Yup, I'm gonna brag for a second..

Last month I sang a duet in our choir concert, and it went really well. And! I have video proof!



We've been getting a ton of work done on the house lately. As we came up to and hit the one-year mark on Thanksgiving, I think we realized that there were a lot of things we had decided about taking care of, but just hadn't actually done it yet. So suddenly we've been putting up book shelves, wall shelves, buying little bits of furniture, and putting away the schnibbles that have been sitting around for a year without a home.

I hate schnibbles. You know what they are - the little bits of papers, small sentimental objects, old cell phones.. Things that aren't necessarily useful anymore, but for some reason you feel you might need to keep them? Ugghh.. For me the schnibbles in life are some of the most stressful objects.

Anyway, my one Black Friday purchase was this lovely 1920-1930'ish dresser. I got it at a resale shop near work. Debated about it for almost 2 weeks, then finally measured and realized it is exactly the right size for our guest bedroom. It needs a little bit of love. There are some black marks on it (still deciding whether to refinish it), and the handles are actually too long. They stick out funny. The front of the second drawer is broken off. But still, it's about the cutest dresser ever! And the front is birdseye maple veneer, which is just lovely.

Pictured at the resale shop -
our guest bedroom does not have
that much stuff in it!
So tonight I glued the drawer back together and busted out the Brasso to shine up the keyholes. 

And, dude. The Brasso shocked me! As soon as I opened the container, a huge blue spark popped out of the lid and shocked the fool out of me. It was the worst I've had in years - tingly fingers and a momentarily fuzzy brain. Nothing harmful, but it was rather.. shocking (sorry). 

Now I know for next time that the Brasso has a bit of an attitude, and can hopefully adequately prepare and/or ground myself for the experience. Who knew?


Checking out the fire damage

Our plan was to go for a long bike ride, like we did last Thanksgiving. Unfortunately it's been quite windy all weekend, so instead we hung out in the house on Thursday and Friday, and yesterday we decided to hike up to Bear Peak via the West Ridge Trail, which has been closed since June and reopened this week. June was the Flagstaff fire, which was the closest to our house. Thankfully it stayed up on the mountain and didn't rush down into Boulder as they'd feared it might.

We often hike from the trails that start in Boulder because they are quite pretty and, well, convenient. But for a couple weeks we had to go find other places which led to some fruitful exploration. (I actually really can't wait for wildflower season again so we can go back!)

In May we hiked up to Bear Peak, and this is what the view over to South Boulder Peak (and pretty much the whole hike) looked like:

Here are some pictures from this weekend. It was such a stark contrast from the last time we were up there.. Some Norwegians we met on the trail likened it to walking to Mordor, which felt like a pretty apt description. 

Hopefully the ash will become good fertilizer and some of the lushness of the area will return. We'll have to go back in another six months and see what kind of transformations have taken place.



Getting ready to set up a rogue's gallery in our guest bedroom. Nothing says welcome like the artwork of family and friends!


Obligatory Election Day Post

I have voted in Presidential Elections in three different states. The first two times my polling place was on a college campus, and today I voted at the elementary school our children will likely attend.

Elections are always such momentous occasions. Not only for our country, but also as a rite of passage for so many young people. I cast my first Presidential ballot as an undergrad, and I remember feeling SO proud as I walked around town with my "I voted" sticker. I had the opportunity to impact life in our country, and I had taken it. It was incredibly empowering.

When Obama won in '08 I was at the University of Illinois and you could hear the students shouting, singing and cheering long into the night. It was electric. For days the students floated on air. They had voted. Their voices were heard, they had made a difference. I have faith that my students tomorrow will be similarly excited.

Being in a neighborhood during the election isn't quite as exciting as being on a college campus. But it was still such a thrill to get my "I voted" sticker, to see the pictures of stickers from across the country popping up on Facebook, and to chat (very casually, of course!) with people at work about the election process. I didn't get quite as bouncy as I did after my very first election, but I do have to say the sky did look just a little more blue.


Debate? What Debate?

Things I did rather than watch the debate:

1. Wonder why the first boy I ever kissed showed up in a dream Sunday night.
2. Got my Miami on while driving on a super-busy highway.
3. Drank a glass of wine.
4. Started to have an allergic reaction to said glass of wine. :-/
5. Made a devious plan of goodness.
6. Practiced for our upcoming concert (www.vittoriaensemble.com :) ).
7. Aired a grievance in the ‘conscious complaining’ zone of my friend’s house.
8. Worried for a moment that her dog might poo on the floor (still better than the debate!).
9. Practiced my posture.
10. Didn’t remember that there was a debate on that I could have been watching. 

Am doing a one-month writing project with my friend Victor again. His list is here


Korea trip, part three

After hanging out at the cabin for a night, we went back to Suwon for a night and then headed down to Jeju Island for several days. We've described Jeju as being Korea's Hawaii. It's an almost-tropical volcanic island and a popular destination for newlyweds. We did a LOT of awesome stuff in Jeju, so here is a quick highlight reel..

One of the first things we did was see Dragonhead Rock. It's the big one, that sticks up.
Yeah, I still don't see it - do you?
Turned out that the first hotel we stayed at was down the road from the Korean Space Weather Center! Happy Chris :)

This is what trouble looks like..
Ridiculously cute trouble
 We spent a rainy morning at this spa. They had two pools with naturally carbonated water. It made bubbles on your skin as you sat in it! So cool :D Had a lovely 'conversation' with a woman who must have been almost 80. I love communicating with people when you have no words in common.

This little restaurant, famous for its kimchi jjigae, will always be remembered as "The place where Tim almost ate a giant beetle." The poor shop owner, after she saw him freaking out (no vomit! so proud!) said, "Aww... Him?? Why did it have to happen to an American?!"

We encountered these little guys at the Green Tea museum. They were part of a display to demonstrate the process of picking and drying tea. I *really* wanted to take one home with me.

Jeongbang Waterfall, said to be the only waterfall in Asia that flows right into the ocean.

We did a lot of walking to look at the coastline..

A little bit of joy
Sunrise Peak

Just before heading back to the airport we went to see Manjang Cave, which was pretty ridiculously cool. It's actually a lava tube. You're allowed to walk 1km in.
'Turtle Rock' which they say is shaped like Jeju.

At the end of the tunnel, a spot where lava poured through a hole in the ceiling.
That's the quick version of our adventures in Jeju! Coming soon.. Seoul & a Buddhist Temple :)
A storm of win!!
Click on the links to see Part I and Part II!


Korea Trip, part two

Silly forest spirits!
The first non-Suwon place we visited was the Yongsin Forest. My super-awesome sis-in-law snagged us a cabin, which was impressive because the rentals are based on a lottery and some people wait years to be able to stay the night there. Yongsin is about a 45 minute drive outside Suwon and is a popular destination for relaxing and getting the kids out of the city and into nature. They have walking trails, a kids park and lovely cabins.

There was a stream right next to our cabin, so of course we had to explore. While we were playing outside Chris found a cicada carcass and we had some fun introducing Johann to it.

Playing in the stream

The day we went to Yongsin was also my nephew's 2nd birthday. You might note the frosting on his chin and the misplacement of the cake on the tray, and guess what happened before we got the candles lit :)

Happy birthday!

I was still quite jetlagged and woke up before everyone else, so Chris and I went for an early-morning hike. It was so green and lovely!

Lucky ducks! These were all over - kind-of want some for the backyard :) 

Really neat pattern on the ground. 
Pretty morning light at the end of the hike

Korean playgrounds have some fun and unique toys in them, often involving two people and some kind of leverage. Here is a link to me playing on another one, in 2006.

Flyin' around with my bro
2-person swing: full body workout.

Next up: Jeju Island!


Korea Trip, part one

September: two weeks in Korea, two weeks sick. Have finally recovered from my cold and have a few minutes, so figured it was about time to post about our trip!

This was my second time in Korea. The first was the two months that I lived and taught there (see: adorable students) in the summer of 2006. It was the summer between my two years of grad school, and I was in somewhat rough shape due to a crazy school year and a very difficult breakup. Getting away from reality seemed like a great idea, and I believe it was the best way I could have spent that summer.

It was fun to go back 6 years later and in a much better mental state, to see how my perceptions of Korea have changed. One of the last things I did that summer was to go walking at Hwaseong Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Suwon, which was where I lived. I went by myself and spent almost three hours walking the wall, enjoying the sights and being pleased with how much happier I was than when I'd arrived (and getting an epic sunburn..).
This part always felt pretty Mario dungeon-level'ish to me

This time it was the first place I took Chris. We wanted to make sure we got moving on our first day to start combatting the jet lag, so what better thing to do than go somewhere that you can feel like you're walking through a video game?

So many stairs!

The fortress is about 3.5 miles long and has an impressive array of towers, battlements, gates, and views. It was built around old Suwon, but does not seem to have ever seen battle. A nice old gentleman (who spoke incredibly good English!) who was hanging out at the bottom of this staircase told us the story of intrigue involving a prince and the murder of his father that prompted the building of the fortress. 

Chris at one of the gates
 There are various places throughout that are designed to either hide things, or make things visible. This picture is of Chris at one of the gates which leads to a long projection off the wall that was to give the troops a way to see if their enemies were coming. There's a lovely pavilion at the end where some ladies were sitting eating their lunch and enjoying the view of Suwon.

Hidden entryway

Throughout the fortress there are several hidden entryways to allow scouts or provisions into the fortress. Pretty intimidating from the outside, and with a very steep staircase just inside the door. So please, watch your step and beware of falling!

The Northeast Pavilion is my favorite part of the fortress. It contains a garden and pond and was favored as an area to hold festivals. In the direction we walked it is one of the last sights of the fortress and I think that's my favorite way to do it. coming around the corner to see this is just magical..
Northeast Pavilion

One of my favorite things about Korea is its combination of modern and ancient, all smashed together. Korea is someplace that has grown, almost too quickly for itself, but has managed to maintain its respect for its cultural heritage. There are so many places where you'll see skyscrapers next to ancient burial grounds, or cars that actually go under the fortress gates. It feels like you never know what you're going to see when you turn the next corner.

Next up: a couple days at a cabin in the forest, and one adorable boy's 2nd birthday!



Trying to get over jet lag after our trip, so clearly the best thing is to write a blog post while I eat a cookie over my lunch hour :D I don't usually do blog memes, but I'm not awake enough to format my own thoughts yet, so stole this from Dana at The Daily Dose (who is fabulous and you should add her to your blog read list).

Loving: The fact that I only had 200 work emails after being out for two weeks. And a lot of those were junk email that I got to delete right away, which was very satisfying.

Reading: The 200 emails haha.. And also The Woman in White. I read 3 books on vacation before Chris got tired of trying to find things to put on my kindle and found this 700'ish page classic to keep me busy (I made it about 40% of the way through by the time we got off the plane yesterday).

Watching: Fringe, and Bones, and Dexter. But none of those in the last 2 weeks. It's been crazy Korean dramas and crummy airplane movies for us. 

Thinking about: Big future questions.

Anticipating: Bed! I can't wait to go back to sleep tonight. Not feeling very graceful about the jet lag this time around. Also, Korea is famous for having very hard beds and/or for sleeping on mats on the floor. Even the Hilton we stayed at in Seoul had a bed that felt more like sleeping on a box spring than a mattress. Which doesn't actually bother me a ton.. The only part of me that really minded was my hips since they are a pressure point. But it was still soo nice to sink into our squishy bed yesterday. Mmmm..

Wishing: That the laundry currently piled on our living room floor could wash itself while we're at work today, and that I'd come home to find it clean and folded :)

Making me happy: Having had a great vacation, and being glad to be home. The best of both worlds.

We're going to start going through pictures tonight, so hopefully soon I will have some pictures and adventures to share!


It's suddenly September...

Not sure where the summer went! I had the same masthead all summer, both because I didn't have time to make a new one, and because I really liked that one. I'm sure if I hadn't liked it (see: May) I would have found time to make a new one, but the cupcakes were just so cute it was ok they got some extra time.

This month's banner is from a picture I took in July 2006. It's a bit of a door at a temple we visited in Korea. I love the temples there because they are so colorful. There's something joyful about walking on a path up a mountain to a temple that is meticulously painted in pinks, teals and yellows.  

Add to that a majestic statue and you've got something really special.

I always love visiting religious sites in different places. You can tell a lot about a culture's philosophy on life by the way they create and treat their religious locations and ceremonies. 

We leave soon to go visit Korea. I haven't been back since I lived there in 2006. I was in a much different mental state the last time I stepped off a plane in Seoul, so I am excited to see if/how my experience of Korea changes (or doesn't!). 

I will try to post a couple of times while we're there, but if I don't manage it there will definitely be lots of pictures and adventures to share when we return!


Advice from Writers

Well, I've officially survived the summer! The students started class yesterday so there is no more pretending that it is still kindof-sortof summer time. We made it. No major disasters, and after 2 weeks without conferences on campus I'm starting to feel like a human being again.

Being a human being entails things like waking up to exercise in the morning, practicing for choir, and thinking about doing more writing. Specifically editing, in hopes of having something to share with the world this semester. The curator at Blogging A-Z's FB page posted this link full of lovely quotes of advice about writing from famous authors. My favorite is this, by Kurt Vonnegut:
Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style. I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way -- although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.
Here's to getting back into a routine, and getting some work done!


Colorado is on Fire.

In 2002 they had record wildfires in Colorado, just like this year. Except that year it was more dry and things were burning faster. The governor at the time is infamously remembered as saying "Colorado is on fire." which he later had to retract to state that actually less than 1% of the state was burning.

It's been a rough summer in Colorado. We started with wildfires all over (but again actually less than 1% of the state was burning..) and now Aurora. It all feels so big and at times has been quite scary.  I was not directly impacted by the shooting in Aurora, so am not going to wax on about it too much. Others have written about their experiences and perspectives much more eloquently than I can. 

This state is full of rough and tumble - take it as it comes - we do crazy stuff in the wilds of the mountains for fun - kinds of people. They say you are only given what you can handle and we can handle a lot. But as the inimitable @erikbates wrote on my FB wall, "Is it just me, or does God need to go ahead and give the entire state of Colorado a break?"

One thing I have loved about this place is the recognition that difficulty is part of life. In our fast-paced instant gratification world it sometimes seems as though we forget that. Not sure if it's because people are always going up to do crazy stuff in nature, or if it's a lingering bit of the Wild West in the CO culture, but there's a real respect for the cycles of nature, and the world's ability to heal itself.

This is a picture that Chris took toward the end of the Flagstaff fire. I realized on my drive home that day that it was about to rain on the fire, so dragged him and his camera up to the ridge so we could catch the glory of it. I'm not sure what kind of rain we will get to dampen the fire of what happened this weekend. I know it will come and we will heal and something good will come of it. It has to. That's how life works. But hey, let's just not push it too much more for a bit, shall we?


Book buddy

I have a book buddy at work! Yay!
And just over 2 weeks left in the conference season! Double yay! Soon maybe I will have time to do things like think, and write..

(Also, we were not in Aurora last night - we are safe. Sad and horrified, but safe.)


Happy 4th of July!

This is the first 4th of July I can ever remember wishing for it to rain. They've canceled the fireworks in most cities in CO due to fire danger, so no fireworks for us this year. No rain, either. Just more hot, dry weather. It's strange for the 4th to be so quiet.. No bottle rockets, big explosions, or even kids squealing about their sparklers. Oddly flags did appear at the end of everyone's driveways last night. We think it was this weird realtor who is always putting ads on the porch? Not sure, but it is pretty festive!

We did have a lovely day - yard work, preparing for tomorrow's overnight guest (Yay!), painting dining room chairs, and BBQ. I also made my first blueberry pie, and it turned out better than I could have hoped. I tweaked my Mom's pie crust recipe to make it gluten free, and it actually worked! Here is the recipe, because I know that GF pie crust is a bit of a holy grail:

GF Pie Crust
1 c sorghum
½ c glutenous rice flour
½ c almond flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 c oil mixed with 4 T cold milk (coconut milk works too!)
Mix dry ingredients directly in pie plate. Mix milk and oil until combined, and then add to dry ingredients, reserving 1 tbsp. Once dry and wet ingredients are combined, press into pie plate, reserving some for top crust. Mixture should be a bit sandy, but when you press into the side of the plate it should be sticky enough not to crumble. If necessary add the extra milk/oil to achieve the right texture. Bake at 425 for about 10 minutes until the crust is a little toasted. Add filling. For top crust: either just crumble the reserved crust on top of the pie, or first mix in 1 tsp sugar, 1 tbsp oats/quinoa flakes and a bit of butter, and then crumble on top of filling. Bake per pie directions.

Hope everyone had a good holiday!


Not on fire!

There has been a lot of focus on the wildfires in CO, and the Flagstaff fire is actually only 7 or 8 miles from here. I have pictures of that too, but wanted to share some photos from our hike yesterday that show just how lush some of the state still is.

Colorado Columbine
These are from up near Nederland, on the Woodland Lake trail. I cannot begin to describe how beautiful the entire hike was (I've never seen such wildflowers!), but hopefully the pictures will give you some idea.

So many wildflowers by the stream!

Skyscraper Reservoir

Neat little flower!

Field of wildflowers, extra lush by the stream.

The flowers even grew on a log!


Dead Sea

A coworker who looks much younger than his years told me today, "I'm so old I've been around since the Dead Sea was only sick."

:) Happy Friday!



What is it about having a giant fly buzzing around the house that activates our hunting instincts?

Also, swearing.



Our neighborhood has an infestation.

...of cute!

There are bunnies EVERYwhere. Except our backyard because the previous owners were obsessed with keeping them out. (I mean seriously.. They buried the chicken wire a foot and a half under the ground so the bunnies couldn't dig under it! My future garden thanks them.)

This afternoon we were looking at some birds' nests in the tree in the front yard when I noticed a very small, very scared little bunny.

Chris decided to see how close he could get, and the answer was.. Closer than you might think!

Double Awww!
And that is your dose of cute for the day :)


So many characters!

Man oh man.. What to say? I've been slacking! Well, sortof. Only on the Naturally Sweet front, not on the every-other-aspect-of-life front. May was crazy busy, and a lot of that was in preparation for the crazy busy of June. Some of it wasn't, though!

One thing.. Remember how I said I seem to have started writing a book? Yeah, well.. I didn't touch it at all in the month of May. Sorry, characters! I've been busy working with other characters. Namely, my student staff for the summer. The last two weeks have brought me an Intern (ohh the post I will write about loving having an Intern!) and eight amazing student staff members, who have all needed to be trained, while still attempting to get everything else done. Translation: several 11 hour days and working on weekends. Yikes.

Thankfully that all started right after the last weekend of choir concerts and finishing the first write-through of a (super-amazing omg I can't wait till it's in a state to be shared!!) project with a friend. I said I was writing a book and accidentally got side-tracked into writing a different book than the one I mentioned before. Awesome. :)

Add onto that a fair bit of exercise and continuing our Colorado wanderings in hopes of managing to climb a 14'er by the end of the year, and you have a very busy but very happy me.

The first couple weeks of June promise to be even busier with work stuff so I can't say I'll be posting much, though if we make it hiking I will try to toss out some pictures. Until then, here's a picture of the pretty flowers in our front yard!


Homemade Gluten-Free Hostess Cupcakes

Imagine my delight when my future husband said, "Oh, I usually just use my stand mixer for that!" The man ate extra-sharp cheddar cheese and owned his own Kitchenaid. My WI heart never had a chance!

Behold, the mighty stand mixer. This beauty got a workout Saturday.

We had our first choir concert this weekend, and the directors asked people to bake so we could have a social after the concert with the people who attended. So of course I volunteered to bring something GF - what better excuse to experiment (and get the baked goods out of the house so we don't eat them all!)?

I'd been wanting to try my hand at a GF Hostess Cupcake recipe for a while, and this was a great opportunity. It took some internet research and combining of recipes, but I think the result was pretty great :)

There are four components to this: the cupcake, the filling, the ganache and the swirls on top. I used the same stuff for the filling and the swirls, because I am lazy. To do it really right you should probably make a separate vanilla frosting. Let me know how it goes if you do it! So here are the recipes, broken down into parts.

The Cupcake:
For this I modified a recipe from the Goddess. Since we are not vegan, I generally put back the eggs and butter and milk into her recipes. No reason to cut out more goodness than we already have to when considering other allergies!
3/4 rounded cup of sorghum flour
Lookin' good, but we're
not done yet!
3/4 rounded cup of arrowroot, potato, tapioca (which I hate, btw) or corn starch
4 oz unsweetened baking chocolate (I think 1/2 cup of chocolate powder + 3 T of oil might work better, but we were out of powdered, so solid chocolate it was!)
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 cup warmed milk (The Goddess uses coffee, but that didn't seem right for this recipe. Coconut milk would have been fantastic but I didn't have any) Warmed is important if you're using melted chocolate.
1/4 cup Egg Beaters
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp light-tasting rice vinegar

Preheat oven to 350F.
Whisk all the dry ingredients. Warm the milk and melt the chocolate and add them with the other wet ingredients. Beat for 2-3 minutes, until everything is totally combined and smooth. Fill your cupcake cups 2/3 full of batter and bake for 20-25 minutes. Let cool completely before filling.

The Filling/Swirls:
Again, a modification of what I found elsewhere. Has marshmallow cream, so is messy, but fun!
Make this while your cupcakes cool, and put in the fridge while you make the ganache.

4 T softened unsalted butter
1 cup powdered sugar
3 T heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup marshmallow fluff

Cream the butter until it is fluffy. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar, and then alternate sugar and cream until fluffy and blended. Add vanilla and marsmallow. You will need to scrape the sides of the bowl during the powdered sugar and marshmallow fluff parts - they like to stick to things and climb bowls :)

The Ganache:
The cupcake recipe only makes 12 cupcakes, so I scaled down a couple ganache recipes I found, to make this (again, while the cupcakes were cooling - be efficient, people!):

4 oz semisweet chocolate
1/3 cup heavy cream
3/4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

Bring the cream and butter just to a boil, and pour over chocolate in a glass bowl. Let sit until the chocolate is soft, and whisk until combined. Add vanilla. Let cool. Should be glossy and slightly liquidy. Taste test. Yummmm.

Putting it all together:
While your cupcakes cooled, you should have made your filling and ganache. I know it's hard, but try not to eat it all! Here are the steps to put everything together:
     1. Put the filling into a frosting bag with a medium star tip. Put this in the fridge while you make the ganache, if you haven't already.
     2. Dig the tip deep down into the cupcakes and put in a bunch of filling, until you can feel that the cupcake is getting heavier. I had to insert at multiple spots because I was having some pretty epic fail with my frosting bag - if your bag is working well, you should be able to just use one insertion point. Put the filling back in the fridge (it gets runny if it gets too warm).
     3. Use a knife or frosting blade to clean the excess filling off the top of the cupcakes. A little bit is ok - the ganache will cover that, you just don't want a ton of extra texture.
     4. Spoon some ganache on top and gently smooth it out to the edges of the cupcakes.
     5. Put in the fridge to harden the ganache a bit. 10 minutes or so.
     6. Change the tip on your frosting bag to a small round one, and put the signature swirls on top!
     7. Enjoy, and revel in the smiles :)

Yeah.. the filling was too warm, see?
It was still really delicious :D