Wednesday, October 26, 2016

a mid week update

I want you to know that forgetting yourself in service for someone else really works. I came home from helping a neighbor on Monday and my life felt so manageable (it is manageable, I was just having a small freak out). I have always known this, but it was nice to be reminded of it. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve. Really and truly. It is the best medicine.

Good news. I finished sewing one of the three halloween costumes that require my needle this Halloween season. It is pink and shiny and really twirly, and no, it's not for Stella! Mike and I are going to a Halloween party this weekend and costumes are required. Speaking of Stella, she had the hardest time deciding on a costume this year. After many internet searches and a family vote, she finally chose one, so I am headed to the fabric store today in search of blue gingham.

Bad news. Our cat brought in another rat last night. Luckily it was before we had fallen asleep. I heard the tell tale signs in the hall outside our bedroom, and sure enough, there it was, quivering with fear in the clutches of our cat, starting at me with its beady black eyes. It's become so common, I don't even scream anymore. Into the trap it went and off to our neighbor, who so kindly disposes of them for us. It's a team effort, this ridding our neighborhood of the rats.

If you're near a Krispy Kreme, stop by for some pumpkin spice doughnuts. Today only!

cute printable from Alexa Zurcher

Monday, October 24, 2016

christian love and service

Yesterday, I was feeling low. I don't often feel this way, but I was feeling overwhelmed by my heavy load at home while Mike is in school, and by an assignment I have been given at church. Like, so overwhelmed that I almost felt paralyzed and a little panicky and I wanted to cry. This could very well be hormonal. In fact, I am going to blame it on hormones 100%, but that doesn't make it any easier. What does make it easier is the fact that I have a very capable partner in my assignment at church and many women in my neighborhood who are willing to help in that assignment, and that Mike is at least home on the weekends, which eases the burden on me a little. In an effort to feel better, I searched the most recent General Conference addresses to find one that would speak to me and this difficult assignment and time in my life. I found it in Elder Robert D. Hales' talk, "Come, Follow Me" by Practicing Christian Love and Service.

Elder Hales begins by saying, "When the Savior called His disciples to follow Him, they were living the law of Moses, including seeking 'an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,' but the Savior came to fulfill that law with His Atonement. He taught a new doctrine: 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.'

"The disciples were taught to turn from the ways of the natural man to the loving and caring ways of the Savior by replacing contention with forgiveness, kindness, and compassion. The 'new commandment' to 'love one another' was not always easy to keep. When the disciples worried about associating with sinners and certain classes of people, the Savior patiently taught, 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.' Or, as a Book of Mormon prophet explained, 'When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.'

"As the Savior's latter-day disciples, we come unto Him by loving and serving God's children. As we do, we may not be able to avoid tribulation, affliction, and suffering in the flesh, but we will suffer less spiritually. Even in our trials, we can experience joy and peace."

Elder Hales then goes on to talk about how Christian love and service naturally begin in the home. He gives lots of good advice about taking advantage of teaching moments in our own families and reminding us that holding a consistent family home evening, family prayer, and family scripture study can be some of our most impactful Christian service. Maybe I need to recommit to making these practices a priority in my home, even if I'm the only parent here to make them happen. His promise brought me lots of comfort: "The calling to be a parent includes the gift to teach in the ways that are right for you and for your children."

And then he says, "If you are suffering deeply, with others or alone, I urge you to let the Savior be your caregiver. Lean on His ample arm. Accept His assurance. 'I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you,' He promises."

As I fulfill my assignment in the coming weeks, and as I continue to run our home alone while Mike spends long hours at school, I am going to try to remember that it is through Christian love and service that I come to follow Christ. And while that service might be difficult or inconvenient, and most definitely a sacrifice, if I give it with a willing heart, with love for those I serve, I know I will be blessed. And it won't feel like such a sacrifice anymore.

At least my bed is made. It's the first thing I did when I woke up this morning and I already feel a million times better.

Read, watch, or listen to the entire talk here.

Friday, October 21, 2016

happy weekend

I think Elliot really thought he could beat Mike at stick pull the other night during Stella's volleyball practice. He certainly gave it everything he had. Look at that face! Mike surprised us and showed up at Stella's practice. We seriously never see him anymore, he is so busy at school. Honestly, I feel like a single mom most of the time. (I have enormous respect for real single moms. You are strong, capable ladies.) It is hard but it will be worth it, I think.

A list of things I have found upon waking in the last three weeks:
a bat flying around my kitchen
a rat hiding under my kitchen table
a rat under our dresser, being chased by our cat*
and the worst one-- a rat trying to escape out my opened but screened bedroom window, inches from my head.*

*occurred in the middle of the night

Our cat is officially (I mean it this time) fired. It used to drive me nuts that she'd bring dead birds and lizards into the house, but I'd take that over the live animals she's been bringing in lately. I can't even. . . I mean, I'm just glad we found and caught these things before Mike left for the day. Otherwise I'd really have to put my brave face on, and I don't think I could do it.

Have your kids picked out their Halloween costumes yet? We are still trying to decide on a few at our house, but time is running out!

Some recipes I tried and at least half of us liked this week: Ree's Quinoa with Buttery Roasted Vegetables (I doubled the vegetables), Ree's Veggie Tortellini Soup (this came together in like 20 minutes), Cha Cha's White Chicken Chili (minus the jalapeno), and Pumpkin Magic Cake (go heavy on the glaze).

I wish I could say it felt like fall here, but we have another week or so of hot (and I mean hot) weather. And then, then, it will be in the 70s! Happy day.

I hope you have a good weekend full of fall things. We have the school carnival, which is always a good time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

apple sharlotka

Have I mentioned that Mabel has fully taken the reigns of our family baking (minus the bread--I still do that)? It is the best. She eagerly awaits our turn to bring dessert to Sunday dinner, and this past Sunday she made a really great apple cake. It was simple and light and not too sweet. I thought I'd share the recipe here in case you want to try it.

Apple Sharlotka

6 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into medium sized chunks
3 eggs
3/4 cup of granulated sugar
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 cup of flour
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg
cinnamon and powdered sugar to sprinkle on top

In a large bowl, mix the eggs and sugars until thick ribbons form on the surface of the beaten eggs. Beat in the vanilla. Then stir in the flour, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg until just combined. It should be very thick. Add the apple chunks and mix well.

Pour everything into a nicely greased 9 inch springform pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Dust with more cinnamon. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

We ate ours warm with whipped cream, but I think it'd be really great with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Original recipe from smitten kitchen here.

Monday, October 17, 2016


I think the talks at General Conference are always so well suited to the times in which we live, but none more so than Elder Nelson's most recent talk, "Joy and Spiritual Survival."

He said, "As conflicts between nations escalate, as cowardly terrorists pray on the innocent, and as corruption in everything from business to government becomes increasingly commonplace, what can help us? What can help each of us with our personal struggles and with the rigorous challenge of living in these latter days?"

His answer is simple. The prophet Lehi, in the Book of Mormon, "declared boldly and without reservation a principle as revealed by the Lord: 'Men are, that they might have joy.' Imagine! Of all the words he could have used to describe the nature and purpose of our lives here in mortality, he chose the word joy!

"Life is filled with detours and dead ends, trials and challenges of every kind. Each of us has likely had times when distress, anguish, and despair almost consumed us. Yet we are here to have joy?

"Yes! The answer is a resounding yes! But how is that possible? And what must we do to claim the joy that Heavenly Father has in store for us?"

Elder Nelson teaches us that our ability to have joy, even in the face of adversity, has nothing to do with the circumstances of our lives, but everything to do with the focus on our lives.

He said, "When the focus of our lives is on God's plan of salvation, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening--or not happening--in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy."

"Just as the Savior offers peace that 'passeth all understanding,' He also offers an intensity, depth, and breadth of joy that defy human logic or mortal comprehension. For example, it doesn't seem possible to feel joy when your child suffers with an incurable illness or when you lose your job or when your spouse betrays you. Yet that is precisely the joy the Savior offers. His joy is constant, assuring us that our 'afflictions shall be but a small moment' and be consecrated to our gain."

To claim that joy, we must turn to Jesus Christ. We can be grateful for Him and for His sacrifice, and we can live in a way that makes us worthy of that great blessing. As we learn of Him and follow Him, He will become more real to us, and in that knowledge, the joy He promises will increase.

I know this is true. I have felt the joy that comes from faith in Jesus Christ. It has lightened my load and helped me to carry on when things were difficult. I hope you have felt that, too.

There is so much more goodness in this talk. You can read, watch, or listen to the entire thing here.

I had a big smile on my face all day yesterday because Mike was released from his very time consuming calling at church. The fact that he was home in the morning and was able to go to church with us instead of hours ahead of us definitely required a celebratory pre-church photo. And I feel like I need to clarify: Mike's shirt is blue, not purple. Weird instagram filter consequence.

Friday, October 14, 2016

happy weekend

I was really excited about having everyone home this week. And now that it's Friday, I'm really looking forward to everyone going back to school. Ha! Mostly, I just want my house to be clean again, which is impossible when everyone is home all the time. If I'm being honest, that's probably the number one reason why I could never homeschool. A clean house equals a calm Stephanie.

But I do feel like we made some good memories on our break, and I am grateful for that.

Here's the best news: my little sister, Julianne, had a baby girl! Little Helena Rose was born in Washington DC the other day and is already beloved by all who know her (or who live too far away and have only seen pictures of her). Yay for new cousins! We lucked out with two new baby girl cousins this month. It's appeasing Mike's baby hunger just a bit.

Ok guys, who are you voting for? I am completely sick of it, but also, I really need to figure it out. Who are you thinking and why? Please?

I hope you have a good, autumn-y weekend!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

cabin life

Mike's parents have a cabin in the mountains, about two and a half hours away. Since Mike and the kids are off on fall break this week, we spent a few days there unwinding in the cool, non-internet connected air.

Cabin life means pulling out our warmest clothes and realizing that we don't have any warm clothes.

It means long walks in the evenings.

And two out of four kids who willingly pose for photos.

Cabin life means at least one night around the fire pit roasting marshmallows.

And it means lots of lazy afternoons, reading books or playing games.

My favorite thing about going to the cabin is seeing my kids happy together. They genuinely get along with each other, and I love the bonds of friendship they form when it's just our little family without any distractions. If I was an emoji, I'd have all the heart eyes.

And now I think we are ready to get back at it. Maybe? Well, after this weekend, for sure. School (and all the housework), here we come. In a few days. :)

Monday, October 10, 2016

connected to heaven

Every week I study a different General Conference talk and then I write about it here in what I call my Conference Report. Before I started doing this, I watched conference, and sometimes I would even take notes, but I think to really understand the talks and to incorporate the principles they teach into my everyday life, I need to do more than watch or take notes. I need to study them. Writing about them helps me internalize their teachings. And all of this makes me happier and more focused on the things that matter most.

So, I hope you don't mind, but here's another installment of my weekly Conference Report.

Elder Juan Uceda tells a story from his time as a missionary in 1977 in Cusco, Peru. He and a group of missionaries visited the Machu Picchu ruins. At the end of their visit, some of the missionaries wanted to see the Inca Bridge, which is on a very perilous trail with a 2,000 foot drop down to the river below. Elder Uceda had a strong impression from the Spirit that they should not visit the bridge, but after some persuasion from the other missionaries, he ignored the prompting and off they went. The group of missionaries were ahead of him on the trail, all except one missionary who had received a prompting to stay behind and let Elder Uceda go ahead of him. As Elder Uceda hurried to catch up to the group, he stepped onto what he thought was a patch of greenery, but there was no solid ground beneath. He started to fall, desperately grabbing onto branches as he hung, 2,000 feet above the river. He immediately cried out to God, asking for help. The missionary who had stayed behind was there in a moment to help pull him to safety.

Elder Uceda was ashamed that he had not listened to the voice of the Spirit when it told him not to visit the Inca Bridge, but as soon as he called out to God, God listened to him and saved him.

He says, "At the very moment we say. 'Father in Heaven,' He hears our prayers and is sensitive to us and our needs. And so His eyes and His ears are now connected to you. He reads our minds, and He feels our hearts. You cannot hide anything from Him. Now, the wonderful thing is that He will see you with eyes of love and mercy--love and mercy that we cannot fully understand. But love and mercy are with Him the very moment you say, 'Father in Heaven.'

"So a moment of prayer is a very, very sacred moment. He is not one to say, 'No, I will not listen to you now because you only come to me when you are in trouble.' Only men do that. He is not one to say, 'Oh, you cannot imagine how busy I am now.' Only men say that."

Elder Uceda asks, "When you pray, are you really praying, or just saying prayers?"

I've pondered that question all week as I have knelt to say my prayers. Am I really praying? I know that when we pray to Heavenly Father, we can be connected to heaven, but only if we come to Him with a sincere heart, with real intent, and with faith in Jesus Christ. When I do this, I feel God's love for me more fully, and His peace washes over me.

Read, watch, or listen to the entire talk here.

Friday, October 07, 2016

happy weekend

I don't have much to report this week, but here are two recipes that I tried and liked: Ree's Veggie Stir Fry and Chicken Pot Pie. I left out the peppers in the stir fry because we don't like peppers at our house, and I only used 1 tablespoon of the sugar and sriracha. Even with just that little bit of sriracha, it was too spicy for my little kids, but I loved it. I doubled the pot pie and gave one to my sister-in-law and her family, who just moved in two doors down and then had a brand new baby. I got to snuggle that baby for a minute the other day and she is just the world's sweetest thing.

This weekend marks the beginning of our fall break and we are all so ready! Mike finished up his finals yesterday (he's on a quarter system) and he has the week off, too. So we are going to live it up! Or probably just plant our winter grass. I've been scalping and raking and aerating, so we're all ready for the new seed. Our regular grass goes dormant in the winter, so if we want a green lawn year round, we have to plant rye in the fall. It's a lot of work, but it's so pretty when it's in.

And maybe we can get away to my in-law's cabin in the mountains for a few days, too. I'd like to drink hot chocolate and bundle up for a minute. There's no internet there, so it feels like a true break from reality.

Something I've been thinking about this week: faith requires work, just as it should. I believe that if I make a diligent effort to have faith in Jesus Christ and to walk in His path, then I will be happier, and the things that are required of me (that are sometimes difficult), won't seem quite so difficult. If you are searching for peace in your own life, I urge you to look to Jesus Christ. Learn of Him, and follow His ways as best you can. I know that when I try harder to do this, I am happier.

Have a nice weekend!

Monday, October 03, 2016

five things

Oh, this weekend! I feel like I'm all filled up with goodness and inspiration, and now I need to go back over my notes and study the messages I heard, so that I can make them part of me and determine what adjustments I need to make.

If I believe that there is a prophet on the earth today, who teaches us the things that our Heavenly Father wants us to know right now (and I do, with all my heart), then I better know what he told us during this conference. So, I'll kick off a new season of conference reports with President Monson's message.

He only spoke for a few minutes, but he admonished us to do five things:

Do more than just believe in Jesus Christ, but work to know Him. Learn about Him the scriptures and through prayer. And use His power to repent and improve.

Know God's laws and follow them. This is the only way to true happiness.

Live the truth.

Share the truth.

And take care of our bodies and minds by living the Word of Wisdom.

These sound so simple, and they are, but each require a great effort. I am thankful for the words of the prophet. They give me guidance and direction. I know that if I work to improve in these five areas, then I will have greater happiness in my life.

You can watch President Monson's talk here, or read a summary here. (The text isn't available quite yet.)

Mike tried his hand at Stella's hair during conference. I had to snap a picture. I know he was being silly, but I think it actually looks quite pretty. For a #dadbraid. :)

Friday, September 30, 2016

happy weekend

I think one of the best things about being in first grade is that you don't mind homework yet. At least Elliot doesn't. He happily races through it each night, although he's usually doing it in the car when we're picking Mabel up from her bus, not at the kitchen table. The school year is coming along well. Everyone has settled in and they seem to be happy and thriving, even Mabel, who is at a big, scary high school and Mike, who is completely up to his eyeballs in school work.

Hey! It's one of my favorite weekends of the whole year! Not only is the weather feeling more "fallish" (If you can call 92 degrees fallish, which you totally can if you live in Arizona.), but it's General Conference! That means it's time to stay home in our pjs, eat cinnamon rolls, and listen to the leaders of our church share really inspiring and uplifting messages. The things I hear this weekend will buoy me up until the next conference in April. I know that if I am ready to listen with my heart, I will find the answers and assurances that I seek. I can't wait.

To get a feel for what general conference is like, here are a few highlights from the last conference:

You can see where and when to watch here. Have a cozy, happy weekend!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

the first pumpkin cookies of the season

I know I talk a big talk about not eating added sugar, but last Friday was the first day where the high was only in the 80s. That called for pumpkin cookies! It just did! I couldn't not make cookies for an after school snack. That's all there was to it. Usually I say that if you're going to eat a cookie, eat a real cookie, not a "healthy" cookie, but I think my palate has changed and really sweet regular cookies don't sound that appealing to me anymore. So I made a slightly less-sweetened version, which I thought was a big hit and needed to be shared.

Pumpkin Oat Cookies

2 cups quick oats
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt

In another bowl, mix:
4 Tablespoons coconut oil
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup brown sugar

Add the two together, then mix in about 1/3 cup chocolate chips. Scoop onto your baking sheet and using slightly moistened finger tips, flatten the tops a little (they don't spread while baking). Bake in a 325 degree oven for 11 minutes. This recipe should make about 28 cookies.

Monday, September 26, 2016

no neutral ground

Did you watch Women's Conference on Saturday? Oh, it was so great! While I'm still thinking about what I heard there, I wanted to share an article I came across on entitled, "No Neutral Ground: How Media Influences Us, by Aysia Tan.

My favorite quote is from Susanna Wesley, in 1775, to her son, John, a founder of Methodism. She so very wisely counseled, "Would you judge the lawfulness or unlawfulness of pleasure, [of the innocence of malignity of actions? Take this rule.] Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind; that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself."

Yes! That is it! That is everything! Different media affects people differently. What Susanna Wesley would say is "sin" for me, might not be for you. But if this life is about overcoming the "natural man," then we need to recognize "whatever increases the strength and authority of [our] body over [our] mind" and stay away from it.

And this: C.S. Lewis said, "Our leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern. There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan."

We need to actively surround ourselves with uplifting media. The article states, "Perhaps a television show or book series we once enjoyed has declined on the morality scale but we find it hard to give up, or perhaps a new movie is particularly popular or enticing and we see no harm in watching it. However, giving in just a little makes it easier to give in a little more down the road until we have given ourselves over to indulgences from which we find it difficult to bring ourselves back. But by setting standards for ourselves to allow only wholesome media into our lives, we allow ourselves to be more receptive to the Spirit."

The takeaway for me is to be better at recognizing what things (shows or blogs or instagram accounts, even) take off my "relish of spiritual things." And then I need to make better, conscious choices about what media I allow into my brain.

I am hopeful that these quotes instigate some good discussion at Family Home Evening tonight.

Read the entire article here.

I had Oliver snap that photo of me and Stella and Elliot yesterday after church. They participated in the annual Primary Program, and did such a great job saying their parts. It's my favorite Sunday of the whole year!

Friday, September 23, 2016

happy weekend

I've had it. I cleaned out my closet yesterday and put all of my summer clothes in storage. I can't even look at them anymore. But I think that worked, because it's only supposed to be 86 today! And our 10 day forecast doesn't predict any temperatures over 100! Maybe fall is here, after all? I'll take what I can get.

So, I'm not a career woman, obviously. Nor did I ever aspire to be, but I still found this post on 15 Career Tips from Smart Women really inspiring. My favorite: "What if joy is my only metric for success?" I've been thinking a lot about that. My life at home is a success if there is joy here, no matter what my life looks like at the moment, and whether or not I ever get recognition for my efforts. My parenting is a success if I feel joy when I am with my children, even if I parent differently than someone else. My running is a success if it brings me joy, even if I never get any faster. Do you get the idea? It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, or how anyone else is doing things, or if anyone else ever even notices, as long as what I am doing, and how I am doing it, is bringing me joy. I think I've always believed that, but I've never heard it put it such a succinct manner before. I really like it.

Tomorrow night is our church's semi annual Women's Conference. I am excited to watch it with my two girls. It can be viewed at I always find uplifting and strengthening messages in this conference, and I am sure this one will be no exception.

Have a happy weekend!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

fall soup

After dinner last night, Stella said, "I'm sorry, Mom. I wish I liked it." You win some, you lose some, you know? She was referring to the soup I had just served, which she and the boys did not enjoy. But because Mabel, Mike and I liked it, I thought the recipe was worth sharing here.

This soup is fairly involved, so make it on a day when you have some time on your hands. Also, if your children are at all like mine, make sure to serve it with lots of warm bread or leftover macaroni and cheese to avoid hungry bedtime tummies.

Butternut Squash and Corn Soup

Heat your oven to 375 degrees and split a large butternut squash in half, lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds and stringy bits. Place the squash, cut side up, in a 9x13 inch pan. Score the top like a tic-tac-toe board and sprinkle each half with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and half of a tablespoon of honey. Honestly, I think you could skip the honey, if you are avoiding added sugar. Roast the squash for an hour and a half, or until it is nice and tender. You could baste it with the juices a few times while it is cooking, if you think about it.

Meanwhile, in a large pot over medium heat, cook 3 chopped onions and the peeled cloves from one garlic head (I know, that's a lot of garlic!) in one stick of butter. Stir from time to time, but cook until nice and golden, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Add 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh sage leaves and about 5 medium carrots, chopped. Stir and cook for five more minutes.

Once the squash is tender, scrape out the flesh and add it to the onion mixture with 6 cups of chicken broth. Cover your pot and bring it to a boil over high heat. Then reduce the heat to a simmer until the carrots are very soft, about 30 minutes.

Use and immersion blender to puree the soup until it is nice and smooth. Add a teaspoon (or more) of kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Then stir in 3 cups of corn. (I used frozen, but you could also cut the kernels off a few cobs. Just don't use canned, whatever you do.) Once the corn has warmed up, serve the soup with a little dollop of sour cream.

And then try really hard not to be frustrated that after all of that effort, some of your kids won't eat it. Ha! Just more for us, I guess.

So, it's probably still too warm here for soup, but I can't help it. It's all I want to make for dinner. Do you have a favorite recipe to share?