Foot meatloaf

I don’t actually enjoy cooking. It is a lot of work, it makes a mess, it has to be done over and over again, and what takes a long time to create is consumed in minutes. Since I don’t love being saddled to the kitchen, I get creative in my cooking. I think it creates memories (trauma) for my children and it makes the whole process bearable.2015-02-25-20-12-43.jpg

Such was the case on the night of the footloaf. I made meatloaf using a standard recipe. Then I added some vegetables to hide them from the kids who thought they were eating a “meat” loaf. Instead of plopping it in a pan, I sculpted it into a foot. I particularly like the potato chip toenails. It lost some of it’s grossness after being baked because it looked less fleshy, but it made a memorable meal out of something ordinary.

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Pirate Birthday Cake

One year my son wanted a pirate birthday cake. I obliged. Rather than find a ship-shaped pan, (which is probably not the same as ship-shape) I built the boat using chocolate icing from a can and chocolate wafer cookies.

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Once I had the basic shape, I put it on top of a cake so there would be water for the ship to be in. This made it so I didn’t have to create a rudder or any of the other underside workings of a ship. Plus, not everyone wants a nice slice of birthday wafers.

 

 

I then built the sail by opening blue and white airhead candies, lining them up side-by-side and running the rolling pin over them to make them one solid piece. In retrospect, airheads do not make the best sails because they are heavy and it took toothpicks and a lot of frosting to keep them standing and the mast from tipping over.

Lastly, the over-sized pirate was made from tootsie rolls (the fruit kind which I think are actually called frooties or something). Fondant could also be used and would probably hold up better. As it was, we had to freeze the pirate and put him on the cake right before lighting the candles.

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I covered the entire ship with panels of chocolate frosting to make it wood-like and then put sea creatures in the surrounding water. Here it is from a couple of different angles.

 

 

p.s. I would recommend serving it outside because the wafer cookies are REALLY messy.

 

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South Willow Lake Hike

Last weekend we went for a hike. The original plan was to go to the Uintahs, but the end of the year is always a busy time for me at work and I was very, very stressed—almost to the point that I wanted to refuse to go anywhere so I could stay home to catch up. Other people were going to go with us, but they bailed out, so we opted to go somewhere closer to home and went up South Willow Canyon. On Friday afternoon, we went up the canyon, set up and enjoyed an evening around the camp fire.

Every year my husband takes the boys on a wilderness adventure hike. They meet up with Uncle Ken from California and his group and spend a week hiking around 50 miles. In order to whip the boys into shape and to enjoy what nature has to offer in the high mountain desert, he decided we should hike to South Willow Lake.

It is a hike I’ve heard about many times throughout my like, but one I’ve never actually taken. The lake rests at the base of one of the peaks at around 9,000 feet above sea level. Round trip from the trailhead, it is about seven miles with an altitude gain of about 2000 feet.  The website (that I consulted after completing the hike) identifies it in the easier range on the hiking scale. My mind and body would disagree.

As we embarked on our journey, it wasn’t long before I recognized that I wouldn’t make it. I urged my husband to take the kids and go on ahead and that I would go at my own pace. After reaching the intended destination, they would turn back and we would meet up on the trail so I could hike out with them.

I haven’t been hiking in nearly a year, so I wasn’t in the best of shape. This issue was further complicated by the fact that I’m just over three months post-surgery and that the circulation through my legs is significantly reduced due to past issues with blood clots—think asthma, but in my legs. I wore my compression socks, which helped immensely, but did not cure the issues. Initially I would walk about twenty steps and then pause to allow the blood flow in my legs to regulate. I can’t lie and say that was the only issue because as mentioned, my body is not really what could be called “honed” at this stage of my life and with the thinner atmosphere, the journey was a struggle.

I had traveled perhaps three-quarters of a mile when I ran into my husband and kids coming back toward me. I was surprised and a little disappointed over my progress until I discovered that the two youngest had given up and my husband was bringing them back. We chatted for a few minutes before determining that this hike needed to be what we call forced-family-fun. Forced-family-fun is a family activity in which not all participants willingly engage. For example, I didn’t really want to go see the most recent Captain America film, but I did because the rest of the family was going.

Heading off again with the two boys, I kept my daughter with me. She wanted to turn back, but I convinced her to keep going just until we ran into the boys coming back the other way. Unconvinced, she begged to go back to camp until I finally laid it on the line and said that sometimes she needed to do things only because they would challenge her and that she had to finish it. Begrudgingly, we set off again—about 20 paces at a time.

As the trail climbed upward, we set small goals for ourselves. I didn’t want to sunburn and my body struggles to regulate temperature, so we would rest in a patch of shade with our eyes fixed on the next place we could pause beneath a tree. This made it manageable and as we moved onward we were able to enjoy the fields of wildflowers in the lush summer meadows. There was a tiny stream we crossed several times where we were able to splash in water and cool down.

Despite our record slow pace, I felt good about moving and seeing and continuing onward and we were nearing the ridgeline of the mountain—a sure indicator that we were close. We passed some hikers on their descent and asked about the remaining distance. A part of me died when they responded that we were probably only about a third of the way there. I considered finding a shady spot with a comfortable rock and settling in, but my daughter urged me to continue to see what was on the other side of the mountain. So little by little, step by step we moved forward.

Sometime later, having crossed the ridgeline, we again encountered some hikers who told us we were about a mile and three quarters from the lake. I was hot. Our water supply was low. We hadn’t packed for a day hike. But we had already come so very far that it seemed a shame to give up. Unlike many hikes, this one held the promise of a beautiful view and a body of water at the end. So, we continued upward through the switchbacks, over another ridge, and around one of the peaks. We passed another group of hikers who told us we were within ¾ of a mile of the lake, but that the last part was quite steep and the atmosphere very thin. It was shortly thereafter we met up with the boys, who had already been to the lake, taken a dip and were now on their return.

My daughter was done and ready to turn around and head back down.  I, on the other hand, wanted to reach the end. We were so close and it was something I’d never seen. If I didn’t finish, I would have to hike all that distance again just to see what I’d set out to see. Plus, while the compression stockings helped the circulation, it was a lot like wearing woolen underwear in July and I was so very hot. My only thought was of reaching the glacial lake and being able to fully cool off. So, led by my eleven-year-old son, we pushed onward.

At this point I was managing about five footsteps before pausing to rest. The incline was great and I strained at each step. Symptoms of heat exhaustion were setting in. My limbs were shaking and I debated as to whether they would continue to hold me or if I would collapse there on the trail to be picked over by buzzards. My head pounded and nausea crept over me. Five steps more . . . that much closer . . . pause . . . five steps more.

At last, I crested the final hill and there before me was a lake (pond) of snow runoff. It was probably about 25 yards wide, 50 yards across and less than five feet at the deepest point, but it was fresh and cool and I was here. Logic went dormant and impulse took over. Throwing aside any thought of modesty and possible consequences, I stripped off my shoes, socks and pants before stepping into the water. The icy water lapped against my tired, overheated feet. It was invigorating. A few steps more and I was in up to my knees. Within seconds, I found myself submerged up to my waist. The water was shockingly cold and yet my overheated body longed for more, so I sank to my knees allowing the water to cover me up to my shoulders.

And then a strange thing happened. I’ve never had an aneurism, but as the icy water washed over my body, blood suddenly filled my head until I very literally thought it might explode. I imagine it is a lot like Harry Potter felt as he was attacked so frequently by Lord Voldemort. Or, if you prefer a more realistic example, imagine my blood was the citizens of Pompeii and stepping into the water was the explosion of Mount Vesuvius. Suddenly every citizen is attempting to flee and avoid the ash and heat, but they can’t and are immediately consumed by the contents of the volcano.

For a small moment as logic finally caught up to what was happening, I wondered what I would do if indeed a clot had escaped and I died right there in that body of water. I imagine it would have some long-term effects on my witnessing children not to mention the hassle of hiking down the mountain to get a horse or rescue team of some sort, who would have to climb back up the mountain to retrieve my dead body floating like driftwood on the lake. Fortunately, before that could happen, impulse again took control and determined the only way to get rid of the shock was to equalize my temperature, so gasping for air, I slipped beneath the water and covered myself fully.

Sometimes impulse outwits logic and remarkably it worked. For the next ten minutes I paddled around the pond and floated beneath the shade of a lofty pine tree growing on the banks. Then, another group of hikers rounded the bend. The water was clear and there was no explaining away my appearance, so I gently told them they might want to avert their eyes when I climbed out of the water. I swam around a bit longer and then—remembering we still had the three and a half miles to hike back—climbed out to dress.

By this time my husband had climbed back up the trail to tell us we needed to go. He was hot, tired, and nearly out of water. My youngest son was in tears and famished. Dressing quickly, we began the arduous descent.

For the entire hike, there had been something embedded in the soul of my shoe. It didn’t bother me unless I stepped on a rock and it landed in exactly the right place. Then it would jab into my foot. It was tender and an annoyance, but not really problematic until we were about 1/3 of the way back down the trail. Stepping down I landed solidly on a rock that just happened to be precisely beneath the thorn or wood chip or whatever it was jabbing into my foot and I felt it sink through the flesh. Annoyed, I sat down, removed my shoe and tried to force the object out of the sole of my shoe. Without tweezers or pliers, it seemed impossible, so going with plan B, my husband took out his knife and cut off the top. Unfortunately the damage was done and so most of the steps for the remainder of the hike were quite painful.

Nine hours after leaving the trailhead, we returned to camp. My foot was sore, my son was in tears, we were all sunburned, exhausted and dehydrated. Settling in at camp, we ate some lunch and guzzled drinks. That night, as I got ready for bed, I took off my shoes and socks. It was only as I stepped down while barefoot that I noticed the large splinter wedged into the underside of the arch of my foot. Apparently when I had stopped to clean out my shoe I hadn’t considered the fact that the tip of the sharp object might have broken off in my flesh and as I’d walked the last couple miles, each step had gouged at my foot.

There is a sense of accomplishment at having finished something I started and completing something too hard for me to do. Even so, I don’t see myself doing it again any time soon.

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Book 2 – Finally

Paradise  book 2 Cover.jpgI have finally finished the second book in the Paradise Series and it is called … PARADISE. Pretty creative, right? If you are interested, it is available at Amazon.com in a Kindle version or Print. I would recommend the Kindle version unless you are one of those people who has to have a book in your hands.

I have included links to the book in the paragraph above because if you merely type “Paradise” into the search bar, Toni Morrison, John Milton and a bunch of other authors seem to have a corner on the market for the title. Among them are the authors and creators of a miniseries known as The Paradise, which is also available on Netflix and I quite enjoyed, but has nothing to do with my book. Typing in “Paradise, Denise Sagers” will also bring up the correct book.

As I mentioned, I probably should have been a bit more creative in the title, but the story takes place in Paradise, Utah. What would you have called it?

The story picks up in the year 2003, the same year protagonist Melanie was sent back in time by an antique pocket watch from an unknown source. As she reviews entries in her diary, the reader is taken back to the year 1858 – the same year when Before Paradise (the first book in the series) ends. Matthew – Melanie’s Fiance – is still recovering from his near-death experience after being attacked by a vicious neighbor.

While I really enjoyed writing this book, you should recognize if you didn’t have a fondness for the first book in the series, I doubt you will find any redeeming qualities in the second book; new obstacles and new resolutions, but same characters, same time period, continuation of the same story line by the same author. It don’t imagine it will every be numbered among the works of the literary geniuses, but I do think it will serve its purpose – as entertainment.

There will be a third and final book for the series. It is currently notes and outlines, and whereas writing is more my hobby and I have other life-commitments, it may be a couple of years.

Enjoy the journey!

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Small Red Cabinet

It has been a long, long, long time since I’ve updated my page. My personal life took on a life of its own and some of the things I once enjoyed most fell by the wayside. I’d like to believe I’m back and that this post (along with the associated project) is evidence. Truly, only time will tell.

A number of years ago (as many as 5) I was helping my grandma and extended family clean out my grandpas garage. I came across this cabinet.

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The doors are actually turned around because when I first found the cabinet, one of the doors was missing.

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I found it, but (as you can see) it was covered in grease and all sorts of other unidentifiable matter. As you perhaps cannot see, the hinge edge had completely broken off and had to be glued back on.

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The drawer (in the lower right front next to the dutch oven) had the bottom broken out and the face was split in two. Rather than repair it, I built a new drawer with a new bottom and used the face to make parts of candlesticks.

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Also probably not obvious was the fact that the top was very bowed. So I used a the top of an old mahogany dresser to cut a new top. Then it was a matter of squaring up the base and reinforcing all the joints.

My original plan was to sand it down a bit, fill in the holes, and repaint it. Unfortunately, there were possibly as many layers of paint on this piece of furniture as there are on the supports of the New York City Subways. So I decided to strip the paint.

At first, I used chemicals. It was smelly and not as effective as a heat gun turned out to be. By the time I finished, I ended up with about a half gallon of stripped paint. (No picture; sorry).

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The wood beneath is oak and it is beautiful.

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Unfortunately, due to the deep grain patterns, the paint was quite ingrained in the wood and would have been very difficult to get out, though not impossible. The bigger problem was the grease had soaked into and stained the wood and there was a pretty sizable gap where I had to repair the door.

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Even so, I couldn’t completely cover up the wood. Despite the fact that he was best known for his knowledge of horticulture, my dad was also a very skilled woodworker. When I see wood with a pretty grain pattern, his voice kicks in and I have a difficult time painting it.

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I used a vinyl cutter to make a stencil for the door. Due to the intricate pattern, it wasn’t flawless, but overall, I like how it turned out.

Once I got the paint taken off and sanded it, it was ready to paint. I like to spray paint when possible because the finish goes on more evenly than it would with a brush or a roller. I use a pneumatic paint sprayer and enamel paint.

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Based on many of my posts, you can tell I am quite fond of red, especially that chipotle red.

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The new skill I learned was how to use a router on a curved edge. It takes a specific type of router bit with a stop at the top. The bit has a spinning pilot bearing at the top that keeps the blade from cutting too far into the wood.

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One of my very favorite features of this cabinet is the glass knob. In the original drawer there were holes for two, but when it came to me there was only one and it was covered in paint. I love the shape. I love the color. I love that is glass and not acrylic.

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I also like the handles of unknown origin. They were horribly rusted, but I like the designs on them, so I removed the loose rust and painted them a dark walnut brown. 2015-10-31 18.51.59

With the top stained, the cabinet painted, and everything put back together, I think it is a piece I am proud to have on display in my home. I like to think it was something that belonged to my grandparents and now I have it in my home, but the reality is it was sitting in a rarely used garage, behind a couple of engines and an air compressor and it stored all sorts of chemicals. It could just as likely have been something they found on large trash pickup day, but that is far less comforting a thought.

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The Sequel

One of the most frequent questions I have been asked (since the release of Before Paradise) is when will the sequel be out?

The short answer is April of 2016.

The long answer is, of course, much more involved.

I’m currently teaching nearly full time (8/10 or 4/5 for those of you who enjoy fractions). I am also enrolled in school to become a licensed librarian. (Did you know there was such a thing? Neither did I until I began the coursework. I should be finished this summer, 2015).

I am the mother of three younger children – all old enough to be potty-trained, but none old enough to drive.

I am the president of the young women organization for church.

It’s a lot right now – almost more than I can handle. My writing hobby, therefore, is on hold for a bit. If you are a fan, and you would like other, non-related reading material to enjoy in the meantime, feel free to browse through some of my other short stories and narrative writing.

 

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Backpacking in the Uintahs

I haven’t written in some months because my life has taken on a life of its own. I went from teaching twice a week for five classes to five times a week – three full days – and two mornings. Still not full time, but I also went back to school taking on six credits. This was in addition to supposedly being a wife and mother and young women’s president. As one could imagine I wasn’t really very good at any of it. In fact, most days it was all I could do to take one day at a time.  It was survival mode at its finest and I surely don’t recommend it.

Then why did I do it? It is my hope that my spouse will be retiring in five and a half years. At that point, I will need to have benefits and a salary to get us through. While I don’t necessarily need to have additional hours at this point, now is the time work is expanding and now was the time for hiring. There will be changes in the future I am certain and perhaps it would have worked out, but I’m not usually one for chance. Even so, that only puts me at 4 days a week, but the academic calendar has expanded to include one quarter of three teachers working Fridays. This quarter was my turn. I taught storytelling and had a swim club. It was a lot of fun, but just one more thing on an already over-packed schedule.

I just finished up the first quarter of school, which means once again I have Fridays off. A four day work week will help substantially. I finish the first semester of college in December and finish the program in June. Six more months and I will have some more of my time back.

It has been rough on my family, which is my biggest concern. I’m hoping to right some of that now that I’m home a bit more.

A few months ago, I went on my first ever backpacking trip. You know, the kind of camping where one loads everything he or she will need for the next few days into a backpack and then walks off into the wilderness. My husband and oldest son have gone several times together, but I’ve never joined them because I didn’t want to be the one everyone was always waiting for. You know, that person that you secretly hope a bear sneaks up on and devours because you are annoyed that you are stopping every 20 minutes just so the person could keep up. This trip, however, included the whole family and I figured I might be able to keep up with the four-year-old.

I should probably include a few important details before I continue with this tale. The first detail is that the hike was relatively moderate – 4 miles in, 4 miles out – and the incline was fairly level except in one area where we had to go up and over the side of a peak. I should also include that the trip was scheduled for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. While that is a short time period, I should note that I had been camping since the Tuesday night prior to that. So essentially, I set up a tent Tuesday, drove home to sleep in my bed, camped Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Came home Friday mid-day, showered, unpacked, did laundry, and left on Saturday mid-day for the backpacking trip.

So on Saturday, we got to the trailhead around four o’clock. We packed our gear into bags and set off. Spirits and energy were high – for the first mile. Then just spirits were high. My backpack was designed for a 12 year-old (which I am not) and the hip strap had broken, so all the weight was on my shoulders. It wasn’t a huge deal until about midway through when we hit the peak incline. Then the weight became quite cumbersome. At that point I was carrying my little boy’s backpack so that he could keep moving. Four miles is a lot when your legs are like a foot long each.

At one point, the group ahead – which included 2/3 of my children – became separated from our group because they traveled to a different lake. I wasn’t really worried because they were with an adult who had food and water, but at the same time, I remember the stories of scouts and others disappearing in the Uintas each year and I wasn’t keen on not being in the same area as my kids. As you probably guessed from our lack of making news headlines, eventually we all met up and found a lovely spot to camp near the shores of Lake Cuberant. We proceeded to unpack, set up camp, and learn to dig a hole to bury bodily waste. I’ll just add that men are designed more for backpacking. It’s not that I couldn’t handle “going” in the woods, it’s just less convenient.

The first night was great. I slept well and woke refreshed. I had some guilt associated with willfully skipping church, but if I were to be completely honest it was rejuvenating to be away from civilization and the stresses of life and just to have time to spend with my family. We filtered some water and cooked breakfast. Some people fished. I followed a stream and found a spring. It was cold and the water was delicious. We took a few short walks that day and after a dinner of Raman Noodles, we settled in to bed. I slept well until sometime in the middle of the night when I heard “clop, clop, clop, snort.” I listened again and again heard it.

I woke my husband who said, “Do you think it’s a bear?”

“No,” I whispered, “listen to the footfalls. It clomps like a horse. I think it is a moose.”

I don’t know if it was our voices or something else out in the darkness, but suddenly the moose bolted and took off through the meadow near our camp. I listened intently as it slowed and began munching on the meadow grass. Just as I was about to drift off again, again I heard the clomping and snorting. I was terrified. I’m not saying it is rational, but all I could think was, That moose is going to come trampling through our camp. My children are in a tent 20 feet away. Is it better to stay zipped in here and not draw attention to myself or our tents, or make a racket unzipping the tent, walking through the pine needles, unzipping the kids tent and … what … We were four miles from the trailhead and the trailhead was many miles from cell phone reception/medical attention. If I were to get trampled it would be harder to haul my dead carcass out than the lighter-weight bodies of my children.

I stayed put, but didn’t sleep. Every time it would move, my senses were alerted. A munch, a snort, a step; I was exhausted and knew we had to hike back out the next day. I needed my sleep, and yet, what kind of a mother dozes while her children are in mortal peril. The situation was amplified because I also had to go to the bathroom, but didn’t want to be caught with my pants down.

For several long hours I fought irrational thought, but made very little headway. Finally, accepting the fact that there was little to be done, I made up a story in my head about Virgil the Moose. I think my stories are how I self-soothe. The story didn’t change the situation, but allowed a fresh perspective and helped me to calm down enough I eventually dozed off.

At dawn, I awoke and saw a mother moose and calf strolling through the meadow. I had to go to the bathroom, so cautiously, I unzipped the tent and first stuck just my head out. When I wasn’t immediately attacked, I grabbed my shoes and put them on inside the tent. By the time I emerged the cow and calf had wandered off into the trees, which didn’t make going to the bathroom easier because … well, when one has to use the facilities in the wilderness, the trees are as close as it gets.

The kids were less energetic on the way out. I carried the youngest’s pack the entire time and my husband carried him part of the way. My daughter was also ready to relinquish the weight she carried and whined a lot of the hike back when she was told she had to carry her own pack. At last we emerged at the trailhead. All three of the kids slept most of the way back home. That night, my husband had to work on homework and we had to get ready for another year at the county fair, but for three days everything besides enjoying the beauty and wonder of nature was forgotten.

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