted to make chicken and veggie stir fry and it turned out beautifully. Through a combination of this Broccoli and Chicken Stir-Fry recipe and a few helpful tips from my mom, this was a stunning success!

My last attempt at chicken stir fry was years ago during my days as a poor, starving college student. Having little cooking experience at that time, I dumped in way too much soy sauce to disastrous effect. The dish was so salty it was nearly inedible and I was never brave enough to give it another try. However, I’ve been craving the stuff ever since my mom made it during one of my Colorado visits and I was determined to get it right this time. Here are a few tips for avoiding my early mistakes and cooking up a delicious stir fry that’s bound to hit the spot.

  • Chop all your ingredients beforehand – Once your chicken is cooked, things will go very quickly. I used a bag of pre-chopped assorted vegetables which included broccoli, carrots and Snow Peas. To this I also added one small sweet onion, half of a red bell pepper for some color and sliced water chestnuts to give it some crunch (stir in the water chestnuts at the end). 
  • Use LITE SOY SAUCE!!! – Trust me on this. Also, never wing it with your soy sauce measurement. Do it right. In this case, ⅔ of a cup was perfect. 
  • Use fresh ginger – I grated a bit into my sauce mixture and also added some shredded ginger to my veggies as they cooked.
  • Use sesame oil – The recipe calls for vegetable oil but for the best flavor, I recommend cooking your chicken and veggies in sesame oil instead. 
  • Don’t forget your red pepper flakes – They add a nice spice. 
  • Steam your veggies – I cooked my chicken and veggies separately. I added a bit of water to my veggies on medium low heat for a few minutes to allow them to soften. I then added my cooked chicken back to the pot with my sauce mixture. 

Serve it up on a pretty plate and you’ll have yourself a gourmet looking feast for four (or dinner for one for the whole week). Enjoy!

Golden Book: Be open to making new friends… even if you’re very, very shy

Relocating halfway across the country right out of college for a job is terrifying but absolutely worthwhile. I highly recommend it to any young professionals stepping out into the adult world for the first time even if you do turn homeward in a couple of years. You will learn so much more about what you’re capable of by going out on your own than you ever did in school. 

As a shy, awkward college graduate with a metallurgical degree and no family within 1,000 miles I was determined to make friends when I began my career in the steel industry. I realized very early on that life is only as fantastic as you make it. If you move to a new place with the mentality that it will be temporary then it will be. If you start a new job purely for the sake of paying the bills, thinking that it will be a constant tedious uphill slog, then that’s exactly what you’re signing up for.  

However, if you approach these major life changes with open eyes, you might discover there are some interesting people in your office who are more than happy to join you for drinks after work or for a Saturday game night. I know first hand how petrifying meeting new people can be especially when you’re the new kid on the block. But showing up really is half the battle. People want to help and make you feel at home. So the next time one of your coworker invites you to a backyard BBQ don’t scramble to fill your calendar with something else. Just say yes.

Golden Book: Use Your Imagination

It’s been a while since I wrote one of these but I recently picked my favorite Little Golden Book and fell in love with its brilliant words of wisdom all over again. It felt like a good time to dive back in. After all, Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book (Diane Muldrow).

When you get home it’s so easy to plop on the sofa, TV remote in hand, or to settle in front of your computer for some mindless scrolling. I challenge you to resist the temptation to go completely brain dead after a long hard day at the office. While all of those activities are gratifyingly mind numbing, partaking in them does nothing to recharge your mental, emotional or social batteries. You’re simply killing time. 

Instead, dare to raise your expectations for yourself by exercising a little self control and by pursuing a passion totally unrelated to your job, even if you like your job. In my experience, the happiest people tend to be well rounded with a multitude of passions and outlets for all that pent up stress. Don’t shut down the minute you get home from work. Wake up. Energize yourself with something completely different and creative and 100 percent for you.

Be creative. Read a fantasy novel. Make something with your hands. Paint a picture. Sing a song. Try a new cocktail recipe. It could be anything. Just do something! Take up a hobby. Maybe join a writer’s club or take a woodworking class. It’s never too late to have fun while learning something new but make sure to use your imagination. 

Golden Book: Savor the seasons as they roll around

‘Tis the Season

Christmas cheer is finally here! Although I plan to travel back home to Colorado to be with my family on Christmas, this year marks the first in which I will be on my own for holiday preparation. Christmas is not an event but a season in my family. It’s the scent of fresh walnut cookies that seems to linger with the first snow and the twinkling of bells that floats on the icy wind. As such, this year I decided to get a head start on holiday spirit. This was a somewhat spur of the moment decision which occurred during my weekly grocery shop the day after Halloween when I noticed scarecrows being replaced with reindeer figurines. I couldn’t help myself. As the shelves were being stocked with ornaments and wreaths and fat little Santa’s, I picked out my very own, mini Christmas tree, a fake one that came prelit. It now stands as a sparkly silver, four foot tall reminder of the festivities still to come. 

Putting the Pieces  Together

Every year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, my family and I construct a Christmas puzzle. The time until Christmas Day is marked by the advent wreath on the coffee table and by the progress of the puzzle in the center of the living room, each piece bringing us one step closer to the happiest time of the year. As the picture comes into view, so does the holiday spirit. It’s an activity that everyone can get into if only to have the satisfaction of finding one more piece. Losing track of time is never better than when you’re surrounded by people you love and enthralled in happy traditions. At least once every year, my sister and I find ourselves waking from the meticulous stupor that a good puzzle brings, only to be shocked that it’s two in the morning. This year in recognition of the time-honored tradition, I completed my own Christmas puzzle, a 1,000 piece Charley Harper. 

The Sounds of Christmas

No matter where you are, there is no shortage of beautiful music at Christmas time. Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, every retail store serenades shoppers with “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree” set to eternally repeat. Bell ringers set up camp at the entrance to every grocery store. Carolers don their warmest winter coats for expeditions into the neighborhood and every church choir is fully staffed to ensure that the holiday cheer never ceases. It’s a time when schedules are over-booked with innumerable concerts where the harmonies of the season are taken up on trumpets and violins in community orchestras all across town. This year, I sported my own concert attire to play the flute in the Valparaiso Community/University Concert Band annual Julefest concert. Traditional Christmas melodies filled the VU Chapel of the Resurrection on December 3rd. The performance concluded with a singalong medley of well known Christmas tunes which allowed members of the audience to test their singing voices and join in. The celebration continued the following Sunday for Tuba Christmas which was a huge ensemble consisting entirely of low brass.  

Julefest fireworks at the Chapel of the Resurrection

Lighting up the Night

Following the delightful Julefest performance, I treated myself to a romantic evening stroll through downtown Valpo where twinkling lights adorn nearly every tree and lamp post, keeping the holiday cheer aglow. The crisp still night air lulled the world into a reverent hush as couples ambled around the plaza and posed for photos in front of the enormous Christmas tree. Even Orville Redenbacher was dressed in his holiday best in a crimson stocking cap. The sounds of happy chatter and Christmas tunes floated across the street from the Central Park Plaza Ice Rink. All this made for a nearly perfect winter evening, improved only with the addition of large fluffy white flakes drifting down from the sky to settle over the lawn and the bows of the glittering trees. 

Cookies for Santa

Nothing says Christmas like a platter of homemade German cookies fresh from the oven. The baking of the Christmas cookies was always a group activity that would draw all of my extended family to my Oma’s tiny kitchen over the Thanksgiving holidays. There, we would congregate. Us kids drew flour on our cheeks like war paint as we assembled to carry out Oma’s orders on the proper amount of walnut meringue to be applied on each oblaten while others were finger painting the butter cookies with egg yolks. That is what Christmas tastes like and what I attempted to replicate this year in my even tinier apartment kitchen. Although my family is miles away, my mom and I still managed to keep the cookie baking tradition alive as we chatted over the phone while we both put the final touches on my Oma’s butter cookies. 

What are your favorite holiday traditions? Help spread the Christmas cheer by sharing your stories in the comments below.

Golden Book: Cultivate Contentment (Hobbit Life)

Achieving Perfect Hobbitness

Growing up being read tales of elves and talking trees, my sister and I regard much of JRR Tolkien’s work as literary gold. The legendary quests of Middle Earth are considered just shy of Gospel in our family. As kids, we would make up characters for ourselves, people of steadfast quality that young Mr. Frodo met during his travels in the War of the Ring. We always liked to imagine ourselves as wise and immortal elven folk or as being among the viking-like race of the fair-haired horse lords of the Rohirrim. Although picturing ourselves as valorous shield maidens will always be cause for endless entertainment and the source of some truly epic childhood fantasies, the older I get the more I realize that I am first and foremost a Hobbit at heart. The last four years of my life have been spent studying to one day become a successful engineer. However, I tend to prefer the simple comforts of life and have therefore set a new life goal. I aspire to be a happy, healthy Hobbit. 

Taking the Hobbit Challenge

In pursuit of this new dream, this November, I took on the challenge presented in Tea with Tolkien, 30 Days to a Hobbit at Heart. The entire month was dedicated to drinking tea, avoiding fast food and various other objectives designed to boost Hobbit habits. Although I failed to hit every point on the list, I still count November as a huge success. I picked up a few routines which I hope I can carry on for many months to come, including regularly preparing meals fit for a Hobbit’s table. Unfortunately, I failed to bake the magical elvish waybread, Lembas, but substituted chocolate chip cookies which were a huge hit at the office the next day. This journey to perfect Hobbitness even pushed me out of my social comfort zone and inspired me to host a couple casual dinner parties for some friends from work. I will definitely be doing this again, although maybe not twice in one month. 

Channeling Bookish Bilbo

I also carved out time every day to read and to journal which has been especially useful in my creative writing endeavors. The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen was my book of choice for the month as I’ve been working my way through all of her books. Establishing these practices as part of my daily ritual helped me to limit my screen time. This lead to the baffling discovery that I have much more time to spare when I’m not spending it mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. With all this newly liberated free time, I managed to make practicing the flute and piano a regular occurrence throughout the week which was particularly rewarding as I can now play a variety of music that my mom is sure to enjoy when I visit her for Christmas. 

A Hobbit at Heart

Although I was unable to accomplish every item in 30 Days to a Hobbit at Heart, it helped me to focus and get in touch with my inner Hobbit. I plan to continue to seek out new ways to make my life cozy, comfortable and content in my quest for perfect happiness and Hobbitness. As Thorin said to Bilbo, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” How do you cultivate hobbit-like contentment in your life? Please share your habits with me in the comments below.

Team Combat Hobart: Mission accomplished

It is possible to love your job and appreciate your coworkers while still wishing you could smack them upside the head from time to time. This is a natural and nearly inevitable feeling which stems more from spending the eight most wakeful hours of your day everyday to spend time with these people rather than a true ill will toward anyone in particular. While such measures provide comedic relief in cop shows, they’re sure to land any reasonable, non-fictional person a pressing phone call from HR at the very least. There are three magical words to resolve almost any workplace irritation without involving Human Resources. Tactical Laser Tag. 

Few things are funnier than watching fully grown adults that you spend your entire professional life with dress up in military gear and run around like five-year-olds. Ideally it is best to bring enough of your work buddies to field two teams. That way you get that little jolt of pride every time you work together to achieve the laser tag objective while also having the satisfaction of getting off a good shot on that guy from the office two doors down from yours. You are relieving stress and pent up frustration while simultaneously supporting a sense of comradery among your coworkers. You might even have so much fun that you’ll all decide to grab a beer or dinner together afterwards. This is the correct order of things. DO NOT go out for food and drinks before entering your nearest tactical laser tag facility as laser tag is first and foremost a physical activity and you will definitely regret that plate of Thursday night wings. Save it for after.  

Such was the wonderful and exhausting experience that I had at Team Combat Hobart just a short drive from Valparaiso. My lack of regular exercise and deep passion for food and sweet things was brought into sharp and painful focus. However, despite being incredibly out of shape, I’m looking forward to the next laser tag adventure with bubbling anticipation. It’s so refreshing to meet people all over again in new settings, especially when you’re all wearing army vests and shouldering some mean looking laser guns.  

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.