Wednesday, July 27, 2016

summer: expectation vs. reality

I found this doodle in my living room the other day, drawn by Mabel. I thought it was so funny! And also true. We always have such high hopes for summer, don't we? And then it's 115 degrees everyday and we mostly end up sitting around, trying to stay cool. Well, our summer break is winding down. Only two weeks til everyone will be back in school (including Mike!).

I thought this little part needed to be enlarged. Ha! #blessed

We have one last quick trip to California to visit family and see the ocean. And then we'll be all about the backpacks and lunch boxes and pencils and new shoes.

Any last fun plans before school starts?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

southern cornbread

Do you live in the south? Do you put sugar in your cornbread? I had no idea that traditional, southern cornbread was sugar-less! Apparently, I grew up eating "yankee" cornbread, which is really a corn cake made with flour and lots of sugar and honey drizzled on top for good measure (thank you Marie Callender's). Well, in my quest for this sugar free white flour free lifestyle, I came across lots of recipes for sugar-less cornbread.

I tried this one. But only because this article convinced me to. My favorite quote: "I'm just going to say it: sugar has no business in cornbread. Neither, for that matter, does wheat flour. One might make something quite tasty with well-sweetened wheat flour mixed with cornmeal, but be honest with yourself and call it a dessert." Ha!

Traditional cornmeal was stone ground and didn't require sugar or flour to enhance the texture, but as the methods for grinding cornmeal have changed over time, sugar and flour were added and what we have today is quite different than what was made traditionally. (According to the persuasive article.) Also, it must be baked in a cast iron skillet. Who knew?

I found stone ground cornmeal (with the corn germ and bran left in) at my local sprouts. It is much chunkier than any cornmeal I've ever seen, and I was anxious to see how my bread would turn out. The verdict: my boys didn't really like it. I thought it was good, but it was a totally different cornbread than what I know, so I think it will take some getting used to. I think this recipe would be great the next day, soaked in warm milk with sugar on top. Alas.

Do you have a sugar less cornbread recipe you swear by? I'd love to try some others.

Monday, July 25, 2016

an immersion program

I was reading Sister Durham's recent general conference address, A Child's Guiding Gift, and wanted to study more about an idea she introduced. About teaching our children how to recognize the Spirit, she shared this quote: "Many teachers of foreign languages believe that children learn a language best in 'immersion programs,' in which they are surrounded by other speakers of the language and called upon to speak it themselves. They learn not just to say words, but to speak fluently and even to think in the new language. The [best] 'immersion' setting for a spiritual education is in the home, where spiritual principles can form the basis for daily living."

This idea was new to me, but it made so much sense! The language of the Spirit can feel foreign, and teaching my children how to recognize it is something I'd like to be better at. So I turned to the article from which Sister Durham quoted and I'd like to share it here for my weekly conference report.

Terry and Susan Warner have some great ideas on how to help our children recognize the spirit in their article, Helping Children Hear the Still, Small Voice. But first, they say that parents need to begin with themselves: "In order to make our homes immersion settings for spiritual education, we as parents would be wise to start with ourselves. Some of us may have difficulty teaching about the Spirit because we find it hard to recognize our own spiritual feelings. We may mistakenly be looking for momentous manifestations, but spiritual experiences are more likely to come as a quiet assurance, a burning in the bosom (see D&C 9:8), or an impression that silently prompts us to act or holds us back from acting. . . As we cultivate the Spirit in our own hearts, we become more able to teach, to reach other hearts by the Spirit."

Brother and Sister Warner then go on to give six specific ways to help children learn to recognize, seek, and be guided by their own spiritual feelings. Things like helping them learn to pray, teaching the gospel at their level, and talking to them at every opportunity (something I really need to work on!). They also give some ideas of family activities that invite the Spirit, like family scripture study, attending church meetings, and singing. I found their entire article so helpful and encourage you to read it for yourself.

Recognizing the Spirit is one of the most critical things I want my children to learn, and our home is the best setting for this instruction. I know I can be better at this. I have to be better at this! If my children can be fluent in the language of the Spirit, they will be better able to heed its righteous influence. Providing opportunities for them to feel the Spirit should be one of my top priorities.

Read the entire article here.

Friday, July 22, 2016

happy weekend

It's been a big summer for Mabel's teeth. She got her upper braces on a couple of weeks ago, and then yesterday, in preparation for her bottom braces (just in time for high school!), she got three teeth extracted-- teeth with big daddy roots still attached. I almost had to put my head between my knees as I watched the dentist yanking them out. Don't feel too sorry for her. She is off to Sundance today to recuperate with my parents' ice cream packed freezer and her best girl cousins at the first ever "Granddaughters Week". Stella will be there, too, and I know they are going to have the best time.

A couple of you asked about meal ideas or resources for our no sugar/no white flour life. I know, I know that documentaries aren't the best places to find unbiased information, but Mike and I found Fed Up, Sugar Coated, and That Sugar Film to be very helpful/inspiring. They'll make you want to clean out your pantry asap.

Things we've eaten for dinner this week: tomato soup with homemade whole wheat rolls, shredded beef tacos on grilled corn tortillas with guacamole, chicken fried brown rice, and whole wheat oatmeal pancakes with fruit and very, very lightly sweetened freshly whipped cream. Since Mabel has become a vegetarian, I've made these black bean burgers and buns (subbing in all whole wheat flour) lots of times. We have fruit at every meal to satisfy our sweet tooth. And I've successfully made these muffins without the added sugar for a snack. I've put strawberries, blueberries, and raisins in them, and they've been delicious every time (although, to be real, my kids won't eat the ones with raisins).

I still make all of our bread, and I always use this recipe. I use half whole wheat flour, half white wheat flour. The recipe calls for three tablespoons of honey, but it's the only added sugar in my diet and I figure that three tablespoons spread out in a whole loaf of bread is a negligible amount, so I don't sweat it.

I found it easiest to go cold turkey. I cleaned out our kitchen and got rid of everything with added sugar and white flour (including white pasta and flour tortillas). (Ok, I moved all of the Ben & Jerry's to our deep freeze for special 'moderate' desserts. Ha!) I survived a trip to my parents' house and girls camp without eating added sugar, so I know I can survive anything. :) It was not easy, but it was possible.

We aren't perfect. For example: my kids had corn dogs for dinner the other night. I don't freak out when they eat sugar or white flour because I know that at home, where they eat the vast majority of their meals, we are making good choices. I don't want it to be a thing, you know? We do the best we can.

Have a happy weekend!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

on moderation

I have to tell you that cutting added sugar and white flour out of my diet has been life changing. It's been almost two months and I have never felt so good, physically and emotionally. For the first time ever in my memory, I feel like I can eat three square meals a day. I can eat until I am full. I don't have to restrict my calories or worry that I am overeating. This might sound dramatic, but it is a big deal for me!

I still eat dessert sometimes, but only once a week or so, usually at Mike's family's big Sunday dinner. This has gotten me thinking about the idea of moderation. I know we hear about moderation all the time. As long as we practice moderation, we'll be fine, right? But what if because sugar is so prevalent in the American diet, the idea of moderation has become skewed?

President Ezra Taft Benson said in 1974, "The condition of the physical body can affect the spirit. That's why the Lord gave us the Word of Wisdom. He also said that we should retire to our beds early and arise early, that we should not run faster than we have strength, and that we should use moderation in all good things."

Well, I've decided that eating added sugar only once a week is a good idea of moderation for me.

You know what a "skinny day" feels like? When you feel confident and your clothes fit well? I used to get those days from time to time. But since I stopped eating added sugar and white flour, every day is a skinny day. I don't think I've lost any weight (I stopped weighing myself years ago), but my clothes feel better. I feel better. This is how I want to feel for the rest of my life.

Something else that might be contributing to these good feelings: Mike and I have been lifting weights this summer. I didn't think I'd like it, but I love it! We use the StrongLifts 5x5 app.

Photo from girls camp by the super talented Breanne Johnson.

Monday, July 18, 2016

girls camp report

Girls camp is a lot of work. This was my second year as our ward's camp director, which isn't a huge job, but it definitely stresses me out the month before camp. But, just like last year, as soon as it was over, I thought to myself that it wasn't so bad. :)

The theme this year was "My Story," and the hope was that the girls would stop comparing themselves to everyone around them and recognize that their own story is special. Our stories are unique and sometimes complicated, but if we let God help us write it, it will end up better than we ever thought it could.

We talked a lot about choice, and how our decisions determine our destiny. President Monson said, "Most of you are familiar with Alice in Lewis Carroll's classic novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. You will remember that she comes to a crossroads with two paths before her, each stretching onward but in opposite directions. As she contemplates which way to turn, she is confronted by the Cheshire cat, of whom Alice asks, 'Which path shall I follow?'

"The cat answers, 'That depends on where you want to go. If you do not know where you want to go, it doesn't matter which path you take.'

"Unlike Alice, we know where we want to go, and it does matter which way we go, for the path we follow in this life leads to our destination in the next life."

And then one night, the stake showed the girls this video. You should have heard the oohs and ahs! It was really sweet.

Monday, July 11, 2016

the ultimate Givers

I'm heading up to Girls' Camp this morning, but before I go, I want to share a little bit from Elder Renlund's talk from last general conference, "That I Might Draw All Men Unto Me." This was a talk that I don't remember well from conference, but when I read it for my Sunday School lesson last week, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

He opens with some advice he was given by Elder Wilford W. Anderson, who told him, "The greater the distance between the giver and the receiver, the more the receiver develops a sense of entitlement."

Now, there are lots of places where this concept can be applied, but Elder Renlund gives it spiritual application when he says, "Our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are the ultimate Givers. The more we distance ourselves from Them, the more entitled we feel. We begin to think that we deserve grace and are owed blessings. We are more prone to look around, identify inequalities, and feel aggrieved--even offended--by the unfairness we perceive. While the unfairness can range from trivial to gut-wrenching, when we are distant from God, even small inequities loom large. We feel that God has an obligation to fix things--and fix them right now!"

So true, right? I think we can agree that drawing closer to God would give us a better perspective on the seeming unfairness of life. Elder Renlund says, "The closer we are to Jesus Christ in the thoughts and intents of our hearts, the more we appreciate His innocent suffering, the more grateful we are for grace and forgiveness, and the more we want to repent and become like Him. Our absolute distance from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is important, but the direction we are heading is even more crucial."

So how do we do it? How do we come closer to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ? Elder Renlund submits that one way is through the ordinance of the sacrament. Part of the LDS worship services on Sunday include partaking of the sacrament (bread and water that are blessed by the priesthood to represent Christ's body and blood). Partaking of the sacrament renews the covenants we made at baptism to always remember Him and to take His name upon us. It is the most important thing we do at church on Sunday.

Elder Renlund says, "To draw closer to the Savior, we must increase our faith in Him, make and keep covenants, and have the Holy Ghost with us. We must also act in faith, responding to the spiritual direction we receive. All of these elements come together in the sacrament. Indeed, the best way I know of to draw closer to God is to prepare conscientiously and partake worthily of the sacrament each week."

He continues, "The sacrament truly helps us know our Savior. It also reminds us of His innocent suffering. If life were truly fair, you and I would never be resurrected; you and I would never be able to stand clean before God. . . because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, there will be no unfairness. Our present circumstances may not change, but through God's compassion, kindness, and love, we will receive more than we deserve, more than we can ever earn, and more than we can ever hope for."

Elder Renlund promises that as we give a greater effort to our participation in the sacrament, our "natural tendencies to childish whining, disgruntled entitlement, and derisive skepticism will dissipate" and be replaced by "feelings of greater love and gratitude for Heavenly Father's gift of His Son."

Greater love and gratitude for Jesus Christ is something this world could use right now, don't you think? After reading this talk, I have made a better effort to participate in the sacrament more fully. I can tell you that it has made a difference in my perspective, in my peace, and in my heart.

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

Friday, July 08, 2016

happy weekend

Stella and I loved these humongous dandelions that grow down below my parents' house. There are lots of wishes on those things!

What are you doing this weekend? I'll be busy gearing up for girls' camp, which is next week. I kind of wish it was already next Friday. I plan on spending the entire day in bed with a good book, recovering. Camping is not my thing.

In other news, I want to be better at saying thank you instead of sorry. And please put When Breath Becomes Air on your nightstand asap. I read it this week and it touched me deeply. I was so involved in the story, and even though I knew the ending, it still caught me by surprise. It is beautiful and heartbreaking, and Dr. Kalanithi's words didn't leave me for days. His closing paragraph, a message to his baby daughter, left tears streaming down my face in the middle of Mike's family cabin. He says,

"When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man's days with a sated joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing."

Have a happy weekend.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

summer in Sundance, part two

Here's something fun we did while we were in Utah: We spent a day at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City. It has lots of fun activities, like ropes courses, zip lines, and an alpine slide.

Elliot is obsessed with American Ninja Warrior, so he was excited to try this ropes course. He and Oliver both said it was harder than it looked, but they did it! And then they had to zip line off. Ah!

It was so high, and Elliot looked so small, but he was brave! I almost couldn't watch, I was so nervous, but he said it was a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, Mike had the ride of his life. Just kidding. He loved the summer tubing slope the best. It went so fast and looked so scary! (You can see the track behind Oliver in the zip line photo just above.) My favorite thing was watching the ski jump team practice into the pool.

A tip if you decide to go to the Olympic Park: wear sunscreen and a hat! There's not a speck of shade anywhere, and we all came home a little pink.

Mabel was at EFY at BYU with her cousin, Audrey, all week. We spotted her from afar as we went to the BYU bookstore for our annual indoctrination tour.

This is my parents' backyard. (Take me back!)

And this is the stream that runs through the bottom of it.

We went on lots of walks.

My parents' house looks so different when it's not covered in snow. :) I love Sundance in all seasons, but summer is my favorite.

We took one final walk to the stream before we headed home to this hot, brown, burning desert. Sigh. This trip almost made me regret encouraging Mike to attend ASU instead of BYU for his MBA in the fall. Almost.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

summer in Sundance, part one

We spent last week at my parent's house in beautiful Sundance, Utah, where I learned that one week is not long enough in that place! I was homesick for it the minute we left. Luckily, I took a ton of pictures.

My sister, Leslie, and her family were there with us. We gathered the cousins for our traditional cousin bench photo outside the Foundry Grill. Too bad we are missing the other 13.5!

Just up the road from my parents' house is a beautiful stretch of manicured lawn. We borrowed it one perfect evening for some frisbee.

Every summer, I try to snap a photo of Stella snuggling my dad. It's never difficult to do. :)

This walk through the ferns leads to the Sundance stables (and then to lots of paths through the mountains). This night, we stopped to feed the horses some carrots.

Stella and Elliot braved a lift ride with my mom.

And a trip to Sundance in the summer is never complete without a dip in my mom's friends' pool. She lives in Provo Canyon, high up and away from the world.

And to the boys' delight, she just finished installing a real live baseball field on her property. It was so fun. But I mean, that view!

more to come . . .

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.