Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gluten Free Recipe: Delicious Coffee Cake

IMG_2735I've passed the two and a half year mark in being gluten free and I'm just now experimenting with recipes. It's taken awhile to get comfortable with the basics ... but recently I wanted to make a coffee cake. A moist, delicious, insane coffee cake. Guess what!? It worked.

At brunch, Sean and my sister (they eat gluten) all raved about it, which is really what I love to hear. If the gluten eaters in a group say it's good and they can't tell a difference? Then you've got a gluten free winner!

I'd been having a lot of good experiences with the Gluten Free Pantry brand by Glutino. I picked up a pack of their white cake mix to make this recipe, which I modified from All Recipes:

1 (15 ounce) package yellow cake mix by Gluten Free Pantry
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix by Jello
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant butterscotch pudding mix by Jello
4 eggs
1 cup water
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup fine chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan, or a 10 inch Bundt cake pan.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together the cake mix, vanilla pudding mix, and butterscotch pudding mix.
3. Add the eggs, oil and water, mix until well blended.
4. In another bowl, stir together the brown sugar, cinnamon and nuts.
5. Pour half of the nut mixture in the top of the Bundt pan (so the topping will come out on the top)
6. Pour half of the batter into the pan, on top of the nut mixture.
7. Cover the "middle" section with the remaining nut mixture.
8. Pour in the rest of the cake mix over the nuts.
9. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, then turn the oven down to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) and bake for an additional 35 to 40 minutes.

Make sure that you check the ingredients to confirm that they don't include gluten.

I find that this cake keeps well in the refridgerator for several days and freezes well, too.


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Friday, May 27, 2011

Zoom Friday: Weekend Fun, Lemons and a Music Festival

This last weekend, we had time at home for a lot of family fun. Saturday afternoon was lazy. We hung out in the dining room and backyard, and picked our first lemon from our dwarf Ponderosa tree. For some reason, there wasn't a lot of juice in the lemon, but Zoom honestly liked chewing on it. We laughed as he chewed and then would pucker up, surprised at the flavor.


On Sunday, we packed up and got into the car and headed to Los Gatos for a Jewish Music Festival. Zoom has always liked music, and really loves to see people performing, so we took a risk and went. It was a nice afternoon; there was good music, we had ice cream, and there was great people watching. Zoom loved the banana cinnamon ice cream, and the three of us lounged about on our picnic blanket and took in the afternoon.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Linked In, Liked, Retweeted, and Friended: Finding God and Oneself in the Digital Age

We're starting work on the upcoming weekend retreat in August, and I've been playing with the title and write up. Father Rusty, the Friar / Priest who will be leading the retreat came across "The Facebook Sonnet" that was recently published in the New Yorker. You should read it, really, its quite haunting and real.

Saint FrancisAlong these same lines, I find myself drawn to some of the words in Pink's song "F*cking Perfect," which also seems to address some of the angst of the age; the feeling that we are not perfect, that we are constantly "Mistreated, misplaced, missundaztood, Miss "no way it's all good".' I love the message of that song, that we are in fact perfect, just the way we are. Pink is always so raw and spot on with her songs!

Here's my working write up for the retreat - With social networking and connectivity often fueling and informing our personal lives, we find ourselves blessed with the ability to keep in touch with friends and family, wherever they are. The digital age has brought new angles to relationships, to communication, to the way we even see ourselves. Now more than ever we have the ability to broadcast our own lives and express ourselves through a multitude of platforms.

With this new social landscape, how do we see ourselves? How do we find God and Jesus in the midst of the digital noise? What is the relevance of the message from 2000 years ago in today's electronic world?

Our weekend long retreat will look at the quickening pace of our lives, the impact of constantly being linked in, and the draw of being "liked," and friended. We will have time for discussion, small group work, and presentations. We will look at the life and of a Man who started the original Social Network, and who's message was so revolutionary that his words have deep meaning across the Millennia.

So, what do you think? Do you have anything to add?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Confusion Around 'Black Friday'

I am really excited to share this column with you guys - it originally appeared in catapult magazine in April. It's a little bit of a departure from some of what I share here, but here goes :) Enjoy!

IMG_9022Three co-workers stood unpacking Easter merchandise in a retail store early one morning, shooting the breeze as they opened boxes and talking about what they found inside.

“Check this out, we finally have enough merchandise to do an Easter display,” said Sean, the store manager.

“Well, I’m an atheist and I don’t really care what we put on display. I don’t celebrate the birth of Jesus on Easter,” says Jeff.  Then he quickly questioned his statement asking, “Wait, when was Jesus born?”

“I believe that would be Christmas,” said Sean, slightly sarcastically.

“So what’s Easter? Is that when Jesus died?” Realizing he’d already made a rather epic error, Jeff wanted to try to get some of these facts down correctly.

“No, Jesus died on Black Friday,” said Andy, convinced he was correct.

“No, dude, you have it wrong, Black Friday is when you get good deals on TVs, not when Jesus died,” responded Jeff.

“Jesus died on Good Friday,” explained Sean, “and Easter is the day Jesus was resurrected from the dead.”
With the boxes unpacked, Jeff and Andy began putting the merchandise out, and Sean texted me from his office to share the story.

I love this story because it brings to light something that is happening in our society. It’s a snapshot of the conversations around water coolers, lunch rooms and stock rooms. It’s a growing trend that many people claim to be atheist or agnostic and, that as a culture, we know more about the civic celebration that bookend religious holidays. Lent has disappeared behind the party of Mardi Gras, the true meaning of Christmas is muddied by the excitement of cheap TVs, and All Saints Day sits in the shadow of Halloween.

How is it that we find ourselves in this place where secular culture seems to overshadow religion?  Are people so intimidated by the dates and perceived rules of organized religion that they no longer feel the church holds a place for them? Is it a natural progression of the generations, with Gen X questioning authority, and Gen Y and the Millennials being a defined as the “Me” generations that is causing us to be so self-defining that we no longer see a need God?

IMG_9017_rThe answers to these questions might be found in a new understanding, or perhaps a purposeful revisiting of, Jesus.

Ironically, what seems to be missing for today’s younger people is an understanding of the original radical spirit of Jesus.  If we take away the rituals, the memorization of Saints and scripture read from the King James Version, we find again the founder of the Church. Jesus was a true rebel in his time, who dared to love all people, who was seeking equality for all people, who saw the connectedness of all people.  Jesus threw out the old rules, and was even so bold as to state that there were only two rules: to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself, which flew vehemently in the face of the traditions of his own time.

What could be more relevant in today’s world than a leader who questioned the status quo, interacted with people of all classes, of all races, no matter how “appropriate” others deemed them? What could be more timely than a man looking to end poverty?  What is more motivational than a man who publicly admits he loves others, and who will die for the people he loves, all the while forgiving those who kill him?

If today’s atheists and non-believers could look past the rituals, the songs, the traditions, the stereotypes of Christianity and organized religion, what they would find is a message of love brought to us by a man who is as relevant today as he was over 2000 years ago.

We see the truth of this story in the resurrection, as it is the end (and beginning) of a gorgeous love story. It is the story of a Father who loves his children, of a Son who loves his Father.  It is heart wrenching and life affirming in the same breath. It is the recognition of sorrow and promise of joy. It is the story of humanity, it is the story of each of our lives.

The resurrection is God’s love, alive. The call I hear in this is to work every day to be a small representation of that love, alive in God’s creation. I have studied the Bible, I know the songs, I’ve memorized the dates and I can hold my own with the traditions. But, instead of leaning on those things, each day, I try to find a way to share Love with others. This love inspires me to be my best at work, to love my family unapologetically, to smile at strangers, to really listen to my friends and to be accepting of all people just as they are. These are the things that people respond to, and these are the things that Jesus taught us when saying we should love others as ourselves.  And, these are the things that I imagine Jesus would do and teach if he was walking among us today.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Zoom Friday: Zoom Goes to a Wedding

This last weekend, we went to Tucson for my cousin's wedding. It was a trip of many firsts for little Zoom. He went on an airplane, he got to see some live music, he went to a wedding, he wore a suit with a bow tie, and he went swimming.

The travel was fairly uneventful. Zoom didn't seem to mind the airplane. A couple times he let out a loud, ear piercing cry that I swear he never does at home. And of course, he screamed just long enough for another passenger to mutter, "Oh good grief." Then, bless his heart, Zoom fell asleep. Look, here he is in the terminal!

There was a live band at the rehearsal dinner. Zoom was mesmerized, watching them. He stared at the drummer. He smiled at the leader singer. Zoom and I danced together to "My Girl," but I think he liked staring at the musicians best.

On Saturday, we got all dressed up and went to the wedding! It took place outdoors on a lovely lawn with stunning views of the Catalina mountains. Zoom's twin cousins were also in attendance! The kiddos all got a little rowdy during the ceremony, so we excused ourselves to the back of the lawn and proceeded to have a family photo shoot!


On both Saturday and Sunday, Zoom got to go swimming. He loved it! I've never seen him look so happy.

Then again, I'm pretty sure he was happy for a fun family vacation and seeing new sites.

wedding collage

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Finding Inspiration in "Waterman Dave" of San Diego

As part of our last retreat, we talked about the stories of some everyday heroes. We broke out into small groups and talked about the inspiration we can take from the actions of just one person. These people, by their generosity of spirit are walking examples of how one begins to live joy to the fullest; by giving what they can with altruism and love. One of these people is "Waterman Dave" from San Diego, California.

Waterman Dave is a retired 75 year old man living in San Diego, and every day he brings water and snacks to the homeless out of his car. He pays for the water and food out of his own pocket, and he's quite serious about ending homelessness in his city.

While as many as 70 cities nationwide are banding together to try and find homes for 100,000 people (the campaign is called 100,000 Homes), Dave sees that there hasn't been much of an impact on the daily lives of those homeless people he interacts with. In San Diego alone, there are more than 4,600 homeless people living on the streets. As is the case with many homeless throughout the US, these people are often mentally ill or abuse illegal substances.

Dave says that he's often the only person the homeless speak to on a daily basis, and many look forward to his visit. Dave is their connection to the rest of the world. Even while he is only bringing bottled water and simple snacks, Dave's hospitality spreads much further than the food and drink he provides.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Wedding Prayer

My cousin is getting married tomorrow and he and his wife to be asked me to say the prayer at their rehearsal dinner. My cousin is the closest thing my sister and I have to a brother. While we are years apart, we grew up close and share a lot of special memories. I'm super proud of who he is and the man he has become. Here's the prayer I said tonight.

Dear Lord
Thank you for this happy celebration of your most amazing gift, the gift of love
Thank you for friends and family
Thank you for bringing us all together for this weekend to celebrate this couple 
Thank you for Ian and Sarah, and bless them as they stand on the threshold of a new part of their journey in this life. 
Let them lean in to their love of you, of each other, and let this big crazy family gathered stand to bolster them in their life together, now and always. 
Let us remember to slow down in these days, take a breath, and take in the sheer joy and love that surrounds us, surrounds Ian and Sarah. Let remember to soak in the tiny moments for they are fleeting. 
Thank you for this meal and please bless it for our use. Bless those who helped prepare it and those who made this evening possible. 
Dear Lord thank you for this life, this big family, this joyous time and this meal. In Jesus name we pray, amen. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Walking Tour of Point Reyes Station, California

Last weekend we were up north, spending a few days on the coast. One of our favorite little towns near Tomales Bay is Point Reyes Station. It's a tiny place, just one grocery store, a few shops and places to eat. Sean, Zoom and I wandered the town for a bit and I snapped photos on my iPhone. (My camera was ruined on the beach!)

We parked across the street from a pickup with a horse statue in the back. Someone had changed the sign from No Parking to No Barking:

The top of the building had great lines:

We stopped in a shop called  "Flower Power," which made me giggle since it seemed to be a reference to San Francisco's "Summer of Love." Yet at the back of the store was this amazing, Italian inspired courtyard. Even the little birds near the chair were for sale. So inviting:

Another view of the courtyard at "Flower Power."I'd love to sit in that Adirondack sunning and imagine I'm in Tuscany:

Walking around Point Reyes Station, we saw a vintage car parked between some buildings that made for a nice picture:
Irises were in bloom on the street corner:

California Poppies mixed with morning glories made for lovely contrast. I'll have to remember this color combination for later, when I mix flowers in the back yard.
Point Reyes

And, even the compost company had a quaint and well done office:

Do you have a favorite small town to visit?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Zoom Friday: A Letter to My Little Boy

Dear Little Zoom,

mothersdaySunday will be our first mother's day together. While it's traditionally a day to celebrate your mom, I feel like it's also a day to celebrate you. I want to thank you for picking me to be your mother, for initiating me into this beautiful role. I would have never imagined what joy and love was to come into my life.

On Wednesday we went to a photo shoot. Someone (our friend Katey!) had seen your picture and asked if you would be in an advertisement. You were amazing all day, smiling, so happy, loving the whole experience, acting like a total natural. I kept looking at you sitting on the set, so tiny, and you seemed to say in your own way, "Mama, I'm just fine doing my own thing here. This is fun! Don't worry."

The sweetest moment for me was when the producer, who is pregnant and due near your birthday, was holding you. You'd been smiling at her all day and you'd really taken to her. And right then she said,"I hope my baby is just like you."

I got tears in my eyes when she said it, and tears now when I think about it. I know I had wondered so much what you'd be like before you were born. With every kick or punch I felt from you, I'd wonder about you. I had a deep seated feeling that you would be quite funny (and you are), and that you would love your Daddy in a crazy way (and you do). I remember seeing babies and wondering if you'd be like them. I was touched beyond belief that someone else would see you as I see you, as my sweet, loving baby.

Her words also reminded me to be so grateful of who you are every day. You are happy, you love to smile at people, you laugh easily, and seem to be completely comfortable with who you are.

I hope that I will always remember these days before you can crawl. Tonight you were rolling around between your Dad and I, laughing, kissing, growling at us. It was a perfect family moment, with you just being you.

I will do my best as your Mama to help you remember who you are, who you have always been, and who you were before you came to grace us with your presence. I will celebrate your amazing gifts, what makes you happy, and give you the wings you need to fly as high as you can dream. I know that your being in the world will change you. I know you will not be my tiny little one forever. Just the same, I know that we will remain special, close, kindred spirits.

Little Zoom, I love you and I'm astounded by everything you've already taught me. You are a blessing. Thank you for being my baby.

Your Mama

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Dream Job(s) and My Plan for Work

MixedFor those readers that have been following me for awhile, you'll probably recall that my day to day job is a Project Manager. I've been working in advertising for about seven years, building websites and working in advertising agencies. It's like Mad Men meets The Social Network. (LOL, that makes it sounds so glamorous!)

When Zoom was born I didn't want to go back to my previous job for a couple of reasons. The first was the distance and the commute; my old job was across a bridge and about 45 miles away. It was horrible for the nine months I did it. And, frankly, the job was a really bad fit. I'll leave it at that.

In October, just a month after Zoom was born I very jokingly asked a friend if he might be hiring any Project Managers. And the answer was yes, but that the position might be temporary. I told him I wanted to learn more.

And so, in one of the worst economies in ages, with a baby and bills and a new car, I found myself actually contemplating making a jump into being a freelancer. I found myself really, seriously, thinking about what I wanted to do.

I knew that I really wished I could spend more time with Zoom. And as he gets older, I'd really love to be able to find a way to take off the summer off with him so he doesn't have to go to day camp or something for months on end. My friends who are teachers swing it so they have a summer off, and I love that they have that flexibility.  As I started to think about freelancing, it occurred to me that I might be able to find the right jobs that allow me to make my own schedule.

And with all of these dreams in my head, I took the plunge and went freelance. So far, I love it. My current contract is for four days a week, and I'm working on rebranding and relaunching a website. My original contract was through the end of April, but it got extended through June because they liked me and wanted to keep me on a couple projects (instead of handing them back to the woman who returned from maternity leave).

My plan is to begin looking for a new contract at the end of May so I'll have about four weeks to firm something up. I have a good feeling about this, and I hope to keep the freelance thing going to see how I like it in other companies.

Do you have any advice? Have you ever freelanced?