Friday, February 26, 2016

Betty Jean Van Dyke, 1922-2016

My grandmother, Betty Jean Siefer Van Dyke, passed away last night. She was ready, and it was peaceful. In memoriam, here is a blog I posted for her 90th birthday, slightly updated.

Here are a few pictures - from her wedding day to my grandfather, and from recent years.

Engagement, Spring 1943
She grew up on a farm in Nebraska during the Great Depression and went to college at Hastings College, where she met my grandfather. She left after two years to teach - during the war they needed teachers and she needed money.

Wedding Day, May 14, 1944
After the war, she and my grandfather raised three children. When my mom (the eldest) was in high school, Grandma went back to college to finish her BA, then went for her masters while teaching elementary school. Eventually, she was a reading specialist (like my mother) and taught for 20 years. She is the daughter of a school teacher, her daughter was a  teacher and librarian, and my cousin is a teacher. Who knows what the next generation will bring (now at six), but I bet a teacher and/or librarian will be among them!

Beating my mother at Yahtzee. But she had help!

After she and my grandfather retired, they spent many years traveling the world, having adventures hiking and bird watching. She even hiked the Grand Canyon in her 60s, twice, and floated down the Colorado multiple times as well!

She was always stylish!

When each of us grand kids was old enough, we got to spend a week with Grandma and Grandpa, alone, doing fun things with them. On my trip, we rode the steam train up to the Grand Canyon and went on hikes around Sedona, where they lived. It was a wonderful gift of time and love.

With Grandpa and my mom at my college graduation in 2001
I am so grateful that Malcolm got to meet her and she him; I am hopeful that he will be able to remember her when he is grown. Grandpa and Grandma's hiking backpacks with all the patches from their many adventures hang in his room, and he is carrying on their love of birds whenever we fill the bird feeders and spend time just watching out the window.

Goodbye Grandma Betty! Thank you for all the love and support you gave me over the years - I am so blessed to have known you.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Starting my taper

Yesterday afternoon I ran my last long training run before next month's half-marathon - 13.1 miles. My first time running that far all in one day. I didn't exactly have to, since my training plan gave me some wiggle room by suggesting 11-13 miles, but I wanted to. I am (finally?) learning that I do much better in a competition situation if I have already proven I can do it, whatever it is. In tennis, that means I have more confidence coming back from being down in a game or a set now that I have done precisely that several times; I know it can be done, that I have done it, and that takes away some of the nerves. In running, it means that I feel better about running a distance in a race when I have done it at least once in practice and have a baseline PR to shoot for. The first time I ran a race as an adult (ie not in junior high track), it was a 5K, and I hadn't really run that far yet, and never outdoors in the weather conditions that we had on race day. That meant I was miserable during the last half of the race, because the high humidity and temperature were nothing like the gym, and while I knew I could finish, I wasn't able to stay as strong as I wanted to all the way to the end. So, now that I have run 13.1 miles, in weather that could very well be the way it will be on race day, I feel pretty good.

Not from my 13.1 run yesterday - I wasn't smiling that much at the end!

Now I start to taper, which means progressively less running for the next few weeks, so that my legs are fresher for the start of the race. I hope I don't get too grouchy now that I am running less!

All this is the long way to say that I am still fundraising for brain cancer research, and you can still contribute. I am running with team #NotToday, which was set up by my friends Charlee and Jeremy Hinton as a way to make a difference after Jeremy was diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor in April 2014. You can find more information and donate here. Just make sure to use the blue and yellow "Make a Donation" button so your donation goes to our team.

Thank you!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Books and brownies

Whoops. So much for my unannounced resolution of writing more blogs this year. Guess I can start that now?

Following on the heels of my previous post, I have come up with an aspirational plan for my reading this year: To make as many as possible of the books I read this year be by authors who are not white males. I want to read more books by women, more foreign fiction and poetry, more works by people of color - more that make me see outside my normal bubble. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with reading books by western white males - I certainly have my eyes on several upcoming books by favorite authors of that ilk - but I don't want to get stuck in a rut. I think I do a fair job of this normally, but I want it to be intentional, I want to notice that I am doing it. It shouldn't be too hard - just by cruising through my Goodreads to read list for a few minutes, I can easily come up with a year's worth of books to keep me reading. I will try to post some of what I read here - remind me if I don't!

And I promised brownies, didn't I? If you have been with me for any length of time, you know I love baking. I like trying new things, but there are days when I want something easy, something quick, and something I know everyone in the house will eat. Today was one of those days. I needed to bake something, since there was a serious lack of proper dessert items in the house, but couldn't muster the mental energy to find and try something new. When I asked Malcolm what to make, he wanted brownies. I used to dread trying to make brownies, since it seemed to require big chunks of baking chocolate and lots of stirring and mixing. I am not sure what recipe I was looking at, but I remember brownies being too much work. Then I found my current recipe from The Good Housekeeping Cookbook; it is almost as easy as making brownies from a box mix, and much better tasting. I thought I would share, in case you too are in need of a quick, easy brownie recipe.

Cocoa Brownies
Prep: 10 minutes (perhaps more, if baking with small children)  Bake: 25 minutes

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick) (You can also substitute coconut oil 1:1 for butter. I used half and half this time and it made the brownies just a little nutty, in a good way)
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup walnuts (4 ounces) coarsely chopped (optional - I never add them, since we are in the "no nuts in brownies" camp, but I am sure they would be good, if you like that sort of thing)
Sprinkles (Malcolm's addition to the recipe, also optional. They do make regular brownies festive)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease 9-inch square baking pan (this always seems too large, but always seems to be just right in the end. I bet you could try an 8-inch pan too). In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.
2. In 3-quart saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Stir in eggs, one at a time, until well blended; add vanilla. Stir in walnuts, if using. Top with sprinkles, if using.
3. Bake until toothpick inserted 2 inches from center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. (It has always been exactly 25 minutes in my oven). Cool pan completely on wire rack; don't cut them yet. Just don't do it.
4. When cool, cut into as many pieces as you want. (The recipe suggests 16, I usually go for 20, but then I am trying to keep a three year old and a brownie obsessed grandmother from eating too large of pieces).