My rule: Play nice. Comments (moderated) are welcome, but I will not let anyone say something I deem as mean-spirited.

For samples of my professional and published work, please visit JenniferEHughes.blogspot.com
I've consolidated my Cub Scout helps, printables, and ideas at www.CubScoutLove.blogspot.com

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

I Pledge Allegiance

I know you know the words by heart:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

I've been thinking a lot about America lately and what it means to me. I've said the Pledge of Allegiance truly countless times over my life. I've proudly displayed the flag that stands for one indivisible nation under God. I've taken my responsibility very seriously to teach school children and scouts the great heritage of this country and the meaning of and history behind the flag, national anthem, and Pledge.

I've considered myself a patriot, grateful for the freedoms we enjoy, honored by the sacrifices of the many who have served our country and even died for it. I have done my best to teach the next generation to love their country.

But the times, they are a-changing. There's a tumult in America that can't be ignored. This doesn't feel like the "land that I love" anymore. If I pledge my heart and my loyalty to someone or something, I need to mean it, or I shouldn't say it.

So I am asking myself the hard question: When I say the Pledge of Allegiance, what exactly am I swearing my loyalty to?

So if that's what I don't believe in, where is the America that I have loved? Does it even exist anymore?

I'll be honest. It causes me great turmoil to say I don't know if I can pledge allegiance to what America stands for now. So, here's my "title of liberty"--similar to what an ancient prophet said when making his declaration--of what I can pledge.

I pledge allegiance to:
  • God
  • My religion and its leaders
  • Our unalienable, God-given rights and constitutional freedoms
  • My family
  • The ideals behind America that our forefathers fought and died for: a land of liberty and justice for all
That is a pledge I can give with my whole heart. 

It pains me to witness the collapse of my once-wonderful country. I truly don't know if we can Make America Great Again unless there is a giant shift by all of us working together at once--like after 9-11, when so many of us felt unified as a nation. I pray that this once "sweet land of liberty" can rise from the dust. But if not, I know where my deeper allegiance lies.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Wonderful, Slow-Cooking Oven

I stumbled across the Wonderbag recently. It is basically an old-fashioned slow cooker, requiring just a small amount of fuel/energy. You must initially heat food to a boil, and then you move the pot into the insulated bag for several hours to let the food gently cook as it very slowly cools down. I've seen food come out hot--not warm--after sitting in the bag for eight hours. This is good for your energy bill and also makes for a low-effort, one-pot meal that can cook while you are at home or even while you are transporting it elsewhere. It also is great for emergency cooking or camping.

If you need something kept cold instead of hot, the insulating material is reported to keep ice cream cold for about four hours. Other items may stay frozen even longer. Again, this is great if you need to take something cold to an event and you're transporting it in a hot car.

The Wonderbag company donates one bag to a family in need in Africa for every bag sold in the U.S. While I loved this generous idea, the $54 price was beyond my budget, so I wanted to make one for myself that was more economical.

Then my sister randomly mentioned that her LDS ward was making "wonder oven boxes" and asked if I'd like to go in on a group order of bean bag pellets! It was serendipity. Apparently, the wonder box was created by a group called Compassion in South Africa in 1978. It is a totally different design from the Wonderbag, although the concept is the same.

The wonder box is a great place to start for those who are not confident sewers because it's very basic. I used a pattern provided by my sister's ward, but there are several copycat patterns on Pinterest if you search for wonder oven, wonder oven box, or wonder box.

Cost
I used a free pattern, purchased a $5 flat sheet at Wal-Mart for fabric, and spent $5 on the bulk order of bean bag pellets. Out of that I made a wonder box, then, wanting to try the bag style, I made three bags that fit a three-qt. pot with a handle. I still have lots of bean bag pellets left over and could make several more with scrap fabric. Can't beat the price! Take that, slow cooker!

Recipes
I will include recipes in a future post, but you can also find these on Pinterest. I was concerned that I had to use actual Wonderbag recipes, but this is a forgiving slow cooker. You can use different types of recipes, like:

  • Standard crock pot recipes
  • Anything with some liquid in it that you can bring to a boil before moving your pot to the wonder box 
  • Dishes that you don't want to stew in liquid all day, by putting ingredients in an oven bag or slow cooker liner bag (I've even read of using an empty, plastic cereal bag from boxed cereal). Put the closed bag (with the ends hanging out of the pot) in some water in your pot, cook it at a hard boil for 15 minutes, and move it to the wonder box. This technique is good if you have something like a whole chicken and vegetables that you don't want to turn into stew.
I've found that unlike a slow cooker, the wonder oven will not burn or overcook food, which is a major plus. Vegetables don't get so mushy because they are cooked too long, while the meat gets very tender and juicy. It's such a convenient way to cook.


Wonder Oven Box Tutorial
I found a tutorial online, contributed by Kathryn Pratt, that uses the same instructions I was given at my sister's super Saturday Relief Society event. I was worried as I was cutting and sewing that I was doing something wrong, but I found that this really is a forgiving pattern if you make mistakes. It requires fewer pellets than I originally thought, because if you put in too many, there is no room for the pan. The point is to put in just enough that you have room for the pan in the center and then the pellets can create a nice layer of insulation around it. You may need to adjust the final amount of pellets by experimenting with a pan you plan on using before you sew the hole shut. The lid should be firmer than the bag.

And I do not have a good way to move bean bag pellets that are lightweight and full of static electricity! The best way I found was with some kind of a scoop and a funnel made out of newspaper, but plan on doing this step outside because you will end up covered in styrofoam pellets! I have heard that you can use any kind of insulating material from packing peanuts to even old rags but I have not tried any different kinds of insulation. If you've had success with other materials, please leave a comment!


Here are pictures of the wonder box from the blog Our LDS Family. You can see that it is essentially just a square bean bag that has a spot in the center that can be smushed around to create a hollow for your pot. It is covered with a square piece filled with bean bags pellets.


It is pretty shapeless, so if you want it to have more structure or hug your pot more closely, you need to first put it in a box or laundry basket, make a hollow for your pan, and then snuggle the pan down into the hollow and cover it with the bean bag lid. It helped that my husband was pushing the insulation around and out of place when I was trying to put the pot in since the hollow tended to fill back in just as I was setting the pot in. The entire pot needs to be nestled within the bag to be able to cook the food properly.

I think that Kathryn Pratt's wonder box is actually pretty cute. Mine turned out kind of homely and without such a firm shape.

When I tried it out I tried it first on the counter and then in a laundry basket and felt like that was the better way to go since it nestled the pot better. I put a kitchen towel around my pot first to protect the fabric from stains, although it can be washed by hand. I just felt better thinking that I could preserve its appearance longer by not putting it directly against the fabric. Also, I was worried that the pot would be so hot that it would burn the fabric, but that has not seemed to be the case any time the metal has come in contact with the fabric, so I don't think that should be a concern for you.

The wonder box can fit many size pots, including my largest Magnalite dutch oven, which I believe is seven quarts, but it's key to use a pan without a handle because the handle will stick out of the bag and create a gap where air can get in.

Due to the fact that most of my pans have handles, and because I wanted to try something cuter (vanity) as well as something that did not require setting a laundry basket on my counter for the entire day, I decided to try using my plentiful bean bag pellets to create a new one. I took pictures of the second one I made with purchased fabric with a cute kitchen print. I'm going to write about it in my next post to keep these two patterns separate. Happy wonder-ful slow cooking!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Tradition

A small group of our friends that does a regular dinner and book club had been reading Strings Attached, and our presenter wanted to give us a little taste of "the mother country" since the subject of the book was Ukrainian. I had no idea there would be a demand for authentic Russian food in our very "white bread" area, but our host found a little Russian deli not too far away. We feasted on borscht, meat dumplings, a creamy potato/vegetable salad, Ukrainian bread, and cabbage rolls with meat and sour cream filling. I felt like I was eating a dinner of Russian comfort food even though many were delightful new flavors to me.

Why do we crave tradition--the familiar tastes, customs, music, culture, dress? When I moved away from my home state there were a few familiar things I constantly craved: Nielsen's custard, eclairs from Dick's bakery, pizza from Robintino's. I ached to recall the gorgeous rainbow of clouds as the setting sun reflected off the Great Salt Lake and then darkly dipped behind Antelope Island. I missed the familiar roads and views. Although these weren't necessarily traditions, they were customs and familiarities that I felt were a part of me.

Christmas is the time of year we seem to pull out all the traditions along with our boxes of stuff. One little treasure passed down to my family was a cd set of a radio play from 1937, "The Cinnamon Bear", that was a favorite of my mother-in-law as a child. She gave it to us when my kids were small, and every year after Thanksgiving we'd pull it out and listen to the cute and goofy stories of Jimmy and Judy bungling their efforts to find their Christmas tree's silver star in a magical fantasy land. We don't listen to it every year, but the little references have become part of our family's vocabulary, like a joke we all get while saying hardly anything.

I think women often seem to be the keeper of the hearth with passing down traditions. Growing up, our Christmas had a very reliable pattern. Christmas Eve was the dinner for baby Jesus, complete with an angel food "birthday" cake, a nice Thanksgiving-type meal, and a full day of grumbling kids having to polish the silver flatware and dishes--and then wash and wrap them back in tissue and plastic before bedtime. This is a tradition I've felt impressed to continue, even though often my husband and I are the only ones eating the angel food cake. And I won't make my kids polish the silver all day!

Christmas morning was a carefully choreographed event that I didn't appreciate for some years. While I didn't believe in Santa-the-big-red-guy, I also certainly didn't realize everything my parents were doing behind the scenes to pull off The Big Event. My mom would apparently stay up most of the night creating the perfect scene. It was one part interior design, two parts Las Vegas excess, one part controlled chaos.

We each had our own chair that was draped with gifts and a stocking. The room was created with the care of a lovely Christmas store window display. Even if we didn't really need something--even if she had to get stuff from a garage sale to fill in the cracks--what mattered was the perfect presentation that would elicit just the right "oohs" and "ahs" from us as we entered the living room that was softly illuminated by the tiny multi-color lights on the tree.

Thanks to her health-food kick at the time, we did not get to eat cold cereals of sugary goodness and crunchy little marshmallows until Christmas. But each year, we counted on finding in our stockings the little Kellogg's boxes of wonder that were treasured and traded and eaten with glee later on.

How do we decide what we pass down? Why is it important? Why does it matter if I give my children little boxes of cereal in their stockings each year? (And yes, I do!) How does that become part of our identity? Do I lose a link between generations if I don't pass down great-grandpa's this or that?

Over time, traditions change. Something my parents passed down may stop at me. (The window-dressed living room, for one.) But every year we put up the stockings, put each kids' collections of ornaments on the fake tree, eat the angel food cake on Christmas Eve. We keep enacting these rituals because these common experiences tie us together. And that is what we have--and who we are--in the end.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Book Review: NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman

Perhaps this is not so much of a book review as a life review as a result of this book's powerful affect on me. You decide.

I went to a school concert recently. As the teenagers leisurely tromped onstage, I idly scanned the crowd. My eyes stopped instinctively at one young man—then a second. Who knows, maybe everyone else in the audience was doing the same thing: something about these boys just caught the eye for some reason. Perhaps it's because it's such a strong part of our human nature to notice, categorize, and analyze why someone else is different.

 These young men who caught my attention looked ill at ease in their own skin. They weren’t chatting with their neighbors like most of the other kids. Without knowing anything of importance about them I could tell they were socially awkward. Geeks. Nerds. I could even armchair psychoanalyze these kids as being on the autism spectrum.

How could I tell? How can any of us sense, even from a distance, that someone is just “not quite right”—in other words, not like us? I’ve seen this same analyzing stare from strangers for many years as they watch my kid, who is also on the autism spectrum. I know it well. In a way, it bothers me—“Just let him be who he is without your personal judgments on what kind of a person he is or what kind of a parent I must be.” And yet I find myself at times, like at the school concert, doing the same thing.

Are we instinctively programmed to value human symmetry? Are our personal worlds not right until we homogenize everyone around us? It seems true. And yet there’s something so “ugly American” about the thought. Many of us would probably reject the idea on its surface—but then go right on staring.

Before I could write a review of NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman, I’ve had to digest it for the last month. I’ve had to reconsider everything I’ve thought about autism and do some soul-searching as I’ve examined our family history “on the spectrum.” This is a long book, a comprehensive history of autism and the development of the field of psychology in the 20th century, and although I think it's fascinating reading, I'm not sure if a casual reader would want to read in its entirety or would benefit from just reading excerpts.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

LDS General Conference Makes Me "Happy"

This Saturday and Sunday it's the semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I love this awesome opportunity to hear counsel from living apostles of Jesus Christ! I think this video can't help but make you feel "happy" too!

 

Monday, December 22, 2014

To Choir, With Love

I love singing, but my favorite kind is in a group. For just a few moments, everyone is totally united in a single purpose: to make beautiful music.

I've sung in a choir pretty much nonstop since I was in grade school. For the last few years I've been especially privileged to sing under Dr. Brady Allred with Salt Lake Choral Artists. Singing in a choir creates unique connections. I may not actually know much about my choir neighbors, but as we meet together once a week, we become friends.

Choral singing may sound easy, but consider that a singer's instrument is more complex than any other--essentially the whole body. The act of singing is very physical and sensorial, and singing with others is especially intimate. We actually absorb each other's sound waves. They vibrate against our eardrums and tap telegraphic messages to our brains. If everyone sings just right--in just the same way--these sound waves weave together in an invisible though very real tapestry.

If you are not a singer, you may not understand when I say that those moments of unity are among life's most transcendent. I think others, like me, are addicted to chasing these "fixes" or highs. Although rare, they become inscribed not just in our memories but in our very cells. Each song, each voice, becomes a time capsule of sound.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Profile on Elizabeth Dole: "We've Received That We Might Give"

Interview by Mark Cook, publisher and editor of Priorities
Written by Jennifer Hughes

Published in FranklinCovey's Priorities magazine, Volume 2, Issue 6


It's almost un-American to ask who Elizabeth Dole is. Wife of former senator and 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, "Liddy," as she is called, is actually considered a good bet for the 2000 presidential election herself (although she quickly denies any plans to run). But she's too busy for politics right now. She is president of the American Red Cross, a humanitarian organization that helps victims of some 60,000 domestic disasters a year. She has family relationships to ten to, including a "beautiful marriage" and her 97-year-old mother who is her "best friend." She has daily time set aside for devotional and exercise. And as if that weren't enough, she's always looking for something more to do.

A Life of Opportunities
Elizabeth Hanford Dole has the charming accent of a Southern belle from her childhood in the small town of Salisbury, North Carolina. She grew up in the lovely Southern home that is easy to picture as she speaks — complete with a magnolia tree. Her parents encouraged their children to succeed early. "They were very unselfish, and they wanted me to do things that would broaden my horizons," explains Mrs. Dole. She speaks glowingly of her parents, as if they were mentors and friends instead of authority figures. "My mother has certainly been a great influence in my life because she's very unselfish, very giving, always thinking of other people."