Friday, June 24, 2016

happy weekend

I think I officially hit my mid summer slump this week. This is when I start to wonder if the house will ever be clean again. Or if I will ever get out of the kitchen. Or if it will ever not be 115 degrees outside.

This means it's time to get out of town, I guess. Luckily our annual pilgrimage to my parents' house in Sundance is happening pronto. I can't wait!

On the bright side, Elliot has been wearing his new snorkel around the house. I'll walk into a room and he'll just be sitting there, breathing heavily and staring out the window. It is my favorite thing so far this summer.

Mabel found the best pancake recipe. Since they have no added sugar and are whole wheat, I thought I'd share her recipe here:

Oatmeal Pancakes

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups quick oats
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/4 cups buttermilk
3 teaspoons vanilla
6 tablespoons melted butter or coconut oil
3 eggs

Place all ingredients in a blender or large food processor. Blend until smooth, then cook on a hot griddle. This recipe makes enough to feed our family of 6.

We've been eating them with butter, peaches, blueberries, and bananas and haven't even missed the syrup!

Have a good weekend!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mabel Kay turns 14

I think being the oldest child must be a heavy responsibility. The oldest child has to deal with parents who don't really know what they're doing. They have to pave the way for the siblings who follow and be a good example. They help set the family culture and establish traditions. Mabel is able to do all of these things well. She is patient as Mike and I figure out how to parent a high schooler. She has forged a good path for the rest of our children and has set the bar high. She is kind and calm and tries her best in her schoolwork and in the kitchen. She loves to bake and is handling the fact that we aren't eating sugar right now with grace, even though I know she's dying to whip up some treats this summer!

Mabel started our family off on the best foot. I am so grateful for her influence in our home. Happy birthday, Mabel!

Monday, June 20, 2016

family council

Our family councils usually look something like this: everyone in their pjs, gathered in the living room, right before family prayer.

Yesterday, I taught my Sunday school lesson about participating in councils in the church, which reminded me of M. Russell Ballard's Conference talk, Family Councils, which I spent some time studying during my lesson preparation. There are some really great things in it, which I'd forgotten about. I wanted to share my favorites here:

Elder Ballard promises: "A family council, when conducted with love and with Christlike attributes, will counter the impact of modern technology that often distracts us from spending quality time with each other and also tends to bring evil right into our homes."

What a promise! And here I am, stressing out about technology and social media and worrying about its effects on my family. Well, it looks like I should stop worrying and start holding more family councils. :)

But what is a family council? Elder Ballard describes four different kinds of family councils in his talk, but they can all be summed up in this statement: "Family councils . . . are primarily a meeting at which parents listen--to each other and to their children." He talks in more detail about what councils are here, if you are interested, but what really hit me was this:

"There was a time when the walls of our homes provided all the defense we needed against outside intrusions and influences. We locked the doors, closed the windows; we shut the gates; and we felt safe, secure, and protected in our own little refuge from the outside world.

"Those days are now gone. The physical walls, doors, fences, and gates of our homes cannot prevent unseen invasion from the internet, the Wi-Fi, the mobile phones, the networks. They can penetrate our homes with just a few clicks and keystrokes.

"Fortunately, the Lord has provided a way to counter the invasion of negative technology that can distract us from spending quality time with each other. He has done this by providing the council system to strengthen, protect, safeguard, and nurture our most precious relationships.

"Children desperately need parents willing to listen to them, and the family council can provide a time during which family members can learn to understand and love one another.

"Inviting the Lord to be part of our family council through prayer will improve our relationships with each other. We can, with Heavenly Father and our Savior's help, become more patient, thoughtful, helpful, forgiving, and understanding as we pray for help. With Their help, we can make our homes a little bit of heaven here on earth."

Since last conference, Mike and I have tried to hold family councils more often, and I can tell you that what Elder Ballard says is true. I have felt the difference in my own home and family. Some of the best time I've spent with my family in recent months has been during a family council. Rereading this talk was a good reminder to make them a priority.

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

Friday, June 17, 2016

happy weekend

Summers are for cleaning out closets, and organizing bedrooms, and getting rid of junk. At least at our house they are. I found this guy at Target the other day. I painted him with about 6 coats of white paint and now Mabel has a handy spot to hang her flower crowns. (This is her reduced collection, by the way, after I made her toss half of them.) I love making small changes like this. I rearranged the couch in our family room a few weeks ago, and it still feels fresh and new.

Here's the bad news: it's going to be 120 degrees here this weekend. 120 degrees! That's record-breaking heat. I am sad for our plants. They are already looking a little peaky, and a week of intense heat isn't going to help. Why do we live here, again? Quick, someone remind me how wonderful our winters are. Sheesh.

Some good news: it's almost Father's Day! And that means we get to celebrate Mike and our dads/grandpas and show our gratitude for all they do for our family. We are lucky to have these wonderful men in our lives, and I hope they feel extra special on Sunday. (We got Mike this shirt because we are weird.)

Have a happy (and hopefully cooler) weekend!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

sautéed corn salad

Mabel isn't eating meat these days. And Mike and Oliver and I aren't eating sugar or white flour. So, that means our family has been eating lots of beans and vegetables and fruit. I've made a few batches of my favorite summer salad, which I shared on my blog years ago, but I wanted to share it here again.

Sautéed Corn and Black Bean Salad

2 tablespoons of butter
4 ears of corn, raw, kernels removed
2 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
2 avocados, chopped
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
1/2 bunch of green onions, chopped
the juice of 1 or 2 limes, depending on how juicy your limes are

Sauté the corn in the butter over medium high heat until brown spots start to appear. Remove from the heat and let cool.

In a large bowl, mix the beans, avocado, cilantro, green onions, and lime juice. Add the cool-ish corn and stir well.

I like this salad warm, but it's meant to be chilled. So, put it in the fridge for an hour or two.

When you aren't eating sugar, it's amazing how sweet sautéed corn can taste. I love this salad for its simplicity. It makes a great side dish, or fry an egg on top and serve it as the main course.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

baby steps

I only have time for the truly important things. . . like instagram.

The other night, I was laying in bed looking at instagram on my iPad. I love instagram, but it's the reason I gave up my smartphone. I was looking at it on my phone all the time! I was looking at it instead of reading a book, or instead of talking to my darling children. Getting rid of my smartphone helped me break the habit. For a while. Until I started looking at it on the iPad too much. Blerg.

But the other night, I realized for the first time that looking at instagram (and other social media) wasn't only making me distracted, but it was making me anxious, too. It was making me feel jumbled. I was being bombarded by pictures and information about people I didn't even know! On purpose! My brain couldn't handle it anymore. So I took instagram off my iPad. I don't know why I become so addicted to it, but I do, and now that it's not there anymore, I don't even miss it. Honest.

Can we go back to the good old days?--the days when people just lived their lives and weren't aware of what their friends or neighbors or perfect strangers were doing/buying/being. That sounds pretty great to me.

Mike has a smartphone, so I can log into my instagram account on his phone if I really feel compelled to post a picture or check to see what my family is up to.

I realize the best step would be to get rid of it all together. (There's so much garbage on it, anyway, and sometimes I wonder why I'm even letting it into my home.) I think I might be working toward that. Baby steps. . .

Monday, June 13, 2016

He will carry you home.

Yesterday was one of those good Sundays, the kind where after a morning spent at church, I was able to plan my upcoming week, study a conference talk, and take a really long nap. It felt really great.

It's been a while since I've posted a conference report, but I am here today with President Uchtdorf's most recent conference address, He Will Place You on His Shoulders and Carry You Home. I don't feel particularly lost at the moment, but this talk touched me just the same.

President Uchtdorf begins by sharing the story of the beautiful Frauenkirche, a Lutheran church in Dresden, Germany. This church, which was first built in the 1700s, was completely destroyed during World War II, but had been rebuilt, incorporating blackened stones from the original structure.

Likening this to each of us, President Uchtdorf said, "If man can take the ruins, rubble, and remains of a broken city and rebuild an awe-inspiring structure that rises toward the heavens, how much more capable is our Almighty Father to restore His children who have fallen, struggled, or become lost? It matters not how completely ruined our lives may seem. It matters not how scarlet our sins, how deep our bitterness, how lonely, abandoned, or broken our hearts may be. Even those who are without hope, who live in despair, who have betrayed trust, surrendered their integrity, or turned away from God can be rebuilt. . . there is no life so shattered that it cannot be restored."

I think we are all familiar with the parable of the lost sheep. Usually it is referenced when we are learning how to reach out to those who are lost, but President Uchtdorf uses it to teach us about the Good Shepherd.

He said, "Is it possible that the Savior's message was that God is fully aware of those who are lost--and that He will find them, that He will reach out to them, and that He will rescue them?

"If that is so, what must the sheep do to qualify for this divine help? Does the sheep need to know how to use a complicated sextant to calculate its coordinates? Does it need to be able to use a GPS to define its position? Does it have to have the expertise to create an app that will call for help? Does the sheep need endorsements by a sponsor before the Good Shepherd will come to the rescue?

"No. Certainly not! The sheep is worthy of divine rescue simply because it is loved by the Good Shepherd. To me, the parable of the lost sheep is one of the most hopeful passages in all of scripture. Our Savior, the Good Shepherd, knows and loves us. He knows and loves you. He knows when you are lost, and He knows where you are. He knows your grief. Your silent pleadings. Your fears. Your tears. It matters not how you became lost--whether because of your own poor choices or because of circumstances beyond your control.

"What matters is that you are His child. And He loves you. He loves His children."

But what must we do in order to be found? We must turn to Him. That's all He requires of us. Elder Uchtdorf assures us, "It requires a little faith. But do not despair. If you cannot muster faith right now, begin with hope. If you cannot say you know God is there, you can hope that He is. You can desire to believe. That is enough to start."

Then comes obedience. He continues, "You and I may speak most eloquently of spiritual things. We may impress people with our keen intellectual interpretation of religious topics. We may rhapsodize about religion and 'dream of [our] mansion above.' But if our faith does not change the way we live--if our beliefs do not influence our daily decision--our religion is vain, and our faith, if not dead, is certainly not well and is in danger of eventually flatlining. Obedience is the lifeblood of faith. It is by obedience that we gather light into our souls."

But sometimes obedience gets a bad wrap. It is not an end unto itself. It is not meant to force us into submission. Instead, President Uchtdorf says, "Maybe obedience is not so much the process of bending, twisting, and pounding our souls into something we are not. Instead, it is the process by which we discover what we truly are made of. . . The moment we choose to incline our hearts to our beloved Savior and set foot upon the path of discipleship, something miraculous happens. The love of God fills our hearts, the light of truth fills our minds, we start to lose the desire to sin, and we do not want to walk any longer in darkness. We come to see obedience not as a punishment but as a liberating path to our divine destiny."

We are all worthy of rescue. There have been times in my life when I have felt lost, and there will be those times again. But President Uchtdorf gives us this promise: "You may feel that your life is in ruins. You may have sinned. You may be afraid, angry, grieving, or tortured by doubt. But just as the Good Shepherd finds His lost sheep, if you will only lift up your heart to the Savior of the world, He will find you. He will rescue you. He will lift you up and place you on His shoulders. He will carry you home.

"If mortal hands can transform rubble and ruins into a beautiful house of worship, then we can have confidence and trust that our loving Heavenly Father can and will rebuild us. His plan is to build us into something far greater than what we were--far greater than what we can ever imagine. With each step of faith on the path of discipleship, we grow into the beings of eternal glory and infinite joy we were designed to become."

Read, watch, or listen to the entire talk here. (although I pretty much just quoted the entire thing, sorry about that! :))

Beautiful print of a painting by Beth Allen available here.

Friday, June 10, 2016

happy weekend

Does anyone read blogs during the summer? Or ever anymore? Sometimes I wonder. But I realized long, long ago, that recording my life here was for me and not for anyone else. And so, two weeks into our summer vacation, I thought it was time for a little update.

Last week, I babysat my four nieces and nephews (for a few days by myself, even, while Mike was away at a youth conference), and which included a baby and a three year old. So this week, naturally, has been about recovery. :) We've napped, we've read, we've gone to the pool, we've reveled in the quiet. And as per usual after something stressful, I got sick. Head colds in the summer are so uncalled for.

But I wanted to tell you about two things.

One: Mike, Oliver, and I are in the middle of a 30 day sugar and white flour fast. We're not eating any added sugar. No honey, no syrup, no fruit juice, no artificial sweeteners, etc. After the first couple of really bad headaches (although that could have been attributed to minding 8 children), I started to feel fantastic. I have more energy, I am never bloated, and food has never tasted so good. Honestly, Oliver and I ate some strawberries the other day that I swear were the sweetest, most delicious things we'd ever put in our mouths. I'd like to keep this up. I'd like this to be how I eat for the rest of my life (with some special occasion sweets thrown in from time to time, of course). It feels right to me. For the past year or so, I've had some really weird digestion issues, and they have totally cleared up since I removed sugar from my diet. Now I'm not a doctor, obviously, so I'm not saying that giving up sugar has cured me, or anything. But I can tell you that I feel terrific when I eat this way.

Two: If you are a parent, please read Leonard Sax's new book, The Collapse of Parenting. It probably deserves it's own post, but I'll quickly tell you why I feel it is so important. Before I started the book, I felt pretty confident in my ability to parent. I knew I would agree with a lot of what Dr. Sax had to say, and I did. But Mike and I are about to enter a new world in parenting: the high school years, and I felt completely unprepared for them. This book reminded me that the most important things I can teach my children are to have humility and self-control, that family time should be held above all else, that I need to have fun with my kids and help steer their interests, and that it's ok to maintain high standards even if they are unpopular. And to turn of the devices, for goodness sake! I'm not exaggerating when I say that it brought me to tears more than once. It resonated deeply with me, and Mike and I have made some course corrections since we read it.

I hope your summer is going well. Have a happy weekend!

Friday, May 27, 2016

happy weekend

Summer break starts today! Yay! These kids worked really hard this school year, and we are excited to take a break from the hustle of the daily routine. I thought I was definitely going to sleep in this morning, but my eyes popped open at 6:00 on the dot, just like they always do.

I've had two thoughts about summer break and I want to write them down so I hold myself accountable. They are:

I'd like the kids (with my help) to make our big meal each day. During the summer, lunch is our big meal. At the beginning of the week, we'll sit down together and decide what they'd like to make. Everyone will have an assigned day. We will look for a recipe, make a shopping list, and go to the store together. Some of them (Mabel) are very excited about this. Cooking with my kids has never been easy for me, but I think it will be very beneficial, so I am going to try my hardest to be patient. Hopefully they will learn some skills and become a little more comfortable and independent in the kitchen.

Second, I sort of want to throw all of our devices/computer away for the summer. I've learned from my friend Sarah that it's easier that way. I'm not ready to make them disappear completely, but I'd like to lay down some rules about their usage. I'm thinking no access at all during the day, and then a little time in the evening as we wind down. I need to give it a little more thought. Like all kids, if I let them, they'd be glued to them all day. And frankly, I would be, too. We're all in this together, and our brains need time to read or think or imagine. Devices get in the way of that.

But first, I'm watching my four nieces and nephews for a week starting tomorrow, so these things will have to wait. I can only handle so much, you know?

Have a happy long weekend!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Paris: food and scenery

This is my last Paris post, I promise. Thank you for indulging me. It was the trip of a lifetime and I wanted to make sure I documented it for posterity. :)

Breakfast in the Tuileries one pretty morning. I loved all of the manicured gardens. They were so well-kept and organized. Even the neighborhoods we saw from the train to Versailles had perfectly squared trees lining the train tracks.

Breakfast of champions! I think I ate a pain chocolat aux amandes every morning of our trip. We stopped at the bakery Paul near our hotel on our way to our adventures each day and declared the pain chocolat aux amandes to be our favorite pastry. One morning we tried the famed Angelina chocolat chaud. It was like drinking hot, super rich chocolate pudding. Which means it was delicious, but too rich for everyday. I couldn't even finish that teeny cup.

The sun set at about 9pm every night, so in order to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle, we had to pull a late night. Which meant a really late dinner at a small cafe. I ordered a cheese board and Mike had some duck. This was our only traditional french meal, and I'm so glad Mike convinced me to be brave and try a real french cafe. Even though everyone we interacted with during our trip spoke english, I was nervous to do something like this. The food was delicious and I know I'll never eat cheese that good again. 

One afternoon, we waited in line for almost an hour for this guy, Alain, to make us grilled sandwiches. It was worth the wait, and he was a true artist.

Also, look at all that yummy bread!

You really can't beat the scenery in Paris. I've been to lots of places around the world and it is definitely one of the most beautiful. 

I snapped this one on our walk home from church on Sunday. It was a national holiday, so all of the shops were closed. Just a few cafes were open, and since it was the first warm, sunny day in a long time, they were packed with Parisians sipping their coffees, enjoying the sunshine.

The banks of the Seine were popular that day, too. There was a carefree, jolly feeling in the city. We saw lots of families with young children enjoying the day together. And lots of street performers, too. I'm so glad our last day in Paris was such a bright, happy one.

Au revoir Paris!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Paris: the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysees

It took us four days of being in Paris to finally see its most famous attractions. Since it was rainy, we took the metro from our hotel to the Arc de Triomphe. I had planned on leisurely walking down the Champs Elysees, but it was so rainy! So we walked quickly and ducked into lots of shops on our way to get out of the rain. 

That night, we saw the Eiffel Tower. I hope whoever decided to make it sparkle on the hour got a big raise, because it was magical. We went back the next day to see it in the daytime, and I have to say that this is the most touristy spot in all of Paris. For good reason, though, there were so many visitors! It is beautiful and stunning and worth walking through the million guys selling mini Eiffel Tower figurines to see it. 

Mike does this thing at famous places where he poses like he's holding it up. He does it everywhere and it makes me laugh every single time. Fifteen years into our marriage and I still think he's the funniest guy in the world. And you can't tell, but I am wearing about 6 layers of clothes. Ha!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Paris: Montmartre and Sacre Coeur

On a cloudy, rainy day, we walked to Montmartre to see the Sacre Coeur Basilica. We followed the walking tour for this area from our guidebook (which I highly recommend). It took us through the quiet streets behind the Basilica and helped us avoid the more "touristy" spots, although we peeked at those spots and they didn't seem that bad. Maybe we were just there on a quiet day.

We saw the artists in the Place du Tertre, and the last little vineyard on the side of the hill. We saw two of the last remaining windmills, and lots of quiet, almost village-like neighborhoods.

And once we got to the top, there was the view!

We sat for a bit on the steps, taking in the scenery and watching the men selling souvenirs quickly gather up their merchandise and act cool when the police drove by.

We exited on the stairs to the east of the Basilica. They were almost deserted, and to my delight, they led us right into the fabric district. There were fabric and notion shops everywhere! If only my junior high French was up to snuff, I might have braved a shop and purchased some fabric. As it was, we peeked in the windows and continued down into the city.

Friday, May 20, 2016

happy weekend

We enjoyed a few breezy, cool nights this week, surely the last until November. So we stayed up past our bedtime and went outside. Only one more week of school until summer vacation, so we're sort of over bedtime at this point, anyway.

My friend posted a link to this article on Facebook, How I Slowed My Family Down. Like, to the Last Century. My favorite quote: "The 1950s era stands out as the golden age of family life. Of course, the real 1950s had polio and segregation and limited air conditioning. I didn't want to go to the REAL 1950s, I wanted to go to the mythological ones: the ones where kids played outside all day on their own and mom had plenty of time to make delicious, wholesome meals for dinner. Mom also had time to read a book, and have coffee with her friends, and cocktails with her husband. Mom did not race from place to place in her car, shouting, 'Just eat your breakfast in the car! You can change into your uniform later! We're late!'"

Ha! The author talks about a summer where she let her boys just play all day. No appointments. No commitments. No activities. This is how we do summer vacation, too. We don't do a thing. Just lots of time at home together in our pajamas being bored. And then some swimming. It's my favorite, and I can't wait for it to start.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Paris: the Flea Market and the Musee D'Orsay

Top on my list of things to do while in Paris was to go to the flea market. I found Jordan's post very helpful, and even printed off her map to bring with us.

It was just what I thought it would be: lots of fancy antiques, and lots of old french junk, too, crammed into little booths on narrow, winding alleys.

To get there, we had to walk through lots of really aggressive hawkers. They weren't rude, exactly, but they were definitely in our face, trying to sell belts or watches or iPhones. This was the most uncomfortable I felt during our entire trip. I kept my backpack hugged to my front and didn't look anyone in the eye. And then we had to walk through lots of swap meet-style tents. Think hats, leather goods, so many sneakers, and general souvenirs. But we persevered and made it to the old stuff.

Everything seemed really expensive. I'm sure they do that because they expect customers to negotiate, but I didn't think my french was good enough to attempt negotiations, so we left empty handed. That's ok, I was there for the experience more than the goods, and it was a really fun experience!

On our way back to the metro, we stopped at the swap meet and bought our kids cheap souvenirs, though. Ha!

The Musee D'Orsay was top on my list, too. We went in the evening, on a night when it is open late. It is so pretty, and so much easier to manage than the Louvre. I grew up with a mother who loves the impressionists, so it was special to see so many paintings from that genre. I'll never get over the fact that I am inches away from the actual canvas that the artist touched. It's pretty incredible. And the view of the city from the clock room was fantastic!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

zucchini bread three ways

Last week, my neighbor gave me the world's biggest zucchini, which meant I just had to bake a million loaves of zucchini bread, right?


Slightly Healthier Zucchini Bread

3 cups of flour (I used mostly whole wheat, with a little all-purpose.)
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of baking powder
3 teaspoons of cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup of oil (I used what I had on hand: a little bit of coconut oil, a little bit of melted butter, and a little bit of vegetable oil. Other alternatives: applesauce.)
2 1/4 cups of sugar (Or, 2 mashed ripe bananas plus 1 cup of sugar)
3 teaspoons of vanilla
3 cups of shredded zucchini (don't drain or squish the water out)
and some chocolate chips or blueberries or walnuts (Or in my case, all three.)

I doubled the recipe, which made 3 large loaves. Not doubling it would make two regular loaves.

Grease your pans and preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
Sift the dry ingredients. In another bowl, beat the eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar.
Add the wet to the dry, then stir in the zucchini and chocolate chips/blueberries/nuts.

Bake for 40-60 minutes

My favorite was the walnut loaf, but of course our kids would only eat the chocolate chip one. :)