Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Good Friends: Tammy the Opera Star

This is the first conversation I have with anyone:
"What did you study in college?"
"art history"
"ahh....[silence, think, think] so, are you an artist yourself?"
"umm, no. I wish I were."
~at this point, the conversation dies~
I may not have one great talent, but I do have one blessing in my life that I cannot deny: I have some excellent friends (and if you are reading this, I'm talking about you!). They are inspiring and bring so much good into my life. So, I decided, if this blog is about finding life's good stuff, I should interview my good friends and see how they got to be so terrific.

So, for my first official interview on this blog, I give you the great 
Tammy Mumford

I have to say, Tammy is my most famous friend. She sings at the Metropolitan Opera--like the one in New York, you know, at Lincoln Center, and has the best operas and big opera superstars. So, of course, her voice is phenomenal. You better believe it is really fun to sit next to Tammy in choir and pretend that I, also, am such a singer! la la! But, after knowing Tammy all these years, the thing I find most amazing about her is her sense of balance. She has her fancy opera life and family life and church life, and keeps it all together so beautifully. I had to ask her some questions to find out how she became not only a world-class singer, but also, a really great person.

How did your parents foster your love of music?
It started with my grandparents. One grandpa was a high school music teacher and did musical community events. Consequently, my dad grew up singing and did it more seriously as he got older. My other grandpa loved opera. He had it playing in my mom's home, and my mom grew up listening to opera and going to many concerts. As my mom and dad raised my family [of 12 amazing kids!], it was similar, in that the music was always there. My dad sang in semi-professional theatre, and we would always go see him perform (which was usually a positive experience, except for when he was in the freaky dream sequence from Fiddler on the Roof. It made us all cry!).
Also, music is such a prevalent part of the church. Many times, my sisters and I would be asked to prepare a musical number for a ward program, so we would figure out what we were singing and practice together at Family Home Evening. We also grew up mainly watching musicals, since they were a wholesome form of entertainment.

As you approach motherhood (in the next few days!), how do you see yourself introducing your kids to music?
Piano is such a good skill for everyone to know, especially as a member of the church, so we will encourage our kids to take piano lessons. But, really, we'd like to see what our son's interests are and help him develop those talents. Music will always be a part of my life, and it will always be a part of our home, so our children may naturally gravitate towards music, but I don't want to push it if our kids aren't interested. The hard question about all this is how do I know if a child is really interested in a musical instrument or not? Everyone has moments when they are taking lessons when they want to quit. So when do I know to keep pushing or to just let it go? [such a good question.] In my own family, the level of interest varied from kid to kid, and my parents adapted to that. Looking back, it was such a sacrifice for my parents to take all of us to music lessons. We always took lessons before school, and I imagine that my mom didn't love getting up so early.

What were the most formative musical experiences as you grew up?
I was the Sterling Scholar in music during my Senior year of high school, and this required me to think through how serious I really was about music. At this point, I knew I wanted to focus on music, but I had always envisioned myself teaching. During my Freshman year at Utah State, I remember listening to a recording of some songs that I was learning. My friends were going out and invited me to come, but I really wanted to just stay home that night and listen to this beautiful music and learn it well. That was a moment when I realized that people really do sing for their job, and I really wanted that. Although sometimes it does feel like a job, there are many moments when I really feel touched by the message and beauty of the music. Also, when I am singing with my sisters, I remember how much I want music to be a part of my life.

How do you keep your composure and not get nervous while you are on stage?
It's funny, the times I get most nervous are for church performances, because I know that everyone else knows me and knows I do this for a living, so I feel a lot of expectation. But, the more I perform, the easier it gets. By getting accustomed to those nervous feeling, like butterflies in my stomach and a racing heartbeat, the more I know how to work with it while I perform. It is very important to be super prepared. If I know it very well, then I can go on auto-pilot, rather than thinking about every little thing. It is important to have the technical aspects well prepared, so I can really focus on what the music means to me.

What great wisdom from a great musician and friend!  Thanks, Tammy, for your insights, and good luck in the next great act of your life--motherhood!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I love a good party: Happy bouncy ball birthday, buddy!

I do love a good party, and I especially love a good kids' party. Kids really party hearty. And Petey's second birthday party did not disappoint--it was raging! In all the parties I've given over the years, Pete's second birthday party goes down in the books as my favorite. " What? A room full of toddlers is a good time?" you ask? When it's a certain special toddler and his very special friends, I can't think of one place I would rather be. Especially when you have a room full of bouncy balls.

I'm usually not one for high-maintenance invitations (evite) but I saw this idea here and thought it was something I'd like to get in the mail.

I used these balloon lanterns for our decorations. I might just keep them there for a while.

As a last-minute, right before bed thought, I did this little flag streamer. I ironed the fabric on some interfacing and glued the flags on. It was cute, and maybe next year I'll give myself more time to make a great big one. It's a nice way to use up some fabric scraps.

I had some high cake anxiety, but, as usual, the cake was fine and the frosting was a nightmare. That blasted frosting...so finicky, so demanding, and then, after my great display of love and concern, it self-distructed on me. I should have suspected this frosting recipe was not normal after putting 8 sticks of butter in the kitchenaid, one little cube at a time. That frosting was always up to no good...

A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. I do try to keep things homemade, but Pilsbury Creamy Supreme was a much better option this time. Frosting! You dominated me!

The little colorful blobs are supposed to be bouncy balls. I'll never be a cake decorator, but Pete's excitement level was at a 10+ when I brought this out with two sweet candles on top.

For food, I had to go with Pete's faves:

a gargantuan bowl of assorted crackers. (for the adults, we had a more civilized spread of crackers with brie, apples, and pears)

and quesadillas.

I cooked a bunch of cheese ones for the kiddos, and made some suped-up quesadillas for the grown-ups. I couldn't help myself.

Here's my Saturday Night Quesadillas
(Saturday night, because come Saturday, this is as creative as our dinner gets. And it's a good fridge-cleaner dinner.)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
olives (the kind that you put on your fingers for thanksgiving), chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
coarse salt and pepper
canned green chilis
[any other random veggie that might taste good--for example, diced sweet potatoes, squash, mushrooms]
cilantro chicken sausage, diced
3/4 cup white cheddar cheese
1 can of refried black beans 
12 tortillas
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
Cilantro, optional
Salsa Verde

  1. Heat olive oil over medium heat.  Saute onion and peppers until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add chili powder, cumin, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and stir to coat.  Add olives, chilies, and sausage, and continue to saute until heated through.  
  2. Put mixture in a bowl and let it cool slightly.  Meanwhile, wipe out saute pan, and heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Add cheese to mixture and stir to combine.  Spread refried beans over one tortilla, top beans with 1/3 cup of mixture and another tortilla.  Gently press top tortilla to bind it all together.
  3. Place the quesadilla in the pan and brown each side, approximately 2 minutes per side.  Keep a close eye on it--it can progress quickly!  Let cool a bit and use a pizza cutter to slice into wedges.  Top with chopped cilantro, and serve with salsa.

And here's what my bedroom looks like after throwing all of Pete's furniture in there right before the party. It was totally worth it.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Good [Kids'] Stuff: Extreme Makeover Table and Chairs

Last June, a neighbor gave me a an old, beat up toddler table and chairs set, and with a little tlc, I brought it back to life.  

Here's the before:

And here is the after:

Just some sanding and a few coats of orange paint and it was good as new!

I like these little crab pillows that I found at Ikea.

Here are the table and chairs finally doing what they were made to do: hosting Pete in his bulldog jammers, while he eats crackers in one chair, and Rufus, Pete's best friend, in the other chair.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Good [Neighborhood] Stuff: Grow Where You're Planted

Say you live in China.  Then, say your grown son and wife get accepted to highly competitive programs at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut, where they will move, along with their baby (whom you dote on ceaselessly).  Then, say, you and your spouse move with them, and agree to care for this grandbaby, while mom and dad go to school, and you all move into a two-bedroom apartment.  Then, say, you are alone in this strange land, where you do not speak a smidgen of English, have no interest in the foodstuffs sold at your local Stop and Shop, and have no car.  What would YOU do?

Well, this is a very common scenario; in our neighborhood, there are probably 75 families that share this circumstance, and seem to thrive very, very well. From all I can tell, the Asian grandparent community just grows where they are planted.  Literally.  

A group of Chinese grandparents took land that looked like this:

[this actually looks pretty nice, but it's just random grass and weeds]

And turned it into this:

A beautiful garden, brimming with peppers, tomatoes, cauliflower, lettuce, and, well, a lot of Chinese plants that they can't find here.  There is so much ingenuity in the garden maintenance: no wheelbarrows?  Fine, just use a baby stroller!  Ran out of buckets?  Just use a food cooler.   As I've watched our Chinese neighbors over the years, I've noticed how resourceful they are, making use of everything they have and I really admire that.  

If we ever leave New Haven, I'll miss this tight-knit Chinese community.  Not that we really hang out, but they remind me of my own LDS friends--we all love families, we stick together, we are [more or less] quiet and responsible neighbors (although I think our neighbors below us have had it up to here with our bouncy balls).  And, when I'm strolling Pete around, I probably pass five or six grandparents with their babies, and we both give a knowing smile to each other that says "Your baby is beautiful.  And isn't mine, too?"  

The Good [Handmade] Stuff: Peter's ABCs

Pete's second birthday is fast approaching--What?! My baby is two! I've been working on a few things for this greatly anticipated day; not only do handmade gifts have a lot of heart, but, it's a great excuse to finally get a few projects DONE forever. A finished project is a little like a miracle to me. So, without further ado, here's the little alphabet book I put together for Pete:

these abcs are just Pete's style, full of his favorites, like bananas and horses and Aunt Anne (a great name to know!). I tried to include family and friends, so he can get all the names with the faces, even if we don't get to see all the faces as much as we'd like. And, I'm counting this as my lifetime scrapbooking endeavor. You hear that, Peter and my future children? This is as good as it gets.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

I love a good party: General Conference PARTAY

I love General Conference. I come away inspired every time. Listening to Conference has changed substantially in the last couple of years: less note-taking, pondering, reflecting, and much more chasing, disaster preventing, and redirecting little bodies away from the laptop. It's always nice to hang around in our loungers and nestle in for a long stretch of great talks. I remember, as a kid, watching conference was kind of magical--you mean, we watch church at home? Woah!  Many times during my childhood, my family would go to my grandma's house to watch conference; the adults watched the talks on tv and we ran around, like the crazy kids we were. Then, we had a very traditional Sunday supper prepared by my Grandma. This last weekend, I invited some friends over for the Sunday afternoon session and dinner afterwards, in honor of those family memories that come with Conference weekend.

Really, what would a family Sunday dinner be without the old pot roast in the slow cooker all day? Here's the recipe:

Italian Pot Roast
3 pounds beef chuck roast, trimmed and halved crosswise
4 garlic cloves
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Coarse Salt and Pepper
1 large onion, cut into 8 wedges
1 1/2 pounds small waxy potatoes
1 can whole tomatoes in puree (28 ounces)
1 Tablespoon Fresh Rosemary, chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried and crumbled)

  1.  With a sharp paring knife, cut 4 slits in beef roast; stuff slits with half the garlic. Generously season beef with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. In a large skillet, heat oil over high heat, swirling to coat bottom of pan. Cook beef until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes.
  2. In a 5-quart slow cooker, combine beef, onion, potatoes, tomatoes (with puree), rosemary, and remaining garlic.  Cover; cook on high setting until meat is fork-tender, about 6 hours (do not uncover while cooking).  
  3. Transfer meat to a cutting board; thinly slice, and discard any gristle.  Skim fat from top of sauce, and spoon sauce generously over deliciously tender meat and veggies.

Also, we inhaled these these biscuits. For extra tastiness, I added 1/2 cup of fresh thyme, rosemary, and parsley.

And friends brought salad and a pumpkin pie. A pie, do you believe it? I finally got to eat a slice of pie that I didn't have to make. It was delicious.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Good Taste: Butternut Squash Soup

Fall, I embrace you!  While we don't have the summer days at the beach anymore, we now have pumpkin picking and brisk morning runs.  There is something about fall breezes that makes me excited!  We can't wait for school to start (even though it always starts in the hot humid August days...but, isn't it much more fun keep pretending that it starts in the fall?), we can't wait for the harvest time of apples, pears, peaches, squash and the smells of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg that accompany these foods and, admit it--we can't wait for Christmas. All the good times are ahead of us in the autumn season, and I'm totally not thinking about that January/February/March stretch.  Just put that right out of my mind.  

To get in the mood, I made some butternut squash soup. It was delicious.  I like this recipe, because I only needed to make one cut down the length of the squash prior to roasting.  I like this because cutting up butternut squash, to me, is risky business, and I'd like to keep all of my fingers intact, thank you very much.  There is quite a bit of handling in this recipe--roasting and stewing and blending.  At one point, I was ladling boiling squashy liquid into my blender, half of it dripping all over everything, while Pete was pulling at my pants and yelling "MAMA!  Mama, I need that" and everything was spilling all around and life seemed pretty nutso for about 15 minutes.  One of these definitely would have come in handy. But, the beauty of this soup is it tastes even better a day or two later, so, today, when the boys were out playing, I sat down by myself to a beautiful bowl of homemade soup and read a magazine and felt really, really happy.

Here's the recipe adapted from Joy of Cooking:

Butternut Squash Soup

1 medium butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large leeks, cleaned thoroughly and chopped
4 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup whipping cream
chopped fresh parsley or cilantro

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place squash cut side down on oiled baking sheet. Bake until the squash can easily be pierced with a fork, about 1 hour.  Let cool, then scoop the pulp from the squash skin and discard the skin.  
  2. Melt butter in a soup pot over medium-low heat.  Add leeks and ginger and cook, stirring, until tender but not browned, 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in 4 cups of stock and the squash pulp.  Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring and breaking up the squash with a spoon, for 20 minutes.  Puree until smooth.  Return soup to the pot.
  4. Stir in cream, and thin with stock, a little at a time, until you reach the desired consistency of soup.  Heat soup through and ladle into warmed bowls.  Garnish with herbs and/or croutons.

Creativeness is next to Godliness

Did anyone else out there almost jump out of your seat while listening to this this talk by President Uchtdorf? I was particularly inspired by this quote:

"As you take the normal opportunities of your daily life and create something of beauty and helpfulness, you improve not only the world around you but also the
world within you."

The Good [Home] Stuff: Kind of extreme makeover

Here's the before:

[I think the blurry nature of this photo really adds to the abysmal state of my poor pantry.]

And here is the after:

ha ha, just kidding. Here is the real after:
Well, this may not be the most dramatic makeover, but I talked myself into cleaning out all of my closets this past week as a goal to report here on the ol' blog.  This blog is about betterment, and I feel much better.  I learned a few things as I purged and tidied up:  
  1. No matter how much I love the idea of lotion, I just don't really love it. I don't think I really smell good when I smell like peach-flavored lotion.  It kind of makes me feel sick.  I had maybe 50 various tubes and bottles hanging out in a bag on the shelf, calling for me to set them free.  Goodbye, goodbye, my lotion!  
  2. Maybe I don't really need Costco in the end.  For most stuff.  Don't get me wrong, I'm all about food storage, but how much mustard, for reals, can we eat?  I'm trying to really pinpoint what is worth buying at Costco, instead of bringing home the whole store and feeling guilty that I couldn't quite get to all of that Romaine lettuce before it started rotting in the back of my fridge. [right now, the list is milk, gas, butter, pineapples, and those irreplaceable rotisserie chickens.  I could never live without them]  By the way, has anyone seen The King of California?  I thought it was sweet and it had some awesome scenes in Costco.
  3. If the cage ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.  We apartment dwellers do not have much storage, but we are allotted a cage, which is a space in the freaky unfinished basement, partitioned off with chicken fence and a door with a lock on it.  It's not the most relaxing place to be, because I constantly imagine a mix of spiders crawling all over me and mysterious toxic drops falling from the pipes as I clean out and organize.  But, lesson be learned, it is our largest storage space, and needs order, so the rest of our more pleasant living space is less overwhelmed with stuff.
  4. Good containers are everywhere.  I like these baskets and they were FREE!  My favorite price!  I picked up some of these baskets at the produce market before they made their way to the dumpster.  

  5. The best lesson learned, yet again, was the good stuff is not really stuff. Duh! Yes, I know. But sometimes clearing out the clutter sure gets sentimental, and it is hard to say goodbye. After a few days of sitting with my organized closets, I don't remember a thing thrown away and feel excited to welcome the real good stuff that I've made room for. Let the good times roll!

When I was cleaning out the bathroom cabinets, I found this, and laughed my head off. Oh man, I love being a mom.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Good Taste: Bagels and Schmears

I'm trying to make my breakfasts a bit more respectable. It has proven quite the challenge to break my college routine of cold cereal for days and months and years in a row. So, we're exploring many *quick* morning meals and this veggie spread just made our breakfast list!  

From the November 2007 Everyday Food:

Creamy Vegetable Spread on Whole-Wheat Bagel
1 package (8 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese
1 medium carrot, grated or finely chopped
1 red bell pepper (ribs and seeds removed), finely chopped
1 scallion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
coarse salt and pepper
small whole-wheat bagels, split and toasted for serving

In a medium bowl, stir together cream cheese, carrot, bell pepper, scallion, and parsley.  Season with salt and pepper.  Spread bagel halves with vegetable spread, and serve.  (Store remaining spread in an airtight container, up to 5 days.)