Monday, May 25, 2015

enjoy the sunlight

As part of our trek preparation, we were asked to study The Spirit of Optimism, by Gordon B. Hinckley.

In it, President Hinckley said this:

"I am asking that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I am suggesting that as we go through life we 'accentuate the positive'. I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort. I am not asking that all criticism be silenced. Growth comes of correction. Strength comes of repentance. Wise is the man who can acknowledge mistakes pointed out by others and change his course.

What I am suggesting is that each of us turn from the negativism that so permeates our society and look for the remarkable good among those with whom we associate, that we speak of one another's virtues more than we speak of one another's faults, that optimism replace pessimism, that our faith exceed our fears. When I was a young man and was prone to speak critically, my father would say: 'Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve.'"

Read the whole talk (it's really just a compilation of optimistic things President Hinckley said over the years) here.

Friday, May 22, 2015

happy long weekend

Summer vacation starts today, so it kind of feels like we are at the beginning of the world's longest weekend, not just a regular long weekend. And we are pumped about it! Bring on the lazy mornings and the afternoons spent at the pool. Let's stay up as late as we want, reading in bed! No more slaving over hot breakfasts or packing lunches. It's cereal for everyone, every morning! I can't wait.

But first Mike and I need to get ready for the pioneer trek. Then, then I can relax. Just kidding! Then I have to get ready for girls' camp. Blerg. Actually, I have some really fun things to make for girls' camp, so don't feel too sorry for me. But come mid-June, I will for sure be ready to not do a single thing. 

Any big plans this weekend? Mike finished digging the humongous hole to bury our trampoline, so we'll spend his day off trying to get it in the ground. And we should probably start collecting tents and tie downs and everything else we need to outfit our handcart for the trek. It will be a regular party over here, I think. Hopefully we'll at least eat some ice cream while we're at it.

I hope you have a good weekend!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

hiking Camelback

On Saturday morning I joined a group of friends to hike Camelback Mountain. We hiked the Echo Canyon trail.

We started just as dawn was spreading over the valley. It had rained quite a bit the night before, so the air felt clean and new. To have such a chilly morning in May was incredible. Being on Camelback was the best place to be on a morning like that!

I was surprised by how green everything was. This is the desert, right? Every view of the valley below was green and lush. It was so beautiful and of course pictures don't do it justice.

This is what the "trail" looks like - just a sea of large boulders that you climb over and up. At some points it is so steep that there are metal hand rails to hoist yourself up with. It was a good challenge - both physically and mentally. But I made it! It felt really great to be on the top.

My favorite thing about the hike was the appreciation I gained for Arizona. I love living here, but I've never thought it was a very pretty place. Boy was I wrong! All of these years I was just looking at it from the wrong angle. :) From high up on the side of a mountain, it is stunning.

I can't wait to hike it again. . . next winter. We totally lucked out with the perfect weather this weekend.

Monday, May 18, 2015

truly good and without guile

Mike and I were in the temple last week and I heard something that I wanted to understand better. In seeking more knowledge, I read Elder Michael T. Ringwood's talk from conference entitled, "Truly Good and Without Guile." I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Elder Ringwood teaches that true disciples of Jesus Christ are motivated to serve and do right for right's sake. He says, "In a world where praise, position, power, accolades, and authority are sought on every side, I honor those wonderful and blessed souls who are truly good and without guile, those who are motivated by a love of God and their neighbors."

What is guile? It is "deceitful cunning". So to be without guile, I think, is to have the right motivations. It is to be pure in our intent and righteous in our actions. People who are truly good and without guile find ways to consistently lift and serve, not to earn title or authority, but because they love God and Jesus Christ.

Elder Ringwood told a great story from his time as a missionary in Korea many years ago. He was transferred to a new area with a new companion. This new companion had a poor reputation in the mission. He had never been in a leadership position, and despite having been in the country for some time, his knowledge of the Korean language was not very good. But as Elder Ringwood began to serve with him, he noticed that this missionary was extremely obedient. He followed every mission rule with exactness. He studied his Korean diligently every day, even though it was particularly difficult for him. Elder Ringwood began to see that this young missionary's reputation was not earned and he wanted to right this wrong. When he spoke to his mission president about it, his president wisely said, "Heavenly Father knows this young man is a successful missionary, and so do I. And now you know too, so who else really matters?"

Elder Ringwood says, "Today there are some who would have us believe our search for relevance can be satisfied only by obtaining position and power. Yet, thankfully, there are many who are uninfluenced by this perspective. They find relevance in seeking to be truly good and without guile. I have found them in all walks of life and in many faith traditions."

I think the video above illustrates this all so well. In the beginning, not all of the men who were asked to serve were able to do it with the right attitude. But as Elder Ringwood encouraged in his talk, "The desires of our hearts can be transformed and our motives can be educated and refined." We can become more like those truly good servants of Jesus Christ. We can seek to serve because of our love for Him. Our hearts can be changed just like the men who helped lift their neighbor.

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

Friday, May 15, 2015

happy weekend

I don't want to jinx it, but it is mid-May and it is still nice outside! I can't stress enough how unusual and pleasant this is. We are trying our best to soak it in. I've had the windows open all week. Oh man, good weather is heaven. And good weather on May 15 deserves it's own paragraph, for sure.

In other news, I found a mouse in our little office yesterday morning. A real live mouse stealing the cat food! I told Inez (the cat) that she was fired. After all of the roof rats and birds and lizards she has killed and brought into my kitchen, she ignores a real live mouse living three feet from her food dish. I screamed a lot when I saw it. And then I went next door to the world's best neighbor and borrowed some mouse traps. Truth be told, I am writing this post right now to put off checking the traps for a few more minutes. I just don't want to think about it.

Do you have any fun plans this weekend? I am hiking Camelback with some friends. I've never been, but the weather is supposed to be fantastic and I think it will be lots of fun (and also very hard). Then I am making Mike take me to see Far From the Madding Crowd because it is a period romantic drama and we all know those are the best kinds of movies.

Hope the weather is nice wherever you are, too. And have a good weekend!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sweet Potato Soup

It might be getting too warm to have soup simmering in the crock pot on the counter all day long, but I couldn't resist trying this new recipe. I'm so glad I did. It was delicious, and I'd totally make it again. We are eating less meat these days, so I skipped the chicken called for in the original recipe. We didn't miss it.

Sweet Potato Soup

2 raw sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can of petite diced tomatoes
1 cup grain (like quinoa or rice)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 batch of homemade chili seasoning
5 cups chicken stock

top with:
sour cream
chopped avocado

Put all of the ingredients (except the sour cream and avocado) into your crock pot. Cook on low for 5-7 hours. I happened to have a package of brown rice with chia and kale in the pantry that I subbed for the grain. Topping with the sour cream and avocado is a must! I've been eating the leftovers for lunch all week.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Sweet Potato Muffins

I'm sort of having a sweet potato moment. Some of my kids don't think they like sweet potatoes. In an effort to convince them otherwise, I made a batch of sweet potato muffins.

Sweet Potato Muffins

In a medium bowl, whisk together:

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup quick oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

In another bowl blend:

1 sweet potato, microwaved till soft, then peeled and mashed
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix just until combined. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 22 minutes.

Makes 12 muffins

Some notes: The peanut butter flavor pretty much disappears in the baking. I wish it didn't! It was so delicious in the batter. My kids thought the muffins were fine, but they probably would have gobbled them up faster if I'd put chocolate chips in them. I think next time I will. Also, you can bump up the sugar a bit if you're not freaking out about added sugar like I am.

Recipe adapted from an almond butter + milk version on Minimalist Baker and a dairy-free, egg-free, gluten free from Madeline Nutrition.

Monday, May 11, 2015

becoming a better mother

I hope you had a wonderful Mother's Day! Mine was sweet. I sure love being the mother of these four children. They are quick to forgive my faults and generous with their love. I felt that love so strongly yesterday that it made me want to be better at showing my love for them.

This morning I was seeking inspiration on how to do that when I came upon this older conference talk from Elder Ballard, entitled "Daughters of God". I remember hearing it in conference a few years ago. It touched me then, but it touched me even more today. It was exactly what I was looking for, and I decided to choose it for this week's conference report.

I'll just share the bits that affected me the most, if you don't mind:

Elder Ballard said, "There is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique. Each mother has different challenges, different skills and abilities, and certainly different children. . . What matters is that a mother loves her children deeply and, in keeping with the devotion she has for God and her husband, prioritizes them above all else."

I've always found it interesting that the one person on this earth who is the most like me - my sister Leslie, parents differently than I do. We definitely do a lot of things the same, but we sure do lots of things differently, too. And that's ok! That's how it should be. Only I know my children as their mother can, so of course the decisions I make would be different from another's. The key is the love. As long as we love our own children with our whole hearts, we don't have to worry about how we compare to another mother.

He continues, "It is crucial to focus on our children for the short time we have them with us and to seek, with the help of the Lord, to teach them all we can before they leave our homes. This eternally important work falls to mothers and fathers as equal partners. . . I believe that the instincts and the intense nurturing involvement of mothers with their children will always be a major key to their well-being."

I realized the other day that we only have five summers left with Mabel at home. Five! Those will fly by quicker than I know. Now is the time to be teaching my children. I can't put it off for another day.

Elder Ballard, while admittedly not a mother himself, gave four really great pieces of advice for mothers. They are:

"First, recognize that the joy of motherhood comes in moments. There will be hard times and frustrating times. But amid the challenges, there are shining moments of joy and satisfaction." So true! There are lots of long, boring days as a mother, but the little bursts of joy sprinkled in makes it all worth it.

"Second, don't over-schedule yourselves or your children. . . Families need unstructured time when relationships can deepen and real parenting can take place. Take time to listen, to laugh, and to play together." The other day after school, I found myself and all four of my children together in the living room. That doesn't seem to happen often enough. No one had any activities that day and we were relaxing together, reading, or playing. It was peaceful, and in the midst of this down time, we had one of the best discussions we've ever had. It was what I always imagined motherhood to be. But it was the unstructured time together that allowed it to happen.

"Third, even as you try to cut out the extra commitments, sisters, find some time for yourself to cultivate your gifts and interests." This one can be difficult for me. I don't like the idea of "me time". It makes me feel uncomfortable, even though I know it is important. I think the trick is using that time wisely and not letting it infringe on the time that I need to be spending as a mother. He continues by saying, "Avoid any kind of substance abuse, mistakenly thinking it will help you accomplish more. And don't allow yourself to be caught up in the time-wasting, mind-numbing things like television soap operas or surfing the internet. Turn to the Lord in faith, and you will know what to do and how to do it." Such a good reminder! Yes, it is good to take time for myself to nurture my talents, but that does not mean that I can spend all the time I want looking up projects on pinterest, you know?

"Fourth, pray, study, and teach the gospel. Pray deeply about your children and about your role as a mother. Parents can offer a unique and wonderful kind of prayer because they are praying to the Eternal Parent of us all." Yes, and yes. As I study the gospel for myself and then try to teach it to my children, I feel a great sense of well-being. Like everything is going to be ok, like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. And that feels really, really great.

I want you to know that I know these things are true. I have seen them work in my own life and have felt the power and peace that comes from following Elder Ballard's wise counsel. I am grateful for these reminders today.

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

Friday, May 08, 2015

happy weekend

One by one, I've been checking big projects off of my to-do list and it feels great. You know that saying, "The best way to get something done is to begin"? I feel like that's what I've been doing this week. I've just been putting my head down and starting projects I didn't want to be doing in the first place. It might not be the most fun, but it's a sure way to get things done.

Something that has been helpful: the weather has been fantastic! Breezy and cool and completely unexpected. Nice weather makes everything better.

Work aside, it was a happy week. We got to celebrate our Elliot. He invited a few friends and cousins over for cake and a piƱata. It was low key and easy (and also very loud).

Mother's Day has really snuck up on me this year. It is always one of my favorite days. I know it can be a hard day for lots of women, but this is what makes it so great for me: I go about my regular motherly duties, and instead of expecting more help than usual, or more admiration, I try to complete my duties with more gratitude in my own heart for the opportunity to do the work that is required of a mother. Even the not-so-fun, really mundane tasks. It helps me to find joy in unexpected places throughout the day, and instead of ending the day feeling weird or sad, I end it feeling grateful for this life I lead, and for these little people I mother, and for this husband who is the best parenting partner.

I hope you will feel that joy, too. Let Mother's Day Weekend commence!

Thursday, May 07, 2015

chocolate chip cookies

I've gotten almost completely out of the habit of baking treats. It was hard in the beginning, but I don't miss it so much anymore. Last Friday night, though, Mabel had a strong hankering for chocolate chip cookies, so we got out the kitchenaid and tried a new recipe. These salted chocolate chunk cookies from smitten kitchen hit the spot. I'd make this recipe again in a heartbeat. They were chewy, but still sort of fluffy, and chock full of chocolate. We only had chips on hand, but I think they'd be even better with the chunks called for in the recipe.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Elliot is five!

Elliot is about a head shorter than all of his friends, but he has a lot of personality crammed into that little body. One minute he is happy to keep up with the big kids and the next he will crawl onto my lap for some hugs. Last night as I was tucking him in bed, I told him when he woke up he'd be five. At first, he was really excited. Then he got sort of quiet and said he didn't want to be five because then he'd be too big for me to carry. He is our dearest, most darling little dude, and I'll happily carry him for as long as he'd like.

Happy birthday Elliot!

Monday, May 04, 2015

keeping it holy and making it a delight

I don't lead a particularly stressful life, but I've had more on my plate than usual lately and it has started to affect my well-being. At times this last week I was sick to my stomach with worry and pressure and discouragement. I was feeling overwhelmed. I thought that if I could just hang on until Sunday, I would be ok. Because on Sunday I could rest from my labors. I could forget about the work I had to do, and focus instead on the things of the spirit. So, I thought Elder Nelson's "The Sabbath is a Delight" was appropriate for this week's conference report. Truly, this past Sabbath was a delight to me.

Elder Nelson calls Sunday a "day of personal healing" and "much needed relief". The bible tells us that "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath." Elder Nelson teaches that this means that the Sabbath is a gift to us, "granting real respite from the rigors of daily life and an opportunity for spiritual and physical renewal. God gave us this special day, not for amusement or daily labor but for a rest from duty, with physical and spiritual relief."

I think we all have to decide for ourselves how we will keep the Sabbath day holy. But Elder Nelson gives some good advice about this. He says, "In my much younger years, I studied the work of others who had compiled lists of things to do and to not do on the Sabbath. It wasn't until later that I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father. With that understanding, I no longer needed lists of dos and don'ts. When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, 'What sign do I want to give to God?' That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear."

I look forward to Sunday because I can forget about my week day responsibilities for a little bit. I can focus on my family and on my testimony. I can rest and recharge. I find that limiting my activities on this day helps me to look ahead to the next week and better plan and manage my work load. I like that my kids spend the day together without outside distractions. I enjoy attending church. We always eat dinner with Mike's parents. These are the things that make the Sabbath a delight to me.

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

Friday, May 01, 2015

happy weekend

We brought Elliot's rocket launcher to the school yard for family home evening this week. If you happen to be in the market for a good rocket launcher, we love this one. It doesn't look like much, but it blasts a two liter bottle hundreds of feet in the air. The bottle goes so high that it even disappears for a few seconds. It is so fun. Our ground crew was way more pumped than they look in this picture. Trust me.

Also, have you been watching the new season of Call the Midwife? Every episode is so good, isn't it? I watched number 5 while I was sewing yesterday and I found it to be particularly tear inducing.

The boys' big fathers and sons campout plans were foiled by Oliver's fourth grade orchestra concert tonight, but I think Mike is going to take them to a hotel in town instead. That means it's just me and the girls and some ice cream and a red box because we know how to party.

What are you up to?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

a blessing dress

I took a break from sewing my pioneer wardrobe (Mike and I are helping with our stake's pioneer trek next month) so that I could work on this pretty little (and very, very old) blessing dress. I think it was once worn by the baby's great grandmother for whom she is named. Isn't that sweet? It looked like it was originally meant for an older baby, not a newborn, so I took in the sides a bit and repaired some of the tattered lace. I've said it before, but I'll say it again, if I could sew blessing dresses everyday, I'd be a happy seamstress.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Is it still wonderful?

"There are so many wonders in this world. However, sometimes when we have them constantly before our eyes, we take them for granted. We look, but we don't really see; we hear, but we don't really listen."

Sometimes it's like I have spiritual blinders on, where I can no longer see or hear the wonders or miracles around me. Things like my own personal conversion, answers to my prayers, or blessings from God that come into my life on a daily basis can almost become so commonplace that I don't notice them anymore. But, as I learned from this talk, it is important to see them, because it is in their recognition that I gain the energy to remain anchored in my faith. Bishop Gerald Causse, first counselor in the presiding bishopric of our church, teaches us three ways to keep our minds open to these wonders.

First, Bishop Causse says, "never tire of discovering or rediscovering the truths of the gospel. The writer Marcel Proust said, 'The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.'" To help us do this, we should be seeking spiritual knowledge through prayer, meditation, and study. There is always something new to learn, but we must be seeking it.

Second, we need to anchor our faith in the simple truths of the gospel. Focusing on those simple acts of worship that we do, or on those simple truths that we know, will strengthen our faith.

Third, he says, "seek and cherish the companionship of the Holy Ghost." Bishop Causse continues, "Most wonders of the gospel cannot be perceived by our natural senses. They are the things that the 'eye hath not seen, nor the ear heard, . . . the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.' When we have the spirit with us, our spiritual senses are sharpened and our memory is kindled so we cannot forget the miracles and signs we have witnessed." It is easy to forget the times I've had my own testimony strengthened or some of the wonders I have seen. But when I have the Holy Ghost with me, I am better able to remember. Bishop Causse cautions us to never do anything that would take that spirit away, but that we should always seek it through prayer and righteous living.

I want to see the miracles around me. I want to hear the whisperings of the spirit. I know that if I do these things, my eyes will be opened, my faith will be strengthened, and the gospel will continue to feel wonderful to me.

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