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 lds.org 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 lds.org. 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?

Monday, September 19, 2016

a small piece of good advice

I have lots of experience parenting small children, but when it comes to my older kids, I am in uncharted waters. Most of the time I wonder if I am doing it right. I found this little bit of wisdom from President Monson helpful, and wanted to pass it on.

He said, "Give your child a compliment and a hug; say, 'I love you' more; always express your thanks. Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved."

I think my kids are the best, really and truly. But do I tell them that I feel that way? Do I ever say thank you for being kind and obedient and helpful? Probably not often enough. We have a tendency towards sarcasm at our house, and I think we need to make a greater effort to be sincere in our compliments and affection, even when it doesn't come naturally. It's a good goal for a new week.

Lots of other, good snippets of advice from President Monson about fostering love at home here.

Friday, September 16, 2016

happy weekend

Our low was 66 last night! I made pumpkin pancakes for breakfast with the windows open this morning! Ah! There is a light at the end of this very long, very hot tunnel. This change of seasons is my most favorite time of year. I feel like a different person, like I am coming out of a sweaty little cocoon and now I can wear real clothes again. Never mind that the high is still going to be over 100. The cooler nights make all the difference.

Two things that helped me this week: getting back into my weekly temple routine and being a little bit crafty. Going to the temple requires me to quiet my mind. It teaches me to be patient and helps me put my life into perspective. My goal is always to bring that peaceful feeling home with me, and then to spread it to my family. I want my children to recognize the special feeling in the temple when they are old enough to go. Attending weekly helps me make it a habit, and that makes me really happy.

I went to our local discount fabric store and raided their doily and lace section to make a bunting for my kitchen. I hardly ever craft, but it was a nice relief from my other duties as a homemaker this week.

And now, the weekend! Hooray! I hope you have a good one.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

a mud room

Ok, so technically, if you live in Arizona, you don't need a mud room. This room will likely never see a spec of mud. Dust, yes. Maybe even a scorpion or a rat, or two, but never mud. We call it our little office, and this teeny room off of our kitchen has had lots of different lives in the 10 years we've lived in this house (from laundry room to sewing room to office and back again). I've wanted to build in a bench beneath our pretty antique hooks for a long time, and I finally found the energy to do it.

I used a Kallax shelf from Ikea, in white, placed on its side as the base of my bench. I had to raise it up about five inches, so that the baseboard would fit properly, so first I built a platform for it. Once I secured it to the platform, I used the wall brackets that came with the shelf to secure it to the wall.

The shelf wasn't quite as long as I would have hoped, so I added some bead board to enclose the empty space beside it to make it one long, six foot bench. It kind of drives me crazy that the cubbies are off center, but I've let it go. I had my kids fill out questionnaires about themselves and stuck them with a family photo in the space to make a little time capsule. It will be so fun to find in 20 years when we change our minds about this room again!

I stained some plain boards to match the antique hooks and screwed them in place on top of the shelf. I am no carpenter, but I think they'll do.

I love the clean white bead board. It brightens the whole space. And Stella's little work area has everything she needs. She is an avid letter writer and drawer and homework do-er.

But let's be real. Because mud rooms never ever look the way they do on pinterest in real life, here's a shot of the current (and constant) state of that pretty bench. Backpacks everywhere! But at least I'm not tripping on them in the kitchen anymore.

Monday, September 12, 2016

our only safety

My Sunday School lesson yesterday was titled, "How do the commandments help me learn to be more like Heavenly Father?" I wish I had shared this quote from Elder Eyring with my class:

"The Master knows what it is to have the cares of life press upon us. And He knows that both the trials we face and our human powers to deal with them ebb and flow. And so He offers us the covenants to 'always remember him' and the warning to 'pray always' so that we will place our reliance on Him, our only safety. It is not hard to know what to do. As the forces around us increase in intensity, whatever spiritual strength was once sufficient will not be enough. Both the need for spiritual strength and the opportunity to acquire it will increase at rates which we underestimate at our peril."

I believe that Heavenly Father gave us commandments and covenants to keep us safe, and as Elder Eyring said, we need them now more than ever.

In a talk by Elder Christofferson referenced in my lesson, he says:

"Sadly, much of modern Christianity does not acknowledge that God makes any real demands on those who believe in Him, seeing Him rather as a butler 'who meets their needs when summoned' or a therapist whose role is to help people 'feel good about themselves.' It is a religious outlook that 'makes no pretense at changing lives.' 'By contrast,' as one author declares, 'the God portrayed in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures asks, not just for commitment, but for our very lives. The God of the Bible traffics in life and death, not niceness, and calls for sacrificial love, not benign whatever-ism.'"

At any rate, yesterday left me with a greater desire to turn my heart to God, to keep His commandments, and to commit myself more fully to Him. After all, He knows what is best for me. He, who created this earth and this life, knows what I need to help me return to Him.

Yesterday was a happy day at our house. Mabel gave a really well-written talk in Sacrament meeting and Oliver was ordained a deacon. I really love the people these kids are becoming and I am grateful for their happy, helpful influences in our home.

Friday, September 09, 2016

happy weekend

Elliot woke up yesterday with a fever and a yucky feeling in his stomach. Any plans I had for the day went out the window and we hunkered down with the iPad and a big bowl instead. He is feeling perkier now and is back to school today, but yesterday made me realize how grateful I am to be in a position to change my plans at a moment's notice and stay home if I need to. It reminded me that being a stay at home mom, even when my kids are at school all day, is what I want to be doing. I am thankful for the reminder.

Stella has her first volleyball game tomorrow. No one on her team has ever played before, and they've only had one practice, so the game should be fun. Right? And lucky Mabel gets to take the PSAT! So, this weekend will be a good one. Ha! Mike has been so busy with school, that I am hoping for a night out so that I can remember what he looks like.

After totally slipping on my no-sugar plan for the past two weeks, I am back on track and it feels great. I don't know why it is so easy to slip into old habits. No, I don't need a few chocolate chips after every meal. I just need a big glass of water, darnit. My friend asked me this week if I really feel that much better when I am not eating sugar, and the answer is yes. Even after just one day of getting back on it, I felt better. Have you tried it? What did you think?

The mornings have felt ever so slightly cool around here for the past few days, so I am hopeful that fall will come, after all. This is usually the time of year when I start to lose the will to live (Not really, of course, but I just want to wear jeans! Is that too much to ask?!), so the cooler mornings feel really good.

I hope you are breaking out your sweaters and booties, wherever you are.

Have a happy weekend!

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

happy birthday Oliver!

Oliver turns 12 today, which is kind of a big deal. But you know what? Oliver is kind of a big deal, too--if it is possible to be a big deal in a really quiet, easy going kind of way. To illustrate his easy going-ness: one item on his birthday list said "whatever you want." I mean.

Since the day he was born, he has been a good kid. I know I can count on him to be mature and responsible and obedient.

My dad was in town last night, so we celebrated a little early with dinner out at Johnny Rocket's, Oliver's favorite. Tonight we'll dig into the humongous brownie and chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich cake that Mabel made for him. And then we'll go around in a circle and say all the things we love about him. I'm pretty sure it will be hard for each of us to choose just one. We love him so!

Friday, September 02, 2016

happy weekend

I feel like we're really earning our weekends these days. And this one is even a long one! Hurray! Mike is looking forward to using it to catch up on school work, which is totally sad. But the rest of us are going to let loose. And by let loose, I mean lay around and relax. We're low energy people.

Right before the summer heat started, Mike and I did some work on our yard. Lots of the plants we added or moved didn't survive, but these aloe sure are happy. And that jasmine, too. I am anxious for the weather to change so that we can finish up some planting.

Two things that helped me feel good this week: Making dinner for a friend who is going through something really hard. And giving myself a project. I've been wanting to do something with the little office off of our kitchen for a long time, and this week I did it! I'll post pictures next week, but first I need to finish up a few things.

Good news! Ryan Tanner released a new album. His music is my favorite-- slow and quiet and easy. You can find it here.

This macaroni and cheese recipe was a big winner at our house the other night. I even used whole wheat pasta and bread and it was still delicious. And Mabel made Martha's Triple Chocolate Cheesecake for my birthday last weekend. If you are in the mood for the richest, most delicious cheesecake, this is the recipe for you.

Have a good weekend!

Monday, August 29, 2016


I love this print hanging in my girls' room. It says "He who created and knows the stars knows you and your name" from President Uchtdorff, and it goes along quite nicely with this week's Conference Report.

Have you ever been sitting in a church meeting and a speaker said exactly what you needed to hear? That happened to me at Stake Conference this weekend, although I didn't recognize it at the time. But as I have been thinking about the things I learned, one speaker's message stands out in my memory and feels like an answer to prayer.

Now that my kids are in school all day, I have struggled to find a purpose. Maybe I am being dramatic and just thinking about it too much, but I have honestly felt a little bit adrift. The message I heard during Stake Conference was to remember that above all else--before my calling as a mother and a wife, even--I am a daughter of God, and that He knows me, He knows my concerns and worries, that He loves me, and He wants to help me.

After our meetings and a really good Sunday nap, I remembered this talk from our last General Conference. As I reread it yesterday afternoon, the message I heard in Stake Conference was strengthened in my heart.

I'd like to share some of my favorite parts below:

Elder Hallstrom said, "Here on earth, we identify ourselves in many different ways, including our place of birth, our nationality, and our language. Some even identify themselves by their occupation or their hobby. These earthly identities are not wrong unless they supersede or interfere with our eternal identity--that of being a son or a daughter of God."

So if I am having a hard time identifying myself as a mother from the hours of 8am to 3pm, it is because I have placed that identity above my eternal identity of daughter of God. And in this lies my confusion or loneliness.

Elder Hallstrom continues, "In real life we face hardships. There is pain--physical, emotional, and spiritual. There are heartbreaks when circumstances are very different from what we have anticipated. There is injustice when we do not seem to deserve our situation. There are disappointments when someone we trusted failed us. There are health and financial setbacks that can be disorienting. There may be times of question when a matter of doctrine or history is beyond our current understanding.

"When difficult things occur in our lives, what is our immediate response? Is it confusion or doubt or spiritual withdrawal? Is it a blow to our faith? Do we blame God or others for our circumstances? Or is our first response to remember who we are--that we are children of a loving God? Is that coupled with an absolute trust that He allows some earthly suffering because He knows it will bless us, like a refiner's fire, to become like Him, and to gain our eternal inheritance?"

I would never liken my current situation to actual, real suffering, but this message is powerful to me nonetheless. Any confusion or uncertainty I feel in this new stage of my life can be washed away in the knowledge that I am a child of God. If I can keep that identity first and foremost in my mind, then I will find the focus that was lacking in my days.

One final message from Elder Hallstrom: "We live in a world that can cause us to forget who we really are. The more distractions that surround us, the easier it is to treat casually, then ignore, and then forget our connection with God. . . no matter where we live and no matter what our circumstances are, it is essential that our preeminent identity is as a child of God. Knowing that will allow our faith to flourish, will motivate our continual repentance, and will provide the strength to 'be steadfast and immovable' throughout our mortal journey."

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

Friday, August 26, 2016

happy weekend

I need more of this in my life. Our afternoons are quickly filling up with things like piano and choir and homework. I try to limit our activities, but we somehow end up feeling too busy anyway. Thank goodness it's Friday. Lots of downtime is just what our family needs right now.

In fact, Elliot is home sick from school today, and I am kind of glad he gets to take it easy. First grade is really wearing him out!

As I have been trying to figure out this new stage of my life, this little video was good reminder to focus on what matters most, and maybe to slow down a little, too. The difficulty of this transition has taken me by surprise. I thought I'd feel fancy free, but I mostly feel a little lost. After 14 years of caring for small children all day, having them gone at school has thrown me for a loop. I am trying to find the balance between using all of this time wisely while still feeling like I have a purpose. Last week involved lots of house cleaning. This week I spent a lot of time making dinner. But I don't want to spend all of my time doing either one of those things. I think I am slowly finding a routine, and that feels good.

Anyway, are you having good tv withdrawals now that the Olympics are over? Don't worry, Poldark Season Two starts soon. Hooray!

It's my birthday tomorrow, and even though Mike will be at school and church meetings all day, I am going to make it a good one. I have grand plans for elaborate chores the children can do for me to celebrate. Things like cutting up the branches I trimmed out of the orange trees this week and baking me a cheesecake. :)

Have a happy weekend!

Thursday, August 25, 2016


Truth: Falafel in Paris is a lot prettier than falafel in Mesa.

Mabel has been sending me recipes, mostly vegetarian dinner ideas, which is the best! Deciding what to make is always the hardest part about cooking for me. This week, we tried falafel. Mike and I had the best falafel in Paris, which we ate in the most beautiful garden. What I made last night doesn't even come close, but it was still pretty good and I think I'll add it to our regular dinner rotation.

I used Sean's Falafel and Cucumber Sauce from allrecipes.com, but I'll post it here, too.

for the sauce:

6 oz plain yogurt
half of a cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon mayonnaise

Mix all together, then chill for at least 30 minutes.

for the falafel:

1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained (Or, I used 2 cups of cooked lentils instead.)
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 egg
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
dash pepper
pinch cayenne
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup dry bread crumbs (or about one cup of whole wheat flour)
oil for frying

Mash the beans or lentils. In a food processor, blend the onion, parsley, and garlic until it's smooth. Add to the mashed beans/lentils.

In another bowl, mix the egg, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, cayenne, lemon juice, and baking powder. Add to the bean/lentil mash along with the oil. Mix in the bread crumbs (or flour) a little at a time until it's the consistency you want. The original recipe says you should be able to form balls, which you will then flatten into patties. Mine never reached that point, and I didn't want to add too much flour, so I left it at about thick pancake batter level.

Heat some oil for frying (cover the bottom of your pan generously). I used my cookie scoop and scooped the mixture into the hot oil, one scoop per patty. Cook until golden brown and then flip and repeat. This made about 25 small patties (enough for our family of 6 plus leftovers for Mike's lunch today).

I fried mine early in the day, then stuck them on a cookie sheet in the fridge until we got home hungry from piano lessons at dinner time. I broiled them for a minute to warm them up and we were good to go.

Serve wrapped up in a nice warm piece of naan, with the cucumber sauce, sliced red onions and tomatoes.

And then pretend that you are wandering around secret gardens in Le Marais. :)

(Full disclosure: Oliver didn't like it.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

in favor of bed making

Do you make your bed everyday? The admiral in this video claims that if you want to change the world, you need to start by making your bed. I've never thought about it that way, but I'm with him!