She’s Driving!!!

Yep, the title says it all – my teenager is not only driving, she’s weeks away from having her full-fledged license. It’s a scary thought, but I’m not sure if she’s more scared of it or if I am! She doesn’t have a car yet, so solo excursions will be at a minimum for the time-being, but we’ve been car shopping and comparing makes and models, and she’ll have one in the near future.

Teen doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to have her sign a driving agreement that I modified from one that was published recently in a Dear Abby column. I’m of a mind that if a person knows what’s expected of them, it’s a heck of a lot easier to do the right thing. This agreement lays it all out and can hopefully be a good tool for her. I’m linking the agreement below – what do you think about it? Did I miss anything or am I being too heavy-handed? All input is welcome!

Driving Responsibility Agreement

What have I gotten myself into?

My kindergarten daughter decided that she wanted to be a Girl Scout Daisy, but only did so in November…

“So what?” you may ask. Troops are formed at the beginning of school, and by waiting until the last minute, we were left without a troop to join! Ugh! Ok, so what now? After going to a meeting a the local council office, I found out…start a troop or don’t join. Really?!? Those are my only options? Well, shoot!

OK, so what’s involved? I bet you’re wondering why it’s gone this far? It’s mostly because the 5-year-old keeps telling me how great it is that her friends are Daisies and keeps giving me the, “You must not love me since I’m not a Daisy yet” look.

The nice lady from the council says that it’s not much of a time requirement, maybe an hour or so to prepare for a meeting and then the meeting itself. She assures me that you don’t have to do more, and really, don’t I want to do this for my daughter? What a shame it would be if she couldn’t be a Girl Scout in a Daisy troop!

Well, OK…that amount of time doesn’t seem like it will kill me. Little did I know, with such a dearth of information available through the council, I’d have already spent about 10 hours on this and we haven’t even had the parent meeting yet!! Now I’m looking at trying to put a troop web site together, organize the parent meeting to see if there will even be enough girls to form a troop, and plan for how we’ll speed these impressionable young minds through the little bit of the year that remains.

The bright side? I met a really nice, over-worked lady who is mom to a 5-year-old at another school, and she’s agreed to be the troop co-leader – I’m not in it alone! I am glad I met her, so even if this Daisy thing doesn’t pan out, I’ve got a new friend.

I think I’ve already won!

On the off chance that anyone may actually read this, if you know anything about being a troop leader to a group of Daisies (would that be a bouquet?), email me and fill me in on what I should be expecting!

FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!

Did that headline get your attention?  GOOD!  Now for the “meat” of the story!

My middle child, Alayna, is a kindergarten student at Discovery Elementary School in San Marcos. The school was built in the mid-90s and is still beautiful, but due to it’s age it has not held up well when it comes to technology. Kids today can do SO much, if they have the right equipment, and we’re trying to help them with that.

Clorox is holding a grant competition that awards the winning school $50,000, and Discovery wants to use that money to help upgrade the technology so that the students have the best available to them. Right now, we’re in first place, but our lead is shrinking and we need all the help we can get! Please take a moment and click on the link below to vote for Discovery Elementary. Each person can text* and vote online every day, so that’s TWO votes per person per day. It takes less than 5 minutes to text and vote online, so it would be really amazing if you would take those few moments to help out.

To vote online, click on the image above.  The easiest way to make sure you’re voting for Discovery is to click on “Gallery of Nominees” in the upper left corner, then click on the “Most Votes” button a couple of inches below on the left.  Discovery will hopefully still be in the lead, so it will be the first school.  Click vote and you’re done!  You do need to register the first time, and I chose to use a different email address that is not associated with my Facebook account (I didn’t want them accessing my info!).  I got a confirmation email for my registration, but I have not gotten any spam from Clorox after that. Each time you got there to vote after the first time, you can just click/confirm/finish!

Never texted?  That’s ok, I can help!  If you’ve got any questions about how to text or vote online, please don’t hesitate to respond here or email me at shawndy@gmail.com and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.    Every vote helps, so even if you can’t vote both ways, any voting is good!

Thanks!

* Note: Texting rates do apply, but only if you are on a plan that doesn’t include texting.

More Terry Pratchett

While typing my last post, I realized that there’s a whole world of Terry Pratchett stories that many people are unfamiliar with. This is honestly one of the greatest writers of our age, and has been recognized as such when he was appointed an Officer of the Order of British the Empire (OBE) in 1998, knighted by the Queen of England in 2009, received the Carnegie Medal for one of his young adult novels, earned four (4) honorary doctorates, and as of August 2010 he’d sold more than 65 million books world wide. Quite an impressive resume!

I got started reading Pratchett way back in the early 1990s, when I picked up an interesting book off of the shelf of the public library. This book, called “Good Omens,” was co-authored by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (yes, you’ve probably heard of HIM), and it was about the end of times. It sets the angel, Aziraphale against the demon, Crowley, to bring about the proper ending of the world (proper depending on the side you’re on, I suppose) via the Antichrist. Unfortunately for the powers that be, things take a bit of a turn when the Antichrist is switched at birth with another baby, and is raised as a normal child in a small British village. I took the book along with me for a long drive to visit family, and within the first 5 pages I was laughing out loud. My husband was driving, and demanded to know what was so funny, so I started to read the book aloud to him. I giggled my way through the book, meeting the Four OTHER Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Them, and all the other wonderful characters.

After my first adventure with Good Omens, I decided to find out more about both authors. Apparently, I wasn’t ready for Neil Gaiman just yet, as it’s taken me many years to get around to expanding my own home library of his books. Right away, however, I fell in love with Terry Pratchett’s already growing fantasy world. While his first novel, “The Carpet People” was published in 1971, he did not receive wide recognition until The Colour of Magic was published in 1983, and then serialized on British radio in 1985. Since 1986, Pratchett has published at least one book a year, and as of his latest novel, “Snuff,” he has written or contributed to over 50 books during his career!

As I mentioned previously, my favorite characters are the Nac Mac Feegle, a fierce group of fairy folk that are blue, 2″ high, and will fight anything (including themselves if they’re bored). The Feegles were first introduced in the “Wee Free Men” in 2003 when we meet a young girl named Tiffany Aching for the first time. The Feegles become her protectors of sorts, and have appeared in each Tiffany Aching book since. They’re tough, they’re slightly naughty, and they’re SO much fun!!

If my descriptions here inspire you at all, consider looking into this brilliant author, especially the Discworld books. Here’s a handy chart that might help you in your quest to read about this magical realm:


I’m Reading Terry Pratchett

Still Living in a Fantasy World

I’ve mentioned before – I’m a bit unusual when it comes to your average mom. One of the things that makes me unusual is in addition to being the mom of 3 girls ranging in age from 3 – 17, is that I’m a computer gamer who plays MMOs (massively multi-player online games). I’ve been around MMOs since before they were a world-wide phenomenon…I beta tested the original Everquest, EQII, City of Heroes, Champions Online, and World of Warcraft, among others. My family plays together, with my husband, teenager, and I playing characters and the kindergartner and preschooler looking on helping us to beat up the bad guys and finish quests.

There are some that think that gamers are a lot of large people that live in their mothers’ basements and spend 24/7 online in a fantasy realm. Ok, so there ARE some of those, but there are also “normal” people like me who play too! I’ve formed life-long friendships with people I’ve met playing games, and even know couples who married after meeting online. It’s an interesting way to get to know folks, and while not all friendships last, it’s a fun way to expand your horizons.

My current game is (again) World of Warcraft (WoW), which I’ve played on and off since the MMO came out in 2004. It’s a world that has been around in one form or another since 1994, when Blizzard Entertainment introduced “Warcraft: Orcs & Humans.” In WoW, you play a character for whom you pick the race and class, allowing you to take on a persona from a fictional character and direct your own adventure. I’ve played most race and class combinations, but my current favorite is a Gnome Rogue named Candey, and I’ve maxed her out at level 85. Ok, I thought I maxed her out…then I found out about “Mists of Pandaria” the latest expansion to the game which is scheduled to come out in the 2nd quarter of 2012 and will raise the player level max to 90. Here’s a trailer for the expansion:

Impressive, huh? If you decide you want to try it out – or get back into the game – let me know. I can get you a free 10-day pass and if you decide to play I can help you out. It’s fun, interesting, a great way to meet people, and a good escape if you can manage your time well.

Red Velvet Cake

Like most, I’ve got a repertoire of familiar, time-tested recipes that I fall back on to the point of being boring! I decided that I was tired of being a very basic cook, so at 43, I’m just starting to enjoy branching out and finding recipes outside of my comfort zone. In March, my teenager’s school needed baked goods donated for the big parent event, and I figured that I could bake something simple and get “brownie” points for it. Then I was shown some cakes/pastries from the previous year’s event and I was in an absolute panic!!

I decided to attempt a red velvet cake, since it looks beautiful, but it’s basically just a frosted cake. I’d never baked a cake from scratch before, so I really started at the beginning. I went online to find recipes and comparisons, watched YouTube videos to learn the art of frosting a cake, and spent countless hours making batches for my family to taste test for me. Oh, the horrors I made them suffer!!

In the end, I went with a modified recipe that changed things up just a bit, but was based on a recipe I found at the Apple A Day blog. Here’s the recipe, with my modifications:

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes 1 8-inch 3-layer cake

For the cake:

2½ cups cake flour
1½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1½ cups vegetable oil
4 tablespoons Saco Cultured Buttermilk Blend
1 cup water
2 tablespoons (1 oz.) red food coloring
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar

For the frosting:

16 ounces cream cheese, softened
12 ounces butter, softened
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners’ sugar

For the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa, buttermilk powder and salt into a medium bowl.
  3. Beat eggs, oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla, water, and vinegar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until well combined. Add dry ingredients and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.
  4. Divide batter evenly between 3 greased and floured 8″ round cake pans.
  5. Bake cakes, rotating halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. Let cakes cool 5 minutes, then invert each onto a plate, then invert again onto a cooling rack. Let cakes cool completely.

For the frosting:

  • Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together in a large bowl with an electric mixer until combined. Add sugar and beat until frosting is light and fluffy, 5-7 minutes.
  • Put 1 cake layer on a cake plate, level off with a serrated knife, and spread one-quarter of the frosting on top.
  • Set another layer on top, level, and repeat frosting.
  • Set remaining layer on top, level, and frost top and sides with the remaining frosting.
  • Chill for 2 hours to set frosting.

I’m happy with how it came out…what do you think?Go Knights!

He’s Done it Again!!

The “he” I’m referring to is Terry Pratchett, and the “it” is writing another awesome book! I’ve been a fan of this cheeky British author for years, and his latest offering, Snuff, doesn’t disappoint! Readers find themselves once again on the Discworld, and in familiar company with Chief Constable Samuel Vimes. Commander Vimes and his wife have gone for a visit in the countryside, but while you can take the copper out of the city, you can’t stop a good copper from finding and solving crimes! From Amazon.com’s book description, “Yet a policeman will find a crime anywhere if he decides to look hard enough, and it’s not long before a body is discovered, and Sam—out of his jurisdiction, out of his element, and out of bacon sandwiches (thanks to his well-meaning wife)—must rely on his instincts, guile, and street smarts to see justice done. As he sets off on the chase, though, he must remember to watch where he steps. . . . This is the countryside, after all, and the streets most definitely are not paved with gold.”

If all of this is total gibberish to you, then you have not been introduced to Sir Terry Pratchett and his remarkable world. Pratchett is known for taking a tongue-in-cheek look at impressive groups such as the post office, police force, and other such institutions, and successfully pointing out their foibles while also subtly reminding us that while we complain about these organizations, we’d be lost without them!

Why do I like reading Pratchett’s books? I loved fairy tales as a child, and while I’m all grown up now, I like to believe that happily ever after can still come true (even if it’s not the way we pictured it!). Pratchett is a master of spinning yarns that are part fairy tale and part cautionary tale, and written with such great skill that you will find yourself laughing out loud at some parts!

To date, my favorite characters from any of his books (and there are lots of good ones to choose from!), are the Nac Mac Feegle! Technically they’re a group of characters, but it’s my blog so I can get away with a little fudging! The Feegles are a rowdy bunch who swear amusingly (Crivens is the thing you hear most), steal well (anything that’s not nailed down and sometimes the nails too!), and are fiercely loyal to those they feel worthy. They are wee men who stand a towering 2″ high and will bite your ankle as soon as look at you…oh, and they speak with quite the brogue! Here’s a picture of the wee beasties:

Feegles

The Nac Mac Feegles in full battle charge

If you’re not intrigued yet, you may not have a pulse! Coming soon is a list of Pratchett books in the order in which they should be read to get the most out of them. However, if the whole list is too daunting, start with “Wee Free Men” and let the chuckles begin!

Welcome to my experiment!

I’m taking a WordPress class this semester at Palomar Community College and this is where I’ll be doing my experimenting (aka “Lessons”). Feel free to let me know what you think!

~ Shawndy ~