Wednesday, February 23, 2011

PBG Good News: Your Assignment - A Random Act of Kindness

For the past few weeks I have been trying to find inspiring stories about groups or individuals who are making a difference.  Some of the stories have been so touching and inspirational that I find myself wanting to do more, even in the smallest ways possible. 

It is so easy to do good.  The smallest gesture can make someone's day or even their week.  I really believe it is the little things in life that make it worthwhile.  Most of us can not afford to feed a family of 4 for a year.  But, the next time you are out for dinner maybe you can afford to buy dinner for a family instead of going to the movies and buying treats.  Or, maybe you can buy a coffee for a co-worker or for the stranger in line behind you at the Timmie's drive through.  Even if you don't have any money you can still make someone's day a little brighter by holding the door open for them, offering them a smile or complimenting them on their fabulous shoes or great haircut. 

Kindness is free, and that is the best part.  Can you do me a favour?  Offer a random act of kindness to someone today.  Even if it us just a small gesture.  Because, imagine, if you could make someone happy.  And they can pay that happiness forward with another act of kindness, and THAT person pays it forward with ANOTHER act of kindness.  Kindness could be an infection in your office, town or household.  Help me make it happen.

Tell me about your random act of kindness in the comments below.  Tell the world that Kindness Matters...Bella says so!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

PBG Book Club: Unless by Carol Shields

I may have mentioned that I have actually joined an official book club with a friend from work.  Each month a book is chosen by one of the members.  The person who chose the book then hosts the Book Club Party the following month.  Everyone else is in charge of bringing drinks and snacks. 

I was super excited to join a real book club and to talk about the books I read with intelligent, like minded women.  The first book that was I scheduled to read with the club was Unless by Canadian author Carol Shields.  Now, I have to be honest, I am not always a fan of the writing of Canadian authors.  I find their writing difficult to follow and too pedantic.  So, I was delighted when I first started reading Unless.

The book was a quick read, not overly concerned with the minute details and seemed focused on the story and the main character.  Unfortunately, that was the only aspect of the book that I enjoyed. 

The book is the story of Reta Winters, an author, whose nineteen year-old daughter, Norah, has suddenly dropped out of college. She now spends her days, for reasons unclear, "sitting cross-legged with a begging bowl in her lap" at Bathurst and Bloor, a busy intersection in a somewhat seedy section of downtown Toronto. A large cardboard sign hangs around her neck. On it, in black magic marker, is written a single word: GOODNESS.

The book is written from the point of view of Reta,, the mother.  We follow through her day-to-day activities as a woman whose life has been shattered by the tragedy of her daughter yet she must carry on a semi-normal life in order to support the rest of her family - her husband and two other daughters. 

I wanted very much to feel for Reta and understand her pain.  But, I felt myself far more interested in Norah's plight and wanting more information about her.  But, the reality is, this book is not about Norah, it is about Reta.  Perhaps it is because I am not a mother myself, so I can not understand the thoughts and feelings that Reta has and how she deals with them.  Sadly, I found Reta's story a little boring.  Her character seems to lack any real depth and she also had a very vague connection to her own emotions.

In the end, we do find out a little more about Norah and her situation but overall the book was not satisfying.  I wanted to know more about the family dynamics and they may have helped (or hindered) themselves during this tragedy. 

I really wanted to love this book, but unfortunately I did not.  The next selection for our Book Club is Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and I see now there is also a movie.  I am really looking forward to this book.  I hope it doesn't disappoint. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Home Sweet Home

I am so sorry I haven't been around much lately.  There are a lot of things going on around the PBG household.  Some good, some bad.  But, mostly exciting. 

One of the things I have been working on is the fact that starting in a few weeks I am planning some serious home redecorating.  I have been daydreaming about colours and new furniture.  I can't afford a lot right now so the major change will be paint.  I will be repainting most of the house (with a little help from my brother I am hoping).  Here are some of the things that are inspiring me as I work through my new design.

I can't wait to get it all finished.  I love interior design.  I will be sure to take lots of pictures along the way so you can all see the transformation.

Do you have any design ideas or suggestions for me?  Leave them in the comments.

Monday, February 7, 2011

PBG Good News: Pay it Forward Holland, Michigan

Holland, Michigan was rated as the second happiest city in the USA in February, 2010.  At a time when the economy is suffering and in a state that seems to be suffering more than other, the residents of Holland, Michigan still managed to have smiles on their faces.  This was so intriguing to well known investigative reporter Diane Sawyer, that she paid a visit to this small town to figure out their secret. 

Ramona Scott, from Brooklyn, New York, watched Diane’s report on the evening news and was so impressed with the way Holland managed to have smiles on their faces in spite of hardship that she sent the Mayor a $250 check instructing him to distribute it in increments of $25 
to those who could use a boost in difficult times. Ms. Scott's generosity inspired the citizens of Holland, who began sending checks to augment the Ramona L. Scott Fund, and eventually the Pay It Forward Holland program was founded.

Pay It Forward

So, how is this small community striving to ensure they stay happy?  Through the Pay It Forward Holland program residents are encouraged to perform a random act of kindness and present a PIFH card to the recipient.  The recipient of the card is directed to the PIFH website where the act of kindness can be recorded. 

What are people doing?  They are feeding parking meters, buying coffee for strangers, shovelling driveways and so many more inspiring things.  I think this is such a great idea.  In the past I have bought coffee for the car behind me in the drive thru and it was such a small gesture but it made me so happy to be able to start someone's day with a little smile. 

If you would like to find out more about this program check out their website - Pay It Forward Holland.  Maybe you could start a Pay It Forward movement in your community.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

PBG: Vanilla- Lemon and Chocolate-Mint Buttermilk Cupcakes

Today was a first for the Peanut Butter Gurl.  I made and decorated cupcakes for the very first time...ever.  And, according to my family anyway, they were fantastic.  I made Vanilla cupcakes with lemon frosting and Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate chips and peppermint frosting.  I am certain you could add any type of flavouring to the frosting - orange, lime, or just plain old vanilla would be yummy.  Truth be told they are not the prettiest cupcakes in the world, but it was my first time decorating with a piping bag. 

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk

3 tbsp cocoa
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

1.  Preheat oven to 350.
2.  Line about 12 - 16 muffin cups with liners and set aside.
3.  In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.
4.  In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed.
5.  Mix in eggs and egg yolk one at a time and then mix in the vanilla.
6.  Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the wet ingredients. Combine.
7.  Add 1/4 cup of the buttermilk. Combine.
8.  Add another 1/3 of the dry ingredients. Mix. Add the final 1/4 cup of the buttermilk.
9.  Mix and then add the final 1/3 of the dry ingredients. Mix until combined and the batter is smooth.
10.  Spoon 1/2 of the batter into lined cupcake pan, filling 3/4 of the way.
11.  Add cocoa and chocolate chips to the remaining batter and mix until fully combined.
12.  Spoon the remaining batter into the lined cupcake pan, filling 3/4 of the way.
13.  Bake for about 15-18 minutes (depending on the heat of your oven based on the type of muffin pan you have), until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out with moist crumbs.
14.  Remove the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.  Frost your cupcakes with the frosting below.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 pkg.  (8 oz.) Cream Cheese, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
4-1/2 tsp.  lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
Few drops yellow food coloring
Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 pkg.  (8 oz.) Cream Cheese, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp peppermint extract 
Few drops green food coloring

Beat butter and cream cheese in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended.
Add sugar gradually, beating after each addition until light and fluffy.
Blend in lemon juice/lemon zest or peppermint extract. Add food coloring; beat until evenly tinted.