Friday, February 24, 2012

Vacation Love - How Trips Just Find Me

This is what happens when I go on vacation
Giant ice cream cones.   Everywhere.

This time last year I had approximately ZERO trips planned for 2012.   Appalling, I know.   I was too busy focusing on Tanzania and Israel.  I knew I couldn't have big trips like that again this year.   My budget wasn't going to allow it unless I just opened my suitcase and found a pile of money  (I keep hoping this will happen, but in the meantime I'll keep my day job).   I figured that some kind of trip would come up.   It always does....being open to opportunity is what makes my travel calendar the thing of fun and beauty that it is.  

In June of last year my mom surprised my sister and I by offering to take us to Greece this year.   The only answer is yes.  Shame on you if you look a gift vacation in the mouth and say no.   Then last fall I booked comp rooms for Lake Tahoe.   I lived there for two years after college and it is one of the most beautiful places I've been.  I haven't been back since I moved away in 2002....because I keep going everywhere else.   (happy disclaimer: I work for a hotel company and one of the best benefits is free stays).    So then I had two trips going in to 2012.    I thought that was pretty good.   I still had some vacation time to play with, but wanted to work towards my goal of only taking trips this year if I can pay in cash (which was why Greece was not an option until it came as a gift).   

Earlier this month my mom and aunt decided they wanted to go California.    They said I should go with them for a long weekend.   Now, this was not part of my plan or budget.   And then an offer I couldn't refuse:  if I arranged the hotel rooms, they would buy my plane ticket.   Victory #3!  

Then two weeks ago I went to the informational meeting at church about the youth mission trip.   This is my third year as a youth sponsor.   My first year we went to Guatemala - there was no doubt I was in!   Last year they went to Galveston, TX, but since I was going to Israel a week later, that was not an option.   This summer we are going to Joplin, MO.   I checked my vacation balance and my work calendar and ta-da, trip #4 is on the books.   I'm a big fan of the volunteer vacation, so even though we'll be helping with tornado relief work, I'll be someplace new and not at work, so by's vacation!  

In reality I have now exhausted my vacation time.   Until September when it starts all over again.  Who knows what opportunity will pop up next?

I can't wait.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Memory Lane: Sunset in Monterey

There are so many things to love about living in Colorado.   However, we have a lack of sunsets that sink into large bodies of water.   Every time I go to California (or somewhere that faces west into the water) I can't stop taking sunset pictures.    I'm not as big a fan of sunrises - simply because it implies that I'm awake and functioning before the sun comes up.   I love the happy dogs in this picture that are simply enjoying life.   My Chey dog hasn't really ever had the chance to be a beach dog.   I wonder what she'd think of the opportunity to run free into the ocean.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Memory Lane: Antigua, Early Morning

We only spent a short time in Antigua at the end of the Wellshire Mission Trip in June 2010.   On this particular morning we got up before the youth and walked to Cafe Barista for some caffiene.   The streets were empty of people and we had the colorful buildings to ourselves.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Memory Lane: Mt. Rigi, Switzerland

I've discovered how to create collages on Picasa...a whole new avenue of photo posts await!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Debut of Traveler in the Kitchen

I've added a second blog to my collection:  Traveler in the Kitchen.    Moving forward, I'm going to be posting most of my recipes, restaurant reviews and other food obsessions there.   I hope you'll hop over and take a look.   Of course, right now, there is only one recipe posted, but you know there will be more to come!    All my current foodie content on The Pursuit will stay here as well as all future posts on travel, HR, being a tourist in my hometown and other fun ramblings and writings.  

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Recipe: Coconut Toffee Bars

I didn't have a specific plan to make these.   I didn't see the recipe somewhere and bookmark it or print it out for a future sweet treat occasion.   Rather on Thursday night I wanted to make something to take with me to visit friends.    I still had some Bits O' Brickle from my second time making the Cinnamon Toffee Blondies.   On the back of the package was a recipe for Chewy Toffee Almond Bars.    Sadly, I didn't have any plain almonds, only BBQ flavored and that wasn't a taste combination I was willing to try.   So I axed the almonds and added some almond extract to the base layer and was good to go.   If you have almonds, check out the original recipe and know that it goes in the same places the coconut goes.

What you need
1 cup butter/margarine, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/3 cups Bits O' Brickle toffee bits
3/4 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup sweetened coconut flakes

What you do
Heat your oven to 350.   Line a 13x9 pan with foil and spray with cooking spray.  

Beat butter and sugar and almond extract until fluffy.   Gradually add flour, beating until well blended.  Use your floury hands to press the mixture into the bottom of the pan.    Bake 15 minutes until edges are lightly browned.

While the base is baking, mix corn syrup and toffee bits in a small saucepan, heating and stirring until the toffee bits are all melted.   Add 1/2 cup of the coconut to the mixture and then pour the toffee mixture onto the baked crust.     Sprinkle remaining coconut on top.

Bake an additional 15 minutes or until bubbly.  Cool completely in pan, then cut into bars.

Walk Softly and Carry a Sharp Knife
I let these cool on the counter overnight and in the morning when I pulled them out of the pan to cut them, I had a problem.   The toffee layer was pretty hard and it was a challenge to cut them.   However, once I had them cut and in a Tupperware container they softened a little bit.  By the time we enjoyed them with some red wine in the evening, all was well, just watch out for crumbs.    Also delicious with your Saturday morning coffee. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What the World Needs is Bigger Breakfasts (and more proverbs)

This week on the radio the am show on KS 107.5 was talking about a study where two groups were on a low-carb diets.   One group got to have cake (or other desserts) with their breakfast.   Over the course of the study, that group lost more weight and  kept it off longer. 

I've known for years that Key Lime Pie is a great breakfast.   Now I have validation.  

I love breakfast.   I do not like getting up in the morning.   I give myself the minimum time to shower, dress, walk the dog, and roll out the door.   Breakfast is handheld like a banana or a cereal bar.   I can't go without breakfast or my attitude goes downhill.  Not having breakfast just convinces your body that you're starving, so it holds on to the fat and your metabolism doesn't get a jump start.    

This study made me think about that proverb that goes something to the effect:  Eat Breakfast Like a King, Lunch Like a Prince and Dinner Like a Pauper.  Not only is it an intersting proverb, it makes some nutritional sense.  If breakfast is your biggest, higher calorie, meal your body has fuel for the day and you have all day to burn it off. 

I was visiting friends yesterday and brought dessert to their house.   She told me that she and her husband have a 90 day goal to not eat dessert after 7pm.   That, along with a conscious effort to get some kind of exercise every day, taking the stairs, swimming, or even pushing a stroller, is paying off.    I mentioned this study and the quote about eating breakfast like a king.    She shared with me a Russian proverb that has the same message:  Eat Your Breakfast Alone, Share Your Lunch with a Friend, Give Your Dinner to Your Enemy.   She said that she used to do this - enjoying a big breakfast, a salad for lunch and fruit and yogurt for dinner.  

I'm intrigued on a couple levels.  
  • Going out for breakfast is a much better value than going out for dinner
  • It opens up a whole new world of recipes that I hardly ever use - and not just baking (my personal preference)
  • I usually get home after 7 or 8 on weeknights and having cereal, fruit, yogurt or a bowl of soup is a quick and easy dinner
I'm pretty sure this doesn't justify donuts.  At least not every day.

Superbowl Strawberries

This post should receive a penalty for delay of game.   Inspired by a picture I saw somewhere last week, I made these chocolate dipped strawberries for last Sunday's game.   I really don't care about the Super Bowl, but I do like eating pizza with friends.   Our approach to the big game?   Playing games and watching the commercials.     Our host introduced a game called Wise and Otherwise.   The goal?  To create plausible endings to proverbs and sayings from around the world.   An old Cameroonian saying, "If you throw a squirrel in water...."  You make up an answer and everyone votes on what they think the really saying is. 

These strawberries are easy to make.    This time of year the strawberries aren't especially pretty, so it's better for everyone involved to coat them in chocolate.

What you need
1 pound strawberries, washed and dried
1 cup chocolate chips
1 tablespoon oil
white candy melts or white chocolate chips for the laces

What you do
Melt -chocolate chips with oil in a microwave safe bowl, stir until smooth.    Dip strawberries in chocolate to coat, allow extra chocolate to drip off into the bowl.    Set finished strawberry onto wax paper to cool.

To put the laces (or any other design), I melted 6 or so white Wilton candy melts in the microwave and then put the melted candy into a small ziploc bag.  Cutting a tiny hole in the corner I used it as a makeshift (and disposable) decorating bag to draw the laces.    Let your friends oooh and aaah.   Then eat.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Free HR Advice: Check Your Email

Paper applications are primarily a thing of the past.   From the HR side, online applications give a wider pool of candidates (not just those who walk in, but those who find us online) and the application software makes it easy for HR professionals to sort and review applications and resumes.  

The reality is that the majority of people who apply for a position will not receive a phone call (but if you do, please check your voicemail).   That being said, you need to check your email frequently when you are in the job search.   Many programs will send an automatic response that you application has been received.   This doesn't mean that a real person has actually looked at your application or resume, but that it has been received by the system.   It's probably also a good idea to check your spam or junk folder as these responses may be filtered by your friendly email provider.

You may be asked to take some kind of survey or assessment as a part of the application process.  This will also come through email.   If you rock the interview and the company likes you and wants to move forward with you, they may send you new hire paperwork, background consents or electronic I9's that need to be completed.  

Sadly, disappointment also comes via email.   If you don't meet certain criteria simply based on your application (ie you request $100k per year for a position that pays $12/hour), you will get a "Thank you for your interest" email.   If you interview but another candidate is selected, you may get a "Thank you for interviewing" email. 

The bottom line?  Phone calls are few.  Please check your email.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

My Bake MS Campaign 2012

In 2005, I moved to Colorado.   In 2006 I was introduced to the Colorado Bike MS because we had a company team.    In 2006 I volunteered with the National MS Society and in 2007 I volunteered with our team at our award-winning team tent.   In 2008, I decided to get my own bike and challenge myself to raise the money and ride the 150 miles.   Yes.  150 miles.   On a bike.  Westminster to Ft. Collins and back.   I rode for three years and then last summer opted to go on vacation to Israel instead.    

Late last summer, MS became personal.   No longer was it just a good cause where our team raised a lot of money ($158,000 in 2011).   No longer was it just the silent auction, the carb party, and a two days of sore legs.    Last summer my sister was diagnosed with MS.   

This year, as a part of my fundraising campaign for the ride, I'm putting my culinary skills to good use as well.   You make a donation.   I bake you a treat.   And I bike 150 miles closer to a cure for MS.  

Denver Friends
If you make a donation of at least $25 on my participant page for the Colorado Bike MS, I will bake you a treat of your choice.   You can use it to bribe or thank your child's teacher.   You can lie and say you made it.   You can put it in your freezer and break it out after you finish your diet. 

Friends Everywhere Else
If you make a donation of at least $30, pick a treat that will ship well and I will send it to you.  

What Can I Have?
Feel free to pick a recipe off my Traveler in the Kitchen page.   Or if you find another recipe, I'm willing to try it and see what happens.   If it turns out well, I'll give you a shout out when I post the pictures here. 

Click here for my participant page for the 2012 Colorado Bike MS.

My sister and I at the finish line at the 2010 Bike MS
Every mile, Every dollar working towards a cure!

Cereal Bars - Take 1

I am lazy in the morning.   Even pouring a bowl of cereal is really more than I'm capable of doing  before 8am in the morning, so when I'm getting ready for work at 6am, it's got to be hand held. Bananas are the ultimate handheld.  I also really like Clif, Luna, Lara, and Odwalla bars.  The downside?  That they are usually at least a buck a piece at the grocery store.   If they are more than a dollar, I won't buy them, but if they are on sale for 88 cents a piece?  I consider that a shopping victory.   

I've been tempted to try and create my own version of a breakfast bar.   This was my first attempt.   Not too shabby if I say so myself.     It also gave me an opportunity to use some Colorado local products that I bought on road trips last fall.

What you need
3 cups honey nut O's (I used some brand made with wind energy that was on sale for $1.50/box)
1 cup  honey nut crunchy peanut butter
1/2 cup of Honeyville Maple Hazelnut whipped honey (warmed in the microwave for pouring)
1/4 cup oats
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup pumpkin butter
1/8 cup ground flax seed
dash cinnamon
splash vanilla

What you do
Mix the honey and peanut butter together in a bowl.  Mix in all other ingredients and work together with a spoon or your hands until all cereal and oats are incorporated into the mix.     Press mixture into a 9x13 pan lined with foil and sprayed with cooking spray.   Refrigerate until firm.   Pull foil out of the pan and cut into squares.

What I will do next time
I think that I will melt the peanut butter and honey (and pumpkin butter, if I use it) in a sauce pan to bring it more to a liquid consistency.  It may help evenly coat the bar ingredients and hold them together better once they've cooled.     This really was just an experiment seeing if I could use ingredients I already had on hand to make a tasty morning snack.

Denver makes the news
When the weather is the top trending topic on every local media outlet as well as on CNN and the Weather Channel, you know it's a big deal.   There is even a twitter hashtag #snOMG.    It started snowing on Thursday night and continued through this morning.    My sister put the "weather ruler" on top of the air conditioner outside yesterday and it was covered this morning, so we got at least a foot.    I didn't get a snow day yesterday, so I'm adopting a snow day attitude today!   Hello lazy.

Free HR Advice: Know Where You're Applying

"umm...where are you located?"

Yet another awkward question that you don't want to ask when you are talking to a recruiter about a position.   In the world of online applications you can sometimes apply for multiple positions within the same company.  Not all of those positions are located in the same the city you live in.

This isn't so much an issue if you walk into a local business and apply directly for that location.  For those who are completing applications on their laptop at home in their bunny slippers while drinking coffee, there is definitely the opportunity to spam a company with applications to positions all over the country from an entry level janitor in Jersey to the VP of Sales in Silicone Valley. 

Online application programs all vary, but for many, you should have the option to either pick a geographic location by state, city or by individual business location (Store #____ on _____ Street in Denver, CO). 

When you go to a company's website and click the careers link, you will probably be taken to a site that shows all their jobs where you can search by position, field, location, etc.   Please pay attention.

Sometimes I'll answer a call where the applicant on the other end says, "I applied for ______ position at your location last week, and I wanted to check that you got my application."  After searching in the application database for all applications received by our entire corporation, I find that that he/she has actually applied to a location in Dallas.  

Even if you have successfully applied to positions in your desired location, please research where that physical office / property / store actually is in the city in question.   That way when you're talking to the hiring manager on the phone and they ask "Are you familiar with where our _______ is?" You can confidently answer, Yes!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Free HR Advice: Why Do You Want To Work For Us?

You've successfully navigated the often frustrating world of (primarily) online job applications, and you get a call from a recruiter.    Every phone interview or screening is a little bit different, but the odds are they are going to ask you some variation of this question.

Why do you want to work for _____________ (insert company name here)?

Do your homework and be prepared to answer this question.   This question should not come as a surprise to you.   You should not be hmmming, ummming or responding with "Wow that's a difficult question."

Hopefully you've done a little research on the companies where you are applying.   Look at their website.  Look at their career page.   Look at their community involvement.   Talk to friends who work there.  If it's a public business (retail, hotel, restaurant, etc) walk in to get a feel of the location.

I beg you.  Do not answer this question with "I need a job."  

It's true.   It's a tough economy right now.   Companies may be getting hundreds of applications for a single posted position.   Most companies are looking for a person who will be the right fit for their culture, team and the service that they provide.   Most companies are looking for more than a warm, breathing body who needs a job.   They can afford to be picky.

So even if you do need a job, any job, simply to pay your rent and buy groceries, please take a few minutes to prepare a better answer to the question Why do you want to work for us? 

This is a chance to highlight your skills, knowledge, experience, and to show the recruiter that you've done a little homework about their organization.   Use it to your advantage.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Recipe: Avocado & Grapefruit Relish

Dear Grapefruit,

It's been a while.   A long while.   I go to the store and walk right past you to get to the bananas or the blackberries.   I've forgotten how good you are.  Sweet and tangy at the same time.  A nutritional win any way that I look at you.   I promise I will put you back into my fruit rotation.

Love, Jenni

I found the recipe, Spiced Turkey with Avocado-Grapefruit Relish, at Sunflower Market, a grocery store here in Denver (and elsewhere in the western half of the country).   I didn't have turkey cutlets. I did have frozen, store-bought, turkey burgers, and sandwich thins, so I opted to use the relish with a  burger.    The relish is so good that you can eat it straight out of the bowl, like my sister did with the leftovers tonight.    Put it on everything.  Or nothing.  

What you need
1 large ruby red grapefruit
1 small avocado, peeled, pitted, diced
1 small shallot, minced
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
pinch of sea salt

What you do
Slice the grapefruit in half.  Use a sharp knife to cut out all sections - don't get any of the white pith or the dividing membrane.   Dice the grapefruit pieces and put into a medium bowl and squeeze remaining juice in the bowl as well.   Add avocado, shallot, cilantro, vinegar, and honey.  Toss well to combine. 

The turkey burger was improv, but I sprinkled the patty with chipotle chile powder, sea salt, and dried parsley then put it on my little George Foreman grill for a few minutes.  


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