30 April 2012


Ever gone to a Bible study or youth group meeting or any kind of small group event at a church and been asked to share your testimony? I have neither been asked nor have I volunteered my particular testimony because, until now, I had no idea what to say. For those of you who don't know, a Christian Testimony is the who, what, why, where, when, and how you came to know Christ. And until now I thought I never had one.

Because my father was our church choir director and my mother was the accompanist, I was practically born in the church sanctuary. My parents' boss-- the minister-- baptized me shortly after I entered this world and I went to church every Sunday after that. Except in the summers when the choir took a three month hiatus and my dad would stay home with us. When I reached the age of 5 my mom forced me into the children's choir (which she happened to direct-- coincidence? I think not) until I reached 8th grade and graduated from it. Of course I also did Sunday school, VBS, Confirmation, events etc. When I reached high school and discovered I liked to sing, I joined the adult choir and bell choir then started directing 3rd thru 6th graders in the chime choir-- my first job. I joined the Diaconate Committee and Music Committee, the Associate Minister Search Committee, and even sang solos and in small ensembles as our church's weekly Special Music. Suffice to say I was active in the church.

But this is not my testimony.

Although I went to church every Sunday, I had no walk with God. I heard and read the Word, sang the beautiful music, prayed many prayers yet never felt anything other than the proper amount of sacredness and respect for being in church. However, I've always believed and talked with God, even as a child. Of course my parents thought I was talking to myself at night-- yes I speak out loud to God in a conversational way-- but I assure you my 6 year old self knew exactly who she was talking to.

So there was no question of faith, no question of worship, but there was no intimacy. You see, walking with God means having a personal relationship with Him as a Father, Mother, Brother, Lover, Friend... God is EVERYTHING we will ever need and unlike the people who fill those relationship roles in our life, God will never let us down or stop loving us. His forgiveness and love are unconditional. Yet I was going thru the motions and continued to feel emptiness. This is my testimony:

Freshman year of college I lived with three other unique ladies. Unfortunately, my anti-social nervousness turned me into a loner: walking around the city alone and going home every other weekend.  There were also differences between the roommates that led to confrontations (which I disliked as I was non-confrontational at that time) and overall a less than stellar living experience, though I am grateful for the friend I got out of it. Silver lining, people! Anyway, my mom recommended The Mitford Series to me-- a 9 book series about a 60 something Episcopalian preacher and his community in the mountain town of Mitford.  Father Tim was so human for a preacher, faulted and yet always going to God for answers and support. Sometimes he would ignore God, other times he was angry with Him, and eventually he would ask forgiveness of his weaknesses, all while tending to his flock and bringing non-believers to Christ.  Besides being a well-written series with numerous characters far beyond the simple descriptions of "good" and "bad," these popular books were author Jan Karon's way of witnessing to the world.

As a result, I wanted to dive deeper into the Bible, to not only read the words, but understand and FEEL them. This led me to Campus Crusade which is where I met my husband, a man who has humbled and reeducated me on what it means to be close to God.  Since then I've gone thru some rough patches in my life and have shamefully let anger consume me for the last few years.  Yet God has remained, calling me out of my depressive hole, loving me unconditionally and having the patience to endure my constant sin. Now I've found a wonderful church full of the Holy Spirit with a minister whose sermons are not only interesting but also make sense and have an uncanny application to my life. It's only been 3 weeks yet God has moved at lightning speed. We're becoming better people, realizing our shortcomings and changing not because we want God to love us (He already does) or forgive us (He already does that too) or get into Heaven, but because we want to BE WITH GOD. God is constantly loving and moving with us and if you're a non-believer, He's constantly trying to get your attention because He wants to be with you, to help you, to guide you because He knows what we need.

Anyway, that's my testimony. Thanks for making it to the end of such a personal story-- it means a lot to me. God bless.

27 April 2012

Kingdoms of Amalur

"Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning" is a fantasy RPG (role playing game) based on the books by R.A. Salvatore, with artwork by Todd McFarlane (ever hear of Spawn?), and developed by 38 Studios (and Big Huge Games) whose founder is none other than Red Sox World Series pitcher Curt Schilling.

Amalur is a kingdom ruled entirely by inescapable fate, thus people have no choice on where the path of their lives will lead them. Tormented Fateweavers read fates and know what will happen to everyone they come across... except you. YOU are the Fateless One because you died and were brought back to life (in a non-zombie way, mind you). As a result, you must prevent the mortals from being wiped out by the immortal Tuatha led by an unknown evil force.

Yes, it's your typical choose-your-own-fate-to-save-the-world plot, but the game offers much more.  It's an RPG so of course there's plenty of land exploration filled with towns, caves, and trading camps, not to mention the array of side quests to keep you occupied and help your character level up.  While assassination quests are always nice (that's a strange thing to say), there are also quests to find items, deliver messages, find kidnapped persons, and negotiate peace between species, so you're never bored.

In addition, the Leveling Up system offers many choices but isn't too complicated. You choose between 3 factions to focus your abilities: Might (strength), Sorcery, Finesse (stealth), or a hybrid of the three. Each time you reach a level you earn 3 ability points and 1 skill point. Because there are not enough points to level up every category, it takes planning, allowing you to tailor the game to how YOU play.  Plus you can pay Fateweavers to remove your choices and redistribute your points any way you wish.

Combat is low maintenance.  Your character performs a variety of combos with any weapon or shield, and some spells.  Overall, it's a fairly simplified system that's great for new players.  However, if you're a seasoned gamer and like a challenge, start the game on the Hard difficulty as there have been many complaints that Easy is too easy.

A few excellent features in Reckoning are Alchemy, Blacksmithing, and Sagecrafting. Alchemy lets you create potions, from health and mana to invincibility and magic enhancement.  To make potions, you need to "harvest" re-agents: sometimes you'll get some and sometimes you won't. Blacksmithing allows you to salvage items, and craft armor and weapons more powerful than what is found in the game. Finally, sagecrafting: the art of turning magic shards into gems that can be fastened to armor and weapons with gem slots to make the item more powerful.

In terms of story, the main quest offers around 30 hours of gameplay.  While the story is hardly original, there are a couple slight twists that end with a fairly mild boss battle. Ironically, the mid-game boss battle at Mel Senshir was more engaging and difficult.  Personally, I didn't really care about the few characters that were part of the main story; I actually cared more about the people I helped in side quests. Despite the limp plot, Kingdoms of Amalur is an addictive game that immerses you into an interesting world and offers plenty of activity. Plus, it's a great starter RPG for those unfamiliar with the genre. If you enjoy games like Skyrim and World of Warcraft, definitely check out Reckoning.

**Kingdoms of Amalur is available for PS3, Xbox360, and PC**

26 April 2012

The Legend of Korra

Thanks to the Amazon Instant Video app on my Playstation 3, I can keep up with my favorite TV shows without the hassle of a cable account. Of course I'm paying per episode, but there's plenty of free stuff for Prime members (that's me!). Because of this blessed streaming event, I had the good fortune of stumbling upon-- and by "stumbling upon" I mean waiting on pins and needles for a year-- Nickelodeon's newest series, The Legend of Korra.

(To clarify: I do not work for any of the companies that make the products I talk about. Sadly. If you happen to discover my blog and need a writer for or about film & television, I'm your gal)

My apologies for not having an image-- I'll sketch one for you in the future. I thought it'd be neat if I posted drawings of the topic rather than steal borrow images from Google. But if you're like me and desperate for a visual, click on the link provided above.

Anyway, the BIG DEAL about LoK is that it's the newest story in the legendary Avatar animated series, the first being Avatar: The Last Airbender. Remember that horrendous film by M. Night Shamalan a couple years ago? Me neither, I've blocked it from my mind. However, the far superior animated series earned a Primetime Emmy award and won the hearts of adult and child viewers everywhere. The Last Airbender has an array of charming, ridiculous, and villainous three-dimensional characters, detailed subplots, and a story chalked full of relatable themes and emotional moments. You CARE about Aang, Katara, Sokka, Zuko, Toph, and the people they meet on their journey.

Not to mention both TLA and LoK have incredible imagery of beautiful martial arts movements performed in vast, unique scenery. And no, it's not Anime for all you haters out there.  Yes, it has an Asian production design but as someone who watches Anime, I would not place either show in that category. So if that's holding you back, swallow your pride and watch a couple episodes of the original series-- now on Netflix Instant and free for Prime members, and probably Hulu as well.  However, my main focus is Legend of Korra-- the people over at Nick have upped the ante this time. Quick summary about the world: it's filled with humans and "benders," people who use special moves to manipulate one of the four elements while the Avatar is the only person who can bend all of them.

**Contains SPOILERS of the First Series, skip to next Paragraph.
In The Last Airbender, the Fire Benders are trying to take over the world, kill the Avatar, and imprison all other benders who would resist. After the success of Avatar Aang (the last airbender in the world-- the fire lord wiped out the rest in search of the avatar) and his friends in defeating the Fire Lord, Aang and Fire Lord Zuko form Republic City, a metropolis where benders and non-benders can live, work, and prosper.

LoK takes places 17 years after Avatar Aang passes away and Korra, the new Avatar (they're reincarnated from generation to generation), needs to master her final element: air. As she's been in rural seclusion all her life, traveling to the beautifully industrial Republic City-- think steampunk NYC-- is quite the change, especially when Korra encounters the Equalists, a group of non-benders trying to rid the world of bending completely.  As our heroine has a penchant for trouble, she gets herself into all kinds of mischief while meeting friends and enemies along the way. The series is 3 episodes in but you can watch them all on Nickelodeon's website to catch up.

The Avatar "Books," as the seasons are referred to, offer comedy, drama, and action portrayed through skillful art and animation. Instead of repeating the character pattern of the first series, Korra is the complete opposite of Aang: headstrong, stubborn, and hot-headed.  There are plenty of charming new characters: Tenzen her Air Bending Master-- voiced by the underrated J.K. Simmons-- and his 3 children (who provide ample comedic relief), Mako and Bolin-- two professional benders and Korra's new companions, and the villainous Amon who is far more than he appears (I've got so many suspicions about that guy). And of course the Avatar has her animal companion as well: Naga, the polar-bear-dog.  Wait... what did I just say?   One charming detail of this fictional world is the "hybrid animals." Avatar Aang's companions were Appa, a flying bison, and Momo, a winged lemur, while this new series has Naga and Pabu the fire ferret. There are also lion-turtles, platypus-bears, rabbi-roo, etc.

Being three episodes into the series and having to wait for each episode, I'm ready to drive over to Nickelodeon and beg them to tell me what's going to happen! The Legend of Korra promises to match, if not surpass, its predecessor in every way possible.  Fans of The Last Airbender will love seeing the new animals, clever ways to incorporate bending, as well as the references to the first series.  I highly recommend watching TLA first but you will definitely be able to enjoy LoK without doing so. I hope you check it out and love it as much as I do.

13 April 2012

Baked Southwest Egg Rolls

One of my husband's favorite appetizers is Southwest Egg Rolls. When I came across the recipe on Pinterest, it spoke to my soul. I stuck to the recipe exactly, though I didn't make the avocado ranch since I greedily used all my avocados for my legendary guacamole. However, the major difference between these and Chili's is that there's no chicken. Doesn't matter though, since they were wonderful.

It was tough deciding how much to put on each wrapper, but since I had a bunch of filling leftover, I'd recommend buying 2 packages of wrappers OR being more generous with the mixture.

 Rolling instructions with PICTURES are on the back of the egg roll wrapper package. Thank God.

 They taste as good as they look...
(The white stuff was my attempt at making homemade ranch with Greek yogurt. Fail.)
Serve with salsa or take the time to make the Avocado Ranch sauce on the recipe.

12 April 2012

Hot Ham and Cheese Buns

Please excuse poor lighting and my phone's camera for the greenish hue of this photo. I promise this looks more delectable than it does right here.

Anyway, Hot Ham and Cheese Buns.

I confess, I didn't always like these as I hated green olives from high school through college. Until I learned how delicious they could be in whiskey. Phase over.

The ingredients might sound a little strange-- chili sauce, green olives, mayo, green onions, egg-- will these work as a group? Won't one flavor overpower the other?  No, I say, no!

And if you hadn't guessed... these aren't the healthiest sandwiches... okay, they're not healthy at all. However, they make GREAT party sandwiches because they're meant to be wrapped individually in aluminum foil and baked. So you can make these a few days before a party, freeze them, take them out the morning of and pop them in the oven. Just make a double batch because your guests will want at least two.


3 Tbsp mayonnaise (Smart Balance is a decent health choice)
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1/2 cup chili sauce
1/2 cup pimento stuffed green olives
1/2 lb. sliced deli ham, chopped
1/3 cup green onions, chopped
8oz sharp cheddar, shredded
12 whole wheat or buttercrust buns

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Add all ingredients together, blending with mayo and chili sauce. Spread on buns, wrap in foil, twisting securely. Bake for 10 minutes.

**If you're like me and feel AWFUL about wasting so much foil and how bad it is for the environment, I recommend baking the sandwiches open faced, baking the tops for 5 minutes and the bottoms with the filling for the full 10.

11 April 2012

Walking in LA

Our apartment complex lives next to a golf course that lives next to the LA River Walk. Several years back the city created a giant walking/bike path along the river since it's apparently a major tourist attraction.  I guarantee you've seen it in multiple films. That racing scene in Grease? LA River.

It's pretty spectacular to see mountains in the background, quite different from the view of fields.

The only problem? Walking next to a golf course is dangerous. See those two tiny people on the path ahead? Nearly assassinated by a runaway golfball. Ah well, now I can tell everyone that "danger" is my middle name.

 And the trees along the water? They're actually part of the land in the MIDDLE of the river. The LA River runs very shallow in parts. Those trees are also the home of River People. Seriously.

 Another fun challenge of walking in LA is the horse manure from the horses that live at the equestrian center a block from our apartment. I promise we live in a city... just a very strange one.


 And if you're really awesome, you can Wild West your way through the river with your horse, from the East side of the path (see above pics) via these dirt ramps. Traverse the raging LA River, the scary River People, and go to the West side of the path. There's also a tunnel that goes under the highway and, I believe, over to Griffith Park (that GIANT hill in the third pic).

It's great having a walking path nearby and quite motivating to get outside and move my ass. For being a city, LA desperately tries to keep a connection to nature, which, while the city is still dirty, is admirable.

10 April 2012

Easter 2012

This past Sunday we reached another of the many small milestones that pave the path of Life: first Easter in LA. 

I celebrated with a mani/pedi (done by yours truly):
Love the shimmery, soft pink ("Lion Around" by Essie), but the green ("Da Bush" by Essie) looked like I had mold on my toes. Sad face. 

To make up for the brownies I made the night before, I softened some butter and threw together another batch, this time WITH flour, sugar, and butter.  They were much better. 

Michael made a reservation at Tam O'Shanter for Easter Brunch.  
Though I thoroughly LOVED my St. Germaine cocktail (Sauvignon Blanc + St. Germaine liquor + soda = HEAVEN), I found one of those tabs used to hold bread bags under my potatoes which, in turn, caused me to lose my appetite. Plus our server ignored us and was a crabass the whole time. Needless to say, my meal was free, as well as a couple cocktails, which was the least a 4-star restaurant could do.

 Later, Cooper found a new hiding place: the linen cabinet.

Because of the heat (a whopping 85 degrees), the cats spent most of the day resting.

 We coped with the heat by going for a swim.

I wish we had a church to celebrate in, but hopefully the new one we're going to next week will help us reenter a church family.  Overall, I had kind of a crappy day personally, but I can't really have a bad day on Easter, knowing my sins are forgiven because a man I never knew died for them.  

Life has been almost unbearably emotional for the last two weeks and I'm so very angry.  I've tried blogging about it, but I don't want to "bring anybody down" with my "drama." I almost tossed the Hodge Podge Gallery away, wanting to run and hide from the world because I'm so tired of people hurting me and Michael. But my husband, who is a fighter, convinced me to keep going. And so I will. Isn't that what Easter is about? Resurrection, a second chance, a new beginning with the burden of sin carried by Jesus. I hope these struggles become more and more distant as the days continue...

06 April 2012

Veggie Chili & Flourless Brownies: Recipe FAIL

I tried a couple more recipes on Pinterest and, sadly, these were unsuccessful as they did not taste good.

The first was a slow cooker vegetarian chili I found on Real Simple that looked lovely and was packed with spices. See below:
The big pile of brown spice you see in the bottom left corner is actually unsweetened cocoa powder... which made me nervous. And for good reason.

The chili looked good, the vegetables cooked properly, but the spices made it taste... funky. No, you wouldn't spit it out as soon as it touched your lips, but something isn't quite right with the overall flavor. No good. The pin looks like this in case you want to know:

The second was a Flourless Brownie recipe I found here. The pin looks like this:

 Mine came out like so:
I was truly pulling for these brownies. Made with almond butter & honey, they were grain-free, gluten-free, and sugar free, so I hoped to get major brownie points (pun INTENDED) by making a GUILT-free chocolate treat. However, when Michael asked if I was mad at him after I served him the brownies, I laughed, spit out my own bite, and dumped the whole pan into the garbage. What a waste. 

Note: I consider myself to have a low tolerance of taste when it comes to uber healthy food, but I just did not like these. It won't stop me from trying a recipe for Paleo Brownies next, though!