Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Cinnamon French Toast Bake from Pillsbury

I originally pinned this to my {NOM NOM NOM - SWEETS} board on Pinterest a few months ago. There are so many things to pin on Pinterest, many of them fall by the wayside after the reach it to my board and never come to fruition, but I couldn't get this one off my mind. I've always been a sucker for cinnamon rolls - especially warm ones that are a little bit gooey. I had to try this. The kicker though, of course, is that pesky Weight Watchers plan I've been telling you about. This does not fit in. At all. I tried to calculate points but I swear to you when I entered all of the info and then submitted for a calculation, the response, "LOL" is all that came back. ;)

I decided to save it for a special occasion. Then it's ok, right? Well, no, probably not.... but I'm nothing if not realistic, and that realism tells me that eliminating indulgent sweets from my life entirely is not a path to success. It's a path to regrettable binge-fests. So I scheduled this baby for Easter breakfast and bought the calories... err... ingredients.

Fast forward to Easter morning, and it was as if God spoke to me saying, "Sarah, you do not need those calories. You will not make that dish!" No lie. I woke up with an excited little boy and sat down to watch him search for Easter eggs and felt my entire back compress like an accordion, one vertebra at a time. I was paralyzed. I was in excruciating pain and unable to move. Aside from wondering how the crap I was going to get better, my first thought really was that it was a message from God. No lie... this is how my brain works. I appreciate the help from above, but perhaps next time he could make it so that the Pillsbury Grands are out of stock before I get to the store rather than immobilize me? I'm just sayin'. 

I never did get the dish made on Easter. I didn't really get off the couch until Wednesday, actually. We ended up having this for supper last Friday night. Easter was over, but I had the ingredients on hand and had to use them up.

I don't think I have ever in my life put so many calories or grams of sugar in one baked dish, but I forged on. I'm not really a huge sweet eater, so I wasn't sure I would like it. I thought it would be too sweet. Like, sickeningly sweet. Cinnamon rolls plus butter plus 3/4 c. of syrup (!!) PLUS the icing that comes with the rolls? I was scared. 5 eggs seems like a lot, but they have a LOT of sugar to balance out. 

Fortunately, I was scared for no reason at all. This dish was deeeeeelish!! Sweet, yes. But overly sweet? Not really. No more so than any other coffee cake or cinnamon roll you might have tried.

The bake cuts nicely into squares, and we served it up with sausage links and fresh fruit on the side. (Note that we serve on small kid-sized plates these days. That's one way to make sure your portions don't get out of hand.) We had a ton of leftovers and it reheated well, although the first serving is always the best. This dish could also be made ahead of time and then popped in the oven when it's time.

1/4 cup melted butter

2 cans Pillsbury® Grands Cinnamon Rolls
5 eggs
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 heaping teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cup maple syrup (I really think you could drop this to a 1/2 cup without effecting the flavor)

Melt butter and pour into ungreased 13×9" pan. Separate cans of dough into 5 rolls reserving the icing for later use.  Cut each roll into 8 pie shaped pieces and add to buttered baking dish.

Beat eggs in medium bowl. Add cream, cinnamon and vanilla and beat until well blended. Pour over cinnamon roll pieces.

Sprinkle with pecans and drizzle 3/4 cup syrup over the top. Bake at 375 for 20 to 28 minutes or until golden brown. I cooked mine for 20 mins and the center was VERY gooey. Too gooey. This cuts better and tastes better (even to someone who likes gooey rolls) if it is firm. I would recommend checking the center as it cooks and taking it out when the consistency at center matches that at the edges. Cool 15 minutes.

Remove the covers from the icing and microwave on medium or 50% power for 10 to 15 seconds. (Should be thin enough to drizzle.) Drizzle icing over the top. 

The recipe I pinned originally was found {HERE} on the aptly named Oh My Sugar High! site. They suggest sprinkling with powdered sugar and serving with syrup if desired. Not only did I not desire, I just don't think it's necessary. 

I think my husband gave the best compliment..... "We never have to go to Cinnabon again!"

Good thing, too, since the local one closed. We used to visit once a year to split a roll, and that's about how often this dish will make it into my rotation. It might be an Easter standby from now on. I mean, unless God has other plans.... 

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Friday, April 5, 2013

Weight Watchers Update

For those who missed my original post about my Weight Watchers journey, I joined (again, but after several years away) on February 16th, 2013 with a new determination to achieve the one thing in life I've ever wanted that has been seemingly unattainable: my goal weight.

I have struggled with obesity my entire life, though frankly I hate that word. Such negative connotations associated with it, but that's a post for a different day. This is probably my fourth time with Weight Watchers and my sixth or seventh "serious" attempt at weight loss. Every time I get going, I get thrown off by life events or long cold winters or really yummy breadsticks. It doesn't take much.... or at least it didn't. I've had a little epiphany in recent weeks though and I'm hoping it will help me stick to the program this time and reach my goal once and for all.

What I've realized is this:

1.) I really don't even enjoy the taste of most of the high calorie, high fat foods I eat.

2.) I am a stress eater.

They say knowing is half the battle, and I'm hoping that's true. If so, I'm halfway to success, right!? SO, now that I know these things... what do I do with that information? Well, for one I stop talking myself out of healthier options with words like, "but I don't like the taste of that." Because the God's honest truth is that I don't really think the taste of what I had been eating was that spectacular either. The fast food and delivery restaurants are convenient, but not nutritious and certain not gourmet. If time is tight I'd be just as content with a Weight Watchers/Healthy Choice/Lean Cuisine freezer meal, so why not choose that? And before you comment telling me all the reasons those aren't particularly healthy either... I KNOW. At this point they are winning the health argument because they are going head to head with things like stuffed crust meatlovers pizzas, cheesy bread, and ice cream. I'm considering the alternative. And, also, that's just an example. I actually don't eat that many freezer meals. Maybe three a month, if that.

The biggest factor in my weight loss success at this point has been portion control and tracking. I track everything. Every bite. If I'm not able to find point/calorie totals, I guess, and I always make sure to guess generously. I'd rather over-guess than under-guess.

I allow myself one evening of splurging (after weigh in... doesn't everyone?). If I'm craving anything with unreasonably high points, I save it for Thursday night. I count through the day up to weigh in time, but then I stop and let dinner and dessert be what they are and get back on track Friday morning. Oddly, the last two times I've allowed myself this free time on Thursday evening, I really haven't even enjoyed it. It might stop entirely or be reduced drastically in the coming weeks. We'll have to see.

I eat three meals a day and two snacks. My choices haven't always been the best... I'd like to do more clean eating... but I've come a LONG way and I always count whatever I'm putting in my mouth and so far, despite occasional Pop Tart and Eggo breakfasts, I've done well. Better than ever, actually. As of yesterday I'm down 18.8 lbs, and I'm pretty happy with that number. I could eat better. I could exercise more. I could try more healthy recipes. I could start some sort of squatting and tricep regimen so that my rump and arm flab dwindles proportionally to the rest of me (which sadly does not seem to be the case at the moment). Eventually I will find the time and/or willpower to do all of these things, but for now I am doing enough. Every day I do enough, and I always will.

No pressure.

Pressure equals stress, and stress equals bad choices in the food department.

Every week I update my weight loss story in one of my Origami Owl lockets. I love wearing it as a reminder of how far I have come, and particularly love the combo of this rose gold locket with the olive accent stones. I'm happy. I have faith I will continue on this journey. All is well.  :)

Would you like to start a weigh loss locket to tell your story? Or do you have a different story to tell?

Start your locket {here}.

Would you like to host a Take Out Party and collect orders from friends to earn your locket for free? Email me at sairabee at yahoo dot com to get started. You don't have to live near me to do this either. This is possible anywhere in the country! 

Would you like to join my team and help other people tell their story? There is a waitlist for new designers right now, but don't let that stop you. There was a waitlist when I signed up, too. It didn't slow me down at all. Email me at the address above and let's talk. I'd love to have you join me on this journey! 

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Heaven Sent

Look at me! Stamping a card! I even placed an order last night over at i {heart} papers for some new stamps and paper (not that I needed any, mind you). It felt good to be back in my crafting space again, but I am soooo out of practice with blogging my cards it took me forEVer to get this thing uploaded! Oye. 

ANYHOW! I decided to participate in the Flutter By Wednesday Challenge this week and the challenge was to use something on the card with wings. Well, ok! I purchased this owl stamp at Hobby Lobby recently for use on my Origami Owl correspondence, so I inked it up. Nothing like fresh rubber to get a girl back in the swing of things! ;) 

While I was at it, I pulled up a sketch from my "Things Are A Little Sketchy" pinboard over on Pinterest to use for inspiration as well. Speaking of Pinterest, on Sunday I hit some kind of milestone and pinned my 10,000th pin. Oh. Em. Gee. That's a lot of pins. It was hilarious, too, because I searched and searched for the perfect 10,000th pin. It had to be just right. In the end, I went with {this one}. 

There's not too much time left for this week's Flutter By Wednesday Challenge, but you could still get something in tomorrow if you want to play along. 

Stay tuned here for more posts soon with some semi-homemade cards and pics of Jack's upcoming birthday. It's hard to believe my boy is turning FIVE in a week! 

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

It's Time To Make A Change - Weight Watchers Style!

I have struggled with weight my entire life. I go up, I go down. And then back up. Each time I go down, I swear I will never go up again. Each time I go up I think, "Meh. I'll start again on Monday." Unfortunately, sometimes Monday doesn't come until a year or so later. 

Three years ago I was in the best shape of my life, winning weight loss challenges and gearing up to start training for my first 5K... something I had always wanted to accomplish but never tried to do. (Side note: I highly recommend the Couch to 5K program for new runners! It was fantastic.) In July of 2010 I ran my first 5K, in August my second - a trail run, no less. In November of that year, I completed a 5 mile Turkey Trot. From there until now it has been a steady slide back down the hill as I watch all of my hard work and good intentions zip past me. Again.

My weight loss didn't work ... didn't stick ... because I didn't actually change me. I would manipulate the system - whatever system it was. For years back in the late 90's, my girlfriends and I would go to Weight Watchers and then go out for dinner at Applebee's. We'd choose weigh-in days close to the weekend so that we had the whole week to recover. We weren't drinkers, but more like weekday dieters. Kick it into gear on Monday and then starve until Thursday and take the weekend off. 

This does not work. 


In more recent years I have participated in weight loss challenges through a local fitness club. There I learned more practical information about eating healthy and losing for life. My husband and I placed in the top three for every challenge we participated in, but when the challenges ended eight weeks later, so did our dedication. 

I have known for awhile now that I needed to make a change for the better. While that change comes easier for me with the accountability that weighing in with Weight Watchers brings, the biggest change needs to come from me. I need to dedicate myself to eating healthier, to exploring the world of healthy cooking with whole foods. To commit to activity and energy and exercise on a regular basis. Something I had done over the years, but never consistently. I only made temporary changes to accommodate whatever plan I was using at the time. 

I messaged my friend - the same one I joined Weight Watchers with back in the 90's and early 2000's - and mentioned taking that step one more time. I just tossed it out as an option, still not convinced. She was willing so, like I've been doing with many things lately, I took that leap of faith one more time and we joined Weight Watchers one last time on Saturday, February 16, 2013. I committed myself to healthier choices, tracking, measuring, and living within my Points Plus Value limits all seven days of the week, not just Monday through Friday. My goal is to make healthy changes that I can live with permanently. To not do anything so drastic that I find myself longing for it to end.

Origami Owl recently partnered with Rascal Flatts to help promote change. Rascal Flatts has an amazing new single out (Changed - worth a listen, even if you aren't a country music fan) and we have designed a new limited edition tag to help commemorate this release. Along with this promotion, Origami Owl has issued a challenge to their designers... a challenge to change. And not only to change, but to tell our story of change. Be a force for good, as the company motto says. 

In my case, a force for good health. 

This is my story; this is my change.

This past Saturday I went in for my first weigh-in and was pleasantly surprised to see all of the counting paid off. In my first week lost 7.5 lbs. I tracked and counted all seven days and while there was a bit of an adjustment at first as I went from mindless to thoughtful eating, it really hasn't been that bad. And what's more important, I *feel* a change happening inside me. A movement toward health as a lifestyle choice rather than a temporary means to an end. 

I don't have a number for my goal weight. My goal is only to be healthy, and to keep my family healthy. The fact that I am losing weight along the journey is just icing on the low-fat cake, so to speak.

In addition to tracking, counting, and cooking/choosing healthier meals, I am also exercising again. It is frigid in Wisconsin, so I've been bringing out the DVD's, most recently Leslie Sansone's Walk At Home videos and a few Biggest Loser work outs. I have always loved aerobic videos, so this is going great. My biggest issue is finding the extra 45 minutes each day. I've always said that we find time for the things that matter to us though, and I have done just that. Even if I only finish one mile of the three mile walk, it's still a mile. I'm moving, and that's more than I could say for myself last week. 

With Origami Owl, we say "Every locket tells a story." Here is the locket I am wearing this week and the story that goes with it. 

A #7 for my 7 lb loss.
A footprint for the 13 miles I walked (at home) this week.
A snowflake for the exercise I got while shoveling. ;)
A star to represent the one given to me when I reached my 5 lb. Weight Watchers goal.
A key to unlock the future, a reminder that life is a gift from God and that I need to take care of this precious gift he has given me, and an inspire plate in hopes of inspiring others to do the same. 

My hope is that I'll remember to blog my progress as I go. Maybe it will serve a dual purpose by helping to motivate you while helping to keep me accountable. Maybe we can help each other. I also plan to change up my locket each week to keep a tally of my weight loss close to my heart and mind, always incorporating the number of lbs I've lost to date. I'll continue to share them as I reach various milestones or have other info to share. While I enjoy sharing my Origami Owl business with you, and I am thrilled beyond belief at how well this business has taken off for me and how it has blessed my family, this blog is about so much more than that and so am I.

In closing, here are some links for a few of the most inspirational healthy living books I've read, as well as links to the DVD's I exercised to this week and a few recipes we enjoyed.

Fitness Books I Love: 

Working It Out by Abby Rike - written by a former Biggest Loser contestant who is also a bereaved mother. This book spoke to me on many levels.

Water With Lemon by Zonya Focco - the only book I've ever read about weight loss and healthy living that was written in the form of a novel. A fantastic, fast, read.

Reshaping It All by Candance Cameron Bure - a great story of faith and fitness.

DVD's I used in week 1:

Leslie Sansone Walk Your Belly Flat - An easy three mile walk. Well... "easy" is relative. I think it's easy compared to some of the other dvd's I've done, but it's still a fast paced work-out. This is my go-to dvd this week. I think I logged 9 miles with it.

Leslie Sansone 5 Mile Fat Burning Walk - I did this one day, a 2 mile walk. Much faster paced than the one above, and a fantastic workout.

Biggest Loser Power Walk - I used this one night for a two mile walk as well. I enjoy this video (mostly because I enjoy Bob Harper ;) ), but sometimes the talking between contestants gets under my skin during the second mile. The third mile requires some jumping jacks and more movement, so keep that in mind when choosing your workout clothes and... err... support. ;)

Biggest Loser Cardio Max - I did this one night as well. I'll be honest - it's not my favorite work out. The flexibility section is fantastic though, and the cardio gets the job done. I do like that the dvd lets you build your own workout and I selected a 45 minute routine of warm up, flexibility, cardio, and cool down.

New recipes tried in week 1:

This chicken/potato/broccoli combo I found on Pinterest. Granted it uses a ton of butter, but my thinking is that it's still healthier than the Large meat lovers pizza on stuffed crust that I might have otherwise opted for. I kept my portions small, and was pleased to see how many meals we got out of the dish by doing so. It was yummy, but had to cook 30 mins longer than noted in the link for the potatoes to be done.

Skinny Breakfast Sausage - Very tasty! We had it for dinner with eggs and biscuits. I'm still using up some canned refrigerated biscuits that were purchased prior to my change, but at 4 pts per biscuit (I had one), they weren't too bad. Once we've finished what we have on hand I'll move to making my own biscuits when we want them for less preservatives and sodium.

Frozen Yogurt Bites - These didn't go so well. We tried to make them with Jack's favorite yogurt - Stoneyfield Farms Banilla. I had them freezing overnight and some of them still wouldn't set. Most of them ended up in the garbage. If you've had luck with this, let me know what your secret is.

This week, and for the rest of spring, we'll be switching to a Thursday night weigh-in to accommodate Soccer Saturday commitments, so this will be a short week for me. 7 lbs won't happen again... nor should it. Slow and steady is the way to go. I'll share again after this weeks weigh-in - hopefully with another, albeit smaller, loss!

God bless,

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Monday, February 25, 2013

True Love

Have you had a chance to look through my Origami Owl site? It has been four months since I joined this company as an Independent Designer and I am still loving every single minute of it. I have been with other direct sales companies in the past, but have never felt as at home and comfortable as I do with this company; and on this team (both the larger one above me and the fantastic one I am building myself). 

My little Team FAITH (named for the leap of faith I took when joining the company before ever seeing the product outside of a catalog) has grown by leaps and bounds in the past four months and now holds upwards of 25 designers. Twenty-five! I was blessed to promote from Designer to Leading Designer in January, and am on track for yet another promotion this month. None of this would be possible without the amazing ladies I "work" with and the equally amazing ladies and friends who have supported me by hosting shows and helping to spread the word about my business. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart! 

I was doing some reading online this morning about network marketing and came across this 2005 article from Entrepreneur magazine. The article is titled, "7 Tips For Network Marketing Success" and talks about what to look for in a company. To summarize, the six key factors for choosing a direct sales company include stability, excellent products and service, the generosity of the pay plan, the integrity of the company, the momentum of the company, and finally the training and support available. I'm proud to be a part of a company that encompasses all six elements so completely.

If you have ever thought about getting into direct sales, and working towards earning a full time income from home, I invite you to consider Origami Owl, and also consider joining us on Team Faith. The ladies on our team are spread from coast to coast with representation in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Colorado, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and here in Wisconsin. We also have ladies in Minnesota and Tennessee who are currently on the wait list and more exited than ever to get their official invitations to join. We would love to have you with us! If you are looking for a positive, energetic, affirming and faith-based group of ladies with a strong structure in place and a mentor (Me!) dedicated to helping you develop and grow your business, look no further!

In four short months this journey has well exceeded every goal I set for my first year of business and then some. As always a little faith has taken me a long way in life, and for that I am truly grateful.

If you or anyone you know is interested in learning more, please message me through my Facebook page or click the link in the sidebar to the right of this post to email me directly.

God bless,

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Monday, February 4, 2013

Lincoln, Life, and Loss

My husband and I had the opportunity to have a little "us" time yesterday and decided to see the movie Lincoln at the local cinema. We had heard so much about the film - as I'm sure all of you have, too, and were looking forward to seeing it. I read some of the information about reactions to the film, and was aware that it centered around the former President's efforts to abolish slavery. I was prepared for a stellar performance by Daniel Day Lewis and looked forward to seeing one of my all time favorite actesses (Sally Field) in action. I have always been fascinated by our First Ladies. Where our Presidents have had the ability to decide whether or not to run for office, it is their election that catapults their wives into the public eye whether they are ready for it or not. I have read several books about the stories of these women - in particular, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Reagan, Lady Bird Johnson, Jacqueline Kennedy, and of course Mary Todd Lincoln. Truth be known, I was more interested in seeing her role in this movie than his.

The movie, of course, was fantastic. It was a little drawn out on some of the political debating for my tastes, but my husband assures me it was very well written and very true to form for the men that were emphasized. We expected debates, and we got them. What I didn't expect... What completely took me off guard and hit me to the core, were the two scenes in which Mrs. Lincoln grieved over the loss of their son Willie.

William Wallace Lincoln died in February of 1862 at the age of 12 of an illness described as "most likely typhoid fever". The movie was set in January of 1865, making the Lincoln's three years bereaved at the time of the vote on the 13th Amendment. Almost exactly the amount of time that has passed since we lost Henry.

When Henry died in 2009, I was so lost. I didn't know how to live. How to keep breathing. Every breath I took was a physical effort. I had to remind myself to do it. There would be times when I would gasp for air because I would forget to inhale for a bit. It seems odd that something so ingrained would be forgotten, but it happened. As a semi-related side note, the song "No Air" by Jordin Sparks is one of the songs that will bring me to tears and has since the first time I heard it after Henry's death for the exact reason described above.

I was determined to keep living my life for Jack's sake, but although my head was convinced, my heart wasn't sure I was up to the task. I looked for comfort in the most unlikely of places - the cemetery. After Henry's funeral, I found myself wandering around the cemetery, memorizing the names of the people he now took up residence with. I would try to piece together different family members of strangers and figure out how they met. I'd calculate the years between the death of a child and the death of his or her mother. Then I'd think, ok, she lived forty years past her son's death. If she can do it, so can I. I found one woman who had buried three sons and was still living. I wanted to call her and ask her how she managed, but even in my grief state I realized that might be a little too stalker-ish. How would I even start that conversation? "Ma'am, you don't know me, but I found your stone at the cemetery..." Umm, no.

At this point, needing more information (or inspiration) than just dates and life spans, I turned to the celebrity bereaved. For better or worse, the lives of those in the public spotlight are kind of an open book for anyone to read, and I took advantage of that. The first person that came to mind given my life long fascination with our First Ladies, was Mary Todd Lincoln. I started reading book after book about her life and her children's deaths (three of her four sons died at age 18 or younger). I read about her grief and about her life after their deaths. Although she handled her grief much differently than I hoped to, my heart still went out to her and I've often wondered if her insanity that came with later life was simply a defense mechanism to save her broken heart after burying three children and a husband.

Yesterday, when the movie turned away from politics and slavery and turned toward the very real emotions of a bereaved mother, I was inconsolable. Thankfully there were very few people in the theatre at this late date so I didn't make too much of a spectacle of myself. Each time Willie was mentioned, I cried. If Mary cried, I cried. I also cried when the votes were tallied for the 13th Amendment, though for very different reasons (by then I was on a roll with the tears and they flowed easily). I find that I am much more emotional since Henry's death. Even the mention of a loss of a child or a child who has passed can bring my soul to its knees. Seeing a woman - or the portrayal of a woman - who I looked to for inspiration, in the midst of her pain was heart wrenching. And then to watch her compounded grief when she lost her husband so unexpectedly... I have no words. None. It was just too much for me.

It is often said that time heals all wounds. I disagree. Time does nothing more than put distance between you and the epicenter of your pain. It puts a bandaid on your wound. You feel better, but at any moment a turn in life can rip that bandaid off and there you are with that open wound again, just as painful as ever. Thankfully, each time the bandaid is removed and the wound re-opened, you become more adept at first aid and can more easily transition back out of grief to that more comfortable state where life and emotions seem somewhat under control.

Where breathing comes naturally.

Lincoln is a fantastic movie. My husband and I both enjoyed it and the acting was superb. I encourage everyone to see the movie and allow themselves to be engulfed with such an important man and moment in our nation's history. I only ask that when you do, you also allow yourselves a moment to grieve with the Lincoln's  and raise a prayer for this family that gave so much to our country despite their personal heart aches.

On the off chance that anyone else seeks out fellow bereaved parents for inspiration in their own grief journey, I encourage you to also look to the lives of:

Bill Cosby (Ennis, age 27), John and Elizabeth Edwards (Wade), Joe Biden (Naomi, infant), John Travolta and Kelly Preston (Jett, age 16), Sylvester Stallone (Sage, age 36), Marie Osmond (Michael, age 18), Eric Clapton (Connor, age 4), Kirk Douglas (Eric, age 46), Barbara Eden (Matthew, age 35), Carol Burnett (Carrie), Mike Tyson (Exodus, age 4), Vince Neil of Motley Crüe (Skylar, age 4), Dr. Dre (Andre, age 20).

In addition to President Lincoln, at least 23 other Presidents have buried children during their lifetime, including Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and John Kennedy, just to name a few.

Some day I would like to create a blog post detailing all of these individuals and their stories, but that is a post for another day. In closing, I will say to my bereaved readers that if you are looking for modern day inspiration in hopes of life after loss, look to former Biggest Loser contestant Abby Rike or the now deceased Mrs. Elizabeth Edwards. Elizabeth was very active with The Compassionate Friends and very open about her grief journey.

This morning, while watching Good Morning America, I saw footage of Robin Roberts returning to her home in New Orleans after her surgery and I heard her say, "My mama always said, 'Make your mess your message.'" It should come as no surprise that I got tears in my eyes. Abby and Elizabeth have done just that, and I hope to follow in their footsteps and do the same.

God bless,

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Dream More by Dolly Parton

I have been very convicted in recent months about reading. I love to read. I read quickly, and have no excuses for not reading more. I spend countless hours online with various projects and at least one game, but fail to make time for one of my biggest loves. Sometime in December, I decided that one of my resolutions for 2013 would be to read more. One per month is totally doable, right? That's what I thought. My hope is to read far more than 12 books this year, but I'll be happy with that number. I set a goal for myself to read one book a month - any book, whether novel or biography, long or short. Just READ! Of course I read nightly with my son, but somehow it isn't the same. Not only do I miss the deeper plots, but I also miss the journey that comes along with a good story. I also want to make time to read during the day, in hopes of showing my son that sometimes it's ok to just sit down with a good book for awhile. Activities don't always have to be high energy. He has down times when he watches a show (though he's really not a fan of tv and movies, thankfully) and maybe during those times if he looks over and sees mama reading, it will make an impact on a deeper level.

At Christmas one of my closest friends bought me this book, Dolly Parton's Dream More. We are both long time Dolly fans, and he knew I'd love it. The book is short - short enough to read in one day if you have that kind of focus (I used to, I'm trying to get it back). In the book, Dolly talks about the commencement speech she gave at the University of Tennessee and the thoughts and feeling she had leading up to it. She talks about the dreams she has had in her life, and how she has moved past the naysayers in her life. I took inspiration from the book and can easily apply her thoughts and suggestions to both my personal life (distance yourself from the people who only drag you down) and my professional life (never give up on your dreams, and keep learning).

She talked about caring more and giving back. About being the best person you can be, and loving God and doing right, but keeping your sense of humor along the way. It spoke to me on many levels, and I'm grateful to have had the chance to read it as my first book for 2013. It helped me to get in the right mindset for a positive 2013 and gave me some inspiration for ways to grow and build my new direct sales business with Origami Owl. It probably spoke to me in ways she never could have even imagined, but isn't that the way writing goes? You never know which words will hit home or what story the reader will relate them to.

I recommend this book to any women who love Dolly, who are interested in knowing more of her story (she talks about the background for her Coat Of Many Colors song in detail, for instance, which is another source for inspiration and makes a fantastic message in the anti-bullying movement). I'd also recommend this for anyone starting out on a new venture, who is maybe questioning their dreams or their goals. It's a short read and well worth the time, even if it takes you the better part of a month like it did me. *grin* In my defense, I read it in two sittings. Those sittings just happened to be two or three weeks apart! Some day I'll get back to my old "chapter a day" mentality, but it may take time.

What's next? Well, I'm thinking it's time to finish the Hunger Games series. I read the first one just before the movie came out. I bought the other two at the same time, but never continued the series (despite LOVING it). How does that happen? I don't even know. I should have no problem zipping through those two books though. Maybe I'll finish them BOTH by the end of February! Wheeeee!

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Les Miserables and General William J. Palmer

This is a long post. Possibly the longest blog post I've ever written. I assure you though, every word is worth it as I describe my encounter with a little piece of history. Please read on...

About five years ago I was a new stay at home mom looking for ways to fill the days with my little Henry. One of the things I did in those days was visit the library. Often. I sifted through books while he slept beside me in the car carrier or the stroller, hummed songs from the CD's I'd flip through, and show him bright pictures from all of the children's books that our local library held. One day, I saw a sign for a used book sale and decided to return for the event.

Used book sales at our library are not uncommon. As books are donated to the library, it is determined whether they will be put into circulation or used in the sale to help raise funds for the establishment. I'm sure books, movies, and music are also pulled out of circulation to be sold once they have become less popular and no longer warrant the valuable shelf space they once held. The finds at these sales are like those at any other tag sale - completely random and potentially treasure filled. As the old saying goes, one man's trash is another man's treasure, right? As a long time rummager and thrift/antique sale shopper I relished the opportunity to browse the collection and the possibility to bring home an item or two for our family while simultaneously supporting the library that had been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

I remember sifting through the cd's that day, picking up a few for myself and a few for a friend who is an avid music collector. I moved through the fiction and true crime books to the game manuals, as if I'd have any clue which of these manuals my husband could use in his gaming hobby. I believe I may have even called him to tell him of what I thought was an excellent discovery, only to be told no... wrong. He appreciates my efforts, but encourages me to spend my thrifting moments looking for things for myself as the varied worlds of gaming and the accessories they require are admittedly beyond my level of comprehension (and interest. Shhh! *wink*).

It was then as I was turning to leave that I saw an old copy of the book Les Miserables on a high shelf and paused to take a closer look. I was first introduced to "Les Mis" during my freshman year of high school. I was a member of the Treble Choir, and during open periods I would occasionally visit the choir room to do homework or visit with others. A Senior by the name of Andy Pick had the full London Cast recording of the musical on cassette (am I dating myself here?) and would play it repeatedly during these open periods. I fell in love with the music and the story, and by mid-year was begging him to make a copy for me. He reluctantly obliged (who wants to do ANY favors for a freshman!?) and I played those cassettes non-stop for the better part of the next three years. In no time at all, I had memorized the entire score and could easily sing along, word for word. It helped that I stayed in choir throughout high school and into adulthood and have often sang pieces and medleys from the show with these groups. Next came the Liam Neeson version of the movie (which I later caught on PBS). I was hooked. Victor Hugo spoke to my heart. When I fell in love for the first time, that music was there. When we broke up, it was also there. In hindsight I have a good laugh at how seriously I thought I understood each and every lyric as a teenager and how I believed they applied to the varied ins and outs of a day in the life of a teenage girl. I was so naïve, but that is how childhood should be, I suppose.

Given my history with the musical and the music and the message, you can imagine how excited I was to find this book at the library's used book sale. To say I was thrilled doesn't even begin to explain things. The book was situated with some other old books that were selling for quite a bit of money as far as used books go, so I was sure it would be out of my price range. I nearly walked away, but decided to take a peek and I was pleasantly surprised to find something in the range of about $3.00 listed as the price on a slip inside the front cover.


In addition to the price slip inside the front cover, I noticed there was also a typeset name plate noting that the book was from the "Private Library of William J. Palmer" with the date May 25, 1895 handwritten below it. I loved the thought that someone had handled this book over a century earlier, but didn't give the previous owner much thought beyond that general feeling of nostalgia. I remember that I brought the book home and did a quick Google search to try to determine a true value. Not because I necessarily wanted to turn a profit, but rather because I wanted to know what exactly it was I had found. I never found an exact match for the novel I held in my hand, but other similarly bound copies from roughly the same time period were selling for about $10-50. I slipped the book on the top shelf of one of the built-ins next to the fireplace and didn't give it another thought.

Fast forward to December 30th, 2012. My husband I and I were fortunate enough to get out of the house for the afternoon and take in a show. It was a no brainer for me that I'd see Les Mis as close to the release date as possible, but my husband who was never crazy about musical theatre was a tougher sell. The conversation went something like this:

Him: What should we see?
Me: Les Miserables! I *need* to see it. Do you mind?
Him: Ummm.... It's a musical.
Me: It is, but it's about the French Revolution!
Him: Really?! Ok!

Ladies, I do not condone this sort of manipulation to get what you want in life. But honestly, when you are married to a guy who is a European History buff and loves watching movies having to do with any sort of conflict or uprising throughout history, you play that to your advantage. No lies were told. The show is set during the revolution. There are battles. There's an uprising. Guns are fired. The barricade! It's all there. There is just some singing and some love thrown in, too. *grin*

Somewhere around the 90 minute mark, he leaned over to me in the theatre and whispered, "I thought you said this was about the French Revolution?!" To which I replied, "It totally is! That part is at the end." His response? "The END? I thought *this* was the end!" And then my inner self fell into a giggle fit, but I kept my composure on the outside. The things we do for love. Him for the love of me, me for the love of Les Mis, in this case. *grin*

A few days later, on January 2, 2013, our friends Julie and Ryan were visiting and we were talking about the movie and our thoughts about the film and how it compared to the stage production. I asked Julie, an avid reader, if she had ever read the story Victor Hugo wrote. She had not, and I noted that I hadn't either but that I had an old copy up on the shelf that I picked up several years earlier at one of the library's used book sales. Everyone was intrigued, so I pulled it down and handed it to Julie to look at. She paged through the book, reading passages as she went, and we commented on how different even those short snippets were from the story we knew and loved. As she was paging through the book, she mentioned that she had found a bookmark. I had never really looked through the book myself, but this wasn't surprising to me. I assumed it was a bookmark advertising the library's next sale, or some other flier from the library but as is true in most cases, my assumptions were wrong.

The bookmark Julie found was printed on a thin strip of white (now yellowed) ribbon and had been collected from the Soldiers and Sailors Association Reunion that had been held in Michigan in September of 1896. We were intrigued, and did a quick Google search to see what, if anything, the book might be worth now that the movie was out and receiving all the buzz of Hollywood. No exact matches for the edition were found, but other copies from the same time period were listed for anywhere between $15 and $5000. Of course everyone is excited when they see a number like $5000!

What?! No! Seriously? $5000?!

If you had a mic on the room at that moment, those are probably the only words you would have heard. *grin*

I have bought and sold enough items online though to know that just because a seller is asking $5000 does not mean an item is actually worth $5000. Nor, for that matter, that you will ever necessarily find a buyer to pay that amount even if - by some stroke of luck - it is appraised that high. I mentioned the nameplate in the front of the book and we talked a bit more about it before I moved it to my desk. Now that we had found that Soldiers and Sailors bookmark, the genealogist in me was itching to find out if I could learn more about the previous owner. He must have been a soldier (or a sailor). Had he been famous? Was there any information about him? I was hoping for information about who he fought for, maybe which battles... I figured he had to have had at least a little money to his name to afford this book complete with nameplate and the means with with to keep it in good condition. The words "From the Private Library of..." suggested to me that it was one of several, so maybe I'd come up with a match somehow. I am a fan of historical research, particularly familial research, and was ready for a good bit of digging to find a few possibilities, never thinking that I'd find a definite exact match. Maybe my little used book sale find meant something to someone? Maybe it was valuable. Thoughts turned to the debt we still juggle from the printing of Henry's bedtime stories and what a chunk the sale of this book could do to it...

Later that night after Jack was in bed, I sat down at my desk and turned to Google for some answers. I was looking through the book again and found a second ribbon - this one red - that read "Special Favours". It looked very much like the sort of ribbon that you see on floral arrangements at funerals. In fact, at first I thought that's what it was. But what an odd sentiment to put on funeral flowers, right? I set it aside. I had other things on my mind. I started to type "William J. Palmer Soldier" into the search window, and by the time I got to the third "l," Google was autofilling the search box with all kinds of matches from Colorado. I followed links to a Wiki article an academic paper and a fabulous article from Civil War Times magazine (if you read any of these three, let it be that one) and began to read and learn about this General from Colorado by way of Delaware that had the potential to change the course of history.

The hair on the back of my neck stood up as I read about his studies in Europe (+1 for plausible ownership - this General was clearly educated), his life after the war in the building of the rail road (+1 for plausible ownership - this General obviously had the means with which to maintain a private library) and his fierce stance in the abolitionist movement to free slaves (+1 for plausible ownership - Are you familiar with Les Mis? Come on! It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again!!! HELLO!). I was/am a tad excited, in case you're having trouble reading emotion in my words. *wink*

By the time I was done reading everything I could find on the internet, I was 99.9% certain I was holding a book that at one time belonged to a Civil War General, who also happened to be the founder of Colorado Springs, CO. General Palmer made his home in Colorado Springs near the base of the Garden of the Gods. I have been to the Garden of the Gods! I have walked where this man walked... and now I am likely holding his book.

I was awestruck.

But... Umm... Now what?

It occurred to me that I had no idea what to do with the information or where to go next. I sat the book aside once more and called our local Public Museum in the morning. I explained my situation and described the book and the ribbons found inside. The archivist was wonderful, and suggested some websites that I hadn't found in my own searches to determine the value of the book, and then also suggested contacting a museum in Colorado for more information. I set about visiting the links he mentioned but came up with the same results - no exact matches and a variety of prices from low to the $4000 range.

It was then that I called the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum and asked to speak to the archivist. I left a voice mail and waited. Then I realized I forgot to mention a few things and called again to leave another message but this time she answered. Don't you hate when you call someone fully intending to leave a message and then they answer? You may be laughing, but it's true. I stammered and explained myself and she was very sweet. I don't think she knew quite what to expect but when I said, "I believe I have General Palmer's copy of Les Miserables," (or some words similar to that) she gasped audibly. Leah went on to explain her excitement over this find because so many of the General's books that had been recovered had to do with science and engineering and rail road. Very few were pertaining to cultural arts. If I didn't know better, I'd swear she had tears in her eyes by the end of the conversation and before hanging up she said, "you just made my whole year!" *big grin* Seriously, the sweetest lady you'll ever talk to. I reminded her that it was only January 2nd, but she said it didn't matter. *more grins*

Leah couldn't give me a quote on the price of the book, but was able to provide the name of a man in Colorado Springs who could and also asked if I would consider donating the book to the museum to be part of the William J. Palmer collection there. She continued saying that she would love to see the hand writing in the book and could likely tell me whose writing it was if I would be interested in such information. I offered to send her photographs and we said our goodbyes.

I still had no idea what the book was worth, though both Leah and the archivist in Oshkosh alluded to the fact that those folks asking $4000 and up for their similar copies were very ambitious in their pricing. My thoughts at this point though turned from, "how much is this worth," to an overwhelming feeling that the book just needed to go home to Colorado Springs.

The following week I received a message from Leah confirming that the written date in the book was indeed written by General William J. Palmer. *goosebumps* I replied the following day to let her know of our decision to donate the book and asked but one request: if perhaps we could make this story known, and donate it in Henry's name, so as to bring attention to the Adventures of Henry children's book series we are selling to raise money for Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America. We spoke a few more times after that, and though I'm not going to share all the details of our conversations as some included personal information on both our parts that I am not comfortable sharing in a public forum like this, I will say this: There is a reason I found this book. There is a reason it sat on my shelf for five years and further a reason that our paths crossed. I couldn't be happier with our decision to donate the book back to General Palmer's collection at CSPM. That is where it belongs.

I have spoken with a handful of news anchors and journalists in the past few days and while I have related our story and my desire to have it benefit others by way of Henry's stories, much of the focus of these interviews and news clips has been on the Les Mis book. I get that. It's a new movie, it has Oscar buzz, it's what people want to hear about. As I told Leah today, I can only put so much out there into the universe. If people pick up on it, great. If not, life goes on. I'm sad that so far Henry's story hasn't been incorporated, but I do understand that his books are not the focus here.

I wonder tonight if Victor Hugo realizes how many lives he has touched through the ages? I am but one fan. There have been countless others. To this day the words of Les Miserables move me. Words like, "even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise" are a part of my heart in ways I can't even describe. Losing a child is truly the darkest night. Waking the next day to the love and laughter of yet another child proves to me that God is still merciful and good. The sun still rises. Another quote I reflect on often from the musical when thinking about Henry and my grief journey is from Jean Valjean. "I gave my soul to God I know, I made that bargain long ago. He gave me hope when hope was gone, he gave me strength to journey on."

I hope that in reading this or the other stories that have been printed and aired about it, something is taken away. If not a knowledge of my boy, then at least an appreciation for history and the many ways the stories and people of the past still touch our lives and lead our paths together today. Think about that for a minute. Perhaps something you are doing today will influence someone else 150 years from now. It boggles the mind if you let it.

I'll be buying a new copy of Les Miserables. I've read too many quotes from the book now... I need to read it all. Even if I do jokingly compare the size of Les Mis to that of the Bible, and don't read at a fraction of the speed I once did, some day I will finish it. It is too dear to my heart to ignore.

Certain thoughts are prayers. 
There are moments when, 
whatever be the attitude of the body, 
the soul is on its knees. ~Victor Hugo

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