Saturday, December 29, 2012

Quick Quiche

This is our traditional breakfast on Christmas Eve morning but we often do it on New Year's Day as well. It's super easy and you can make it the night before, then just pop it in the oven in the morning. It does take an hour to bake - so plan accordingly. Super yummy and can be made in lots of varieties based on what you love.


Quick Quiche

4 ½ c. milk
9 eggs
1 ½ c. pancake mix
1 ½ cubes (¾ cup) melted butter
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ tsp garlic powder (if you like garlic)
2-3 c. shredded cheese (swiss, mozzarella, cheddar – your choice)
5-6 chopped green onions (white part and green part) or 1 large sweet onion, chopped
3-5 chopped roma tomatoes

Suggested variations:
  • For Italian style, use mozzarella cheese and add 10 leaves chopped fresh basil or 1 tsp dried basil or Italian seasoning. Can also add ½ cup cooked chopped spinach (from fresh or frozen) and/or 1 c. chopped mushrooms if you like.
  • For American style, use swiss or cheddar/monterey jack cheese and add 1-2 cups cubed ham, crumbled bacon or sausage plus 1-2 cups of chopped broccoli and/or 1 cup chopped mushrooms if you like.
Mix milk, eggs, pancake mix, butter, salt and pepper in large blender (I have a Vita Mix which has a very large container and fits all this perfectly. Can mix in a bowl and use an egg beater if you don't have a really big blender container). Spread your choice of cheese and other ingredients in a greased 9x13 baking dish. Pour mixture from blender over the top.

Cook at 325 degrees for about 1 hour and 15 minutes (until middle is pretty much set and top is slightly browned).

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Scripture Challenge Weeks 21 and 22: Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! So yep, I'm a bit behind on my scripture posts. I have been reading, albeit not as deeply as I should. I've read some great stuff in Alma that has brought me peace when I've needed it and have found some new favorite passages that have answered specific personal needs at key moments. I've also been taking better notes in church on Sundays as I've prayerfully sought out the messages God would have me hear through the words people say in lessons or talks or the thoughts that come to mind as I open my mind and look for answers and reminder.

The past two weeks, the kids have worked on memorizing this scripture and we've all sung it on the way to school each morning (see the video below for the song). I thought this scripture and video was the perfect quick thing to share for Christmas. To understand why I love this scripture so much, read my sister Shawni's blog post here about how we sang the entire Messiah together in high school and check out the video below that puts this scripture to music.

Isaiah 9:6
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders. And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

Oh how wonderful He is! What a counselor! (when I ask for help and listen to the answers) How mighty He is! How much peace he offers!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Lead-up

This is where we are. My parents' house near Park City a.k.a. winter wonderland.


We woke up to a beautiful snowstorm this morning. Perfect for Christmas Eve.

We went to a "Candlelight Christmas" at the "This is the Place" heritage park in SLC - got to ride a little train, have a lovely dinner and wander around to the different pioneer homes where we learned pioneer dances, made Christmas crafts, heard Christmas stories and had a lovely time.







We've been singing carols, playing games, hanging out with cousins and aunts and uncles, building a massive snow fort, going on walks/hikes in the snow, doing some sledding. Mellow, peaceful, beautiful. Let it snow.



I loved going on some great walks and jogs in the snow with Jared, with Charity, with Anita, and we even got mom out there with us on one walk.


Liza and the twins went on some exciting cross country skiing expeditions with Charity and Grandfather.


Jared, my brother Tal and all my kids have been having so much fun working on a big, elaborate snow fort. It has a skylight thanks to a wood lawn chair angled just so and has an awesome icicle-decorated entrance.


 They say it's very warm inside. I'll just trust them on that.

The other day, we built gingerbread houses. 


And we had so much fun with Noah and Kristi and family while they were here (they had to take off yesterday). They were here for gingerbread houses and for a crazy-crowded trip to Temple Square to see the lights (people only got lost about 100 times but somehow we made it through...).

Yesterday, we went home to Ogden for church (I was in charge of Sharing Time in primary) and had our own little present exchange at our house. The kids were SO excited to give their carefully-selected and hard-earned gifts to each other and we didn't want to bring quite so many gifts to my parents' house where little pieces and gifts could get lost. Everyone was MOST pleased with both the giving and the receiving experience. The fire was on. The kids were so sweet to each other. Everyone played with their gifts for about three hours while Jared and I sort of fell in and out of sleep on the couch, all cozy with the fire going and our good kids happy around us. Nice nice afternoon.





Today we did some FaceTime and Skype with everyone who couldn't be with us - so fun.



That little baby is due the day after Christmas!
 



Life is good. Christmas is beautiful. I'd better get back to the fun.


Last Call for Free Gift

If you regularly read this blog, you probably already got your free gift from the Power of Moms (if not, grab it below!).

Will you do me a favor? Will you share the free gift link with all the moms you know? Just take 30 seconds (maybe right now before you forget) and send the link below in an email to all the moms you know or put up a blog or Facebook post. You may well change someone's life by offering them these resources so isn't it worth 30 seconds? No strings attached. Just a free program that's regularly $15-20 as our little way to share Christmas cheer.

Pick your Free Power of Moms Program Here - Choose between our Deliberate Mothering Podcast Series (featuring me, my mom and sisters), our School Paper and Homework Mastery Program, and our Do-it-Yourself Summer Camp Kit.

We were going to end this free offer on Christmas but I think we'll leave it up for a day or two longer. As long as the link works, the offer stands!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Almost-Snowed-Out Concert





Our 6th Annual Children for Children concert last night was lovely (you can learn more about what these concerts are about in my post from last year's concert here). The kids and I spend the whole day yesterday answering last-minute questions from attendees, cleaning up and setting up the old church down the street where the event would take place, practicing parts, getting the Nativity costumes in order, putting the program together and making treats to serve at the close of the evening.

Then around 4pm it started snowing in earnest and while we've all been craving more snow, the huge clumps of snow falling from the sky weren't so welcome when we were worried about how the snow would affect people's ability to get to our concert. Sure enough, around 5pm, we started to get phone calls from people who were planning to come from more far-flung places who weren't going to make it thanks to the weather. We also got a call from a family with stomach flu, a family with a broken-down car and a family who dropped the autoharp they were going to play at the concert and sadly had to cancel the performance they'd planned to do. It seemed most of our larger families who were planning to come had had to cancel for one reason or another and as our planned-for numbers dwindled, we were feeling a bit sad. So we knelt together and prayed that the people who really needed to be there would be there and that it would be a good experience for everyone who attended and that we'd be able to raise a decent amount of money to help the orphans. Then we all felt much better.

The concert turned out to be really great. Our numbers were fewer than last year but that made it all the more friendly and relaxed. Ashton was an excellent MC. All the kids on the program did a lovely job dancing and singing and playing instruments and received enthusiastic applause for their efforts.

One of my favorite moments was when one sweet neighbor girl got up there to sing and lost her nerve. After a few moments of silence with no one knowing quite how to handle the situation, three other neighborhood kids rushed up there to be her back-up singers and the four of them carried off a rousing rendition of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." That little moment seemed to typify what the whole evening was about - children seeing needs and helping other children. Whether you're helping orphans in Bulgaria get healthy food and medical care or helping a neighbor sing a song, giving and helping kid-to-kid is a beautiful thing to see.



Perhaps my favorite part of each "Children for Children" night we've done has been opening the box of donation with my kids. I think they're more excited to open this box than pretty much any other box they get at Christmas.



How wonderful to see my kids so excited about getting something that they get to give away! They get stars in their eyes as we count up the money and talk about all the great food and warm blankets and fun activities that THEIR money they worked hard to earn will help their little orphan friends to have. It's a beautiful sight.

For anyone who'd like to get their kids involved in some sort of a "Children for Children" holiday giving effort, here's a very simple 3-step process for you:

1. Learn about children in need. 

You could watch the following little video about the Bulgarian Orphans with your children (I took these pictures myself when I was in Bulgaria a few years ago to do training for orphanage caregivers there and I still cry every time I look at these sweet children who desperately need the love and health that One Heart Bulgaria helps to provide.) Other great and trusted organizations that help children that my family and/or friends have been heavily involved with are Rising Star (serves children from leper colonies in India - my parents and most of my siblings have been there and most of us sponsor kids there) and Care for Life (my brother and sister-in-law worked with this organization in Mozambique for several months and saw the huge difference they make as they build families and empower people to make their lives better). There are many other charities you may also want to look into. But choosing one that offers videos, stories or photos will help make it all the more "real" for your children.

2. Talk about what your kids could do to earn money to help meet the needs of these needy children. 

They could simply do some extra chores around the house or offer to do chores for neighbors to raise money. They could invite friends over for a little movie party and ask them to bring a donation in the amount of their choice  and show a little movie about needy children and talk about how they plan to help before showing a fun holiday movie. They could put on a little "Children for Children" concert where they perform for others and ask for donations (this can be done with just a few families - doesn't have to be a big deal - could grow over time . . .).

3. Help your kids donate the money to the charity you've selected together. 

I totally recommend One Heart Bulgaria since I know the people involved and know that they make the money go a lot ways and put it directly towards the most prevalent needs of children. But there are many other wonderful charities you could look at. Most charities have a "donate now" button that's pretty easy to locate on their website and it's a quick and easy thing to sit down with your kids and make your donation online.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

I made up this recipe last week (combined some other similar recipes that weren't quite right) and I have to say it turned out really tasty. I've done this with steamed squash (from a package of pre-cubed butternut squash from Costco) rather than whole squash but it's even better (and still quite easy) with roasted squash.

Ingredients:
2 medium-sized butternut squashes or one big one
1 large sweet yellow or white onion
3-4 cloves crushed garlic (or 1-2 tsp bottled minced garlic)
1 tbsp olive oil
32 oz chicken broth (4 cups)
2-3 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbs curry powder (can leave this out and put a 1/2 tsp of nutmeg instead for a different taste)
1 cup milk or cream

Instructions:
Slice squash in half and clean out seeds and stringy stuff. Place shell side down on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, cover with foil and roast for about 1 hour in a 400 degree oven (until somewhat soft). Can roast garlic cloves at the same time if you like rather than using fresh crushed or bottled garlic.

Roughly chop onion (doesn't matter if it's nicely chopped as it will be pureed after cooking) and cook onion and garlic in olive oil in a large stock pot until limp and slightly brown.

Scoop cooked squash out of shells into blender until about 1/2 full then add 2 cups chicken broth and the cooked onion/garlic mixture. Blend together until smooth. Repeat with rest of squash and chicken broth. (Most blenders can't handle all the squash at once.)  Put pureed squash mixtures into stock pot and stir in salt (to taste), black pepper and curry. Then stir in milk or cream until you reach the desired consistency (thick but not stiff).

Enjoy with warm crusty bread. Can do a swirl of cream or dollop of sour cream on top of the soup when serving.

Serves about 12 (and lasts in the fridge for a week or can be frozen if you've got extra).




Friday, December 14, 2012

My Best Christmas Gift


Yesterday we announced a chance for all the moms of the world to pick a free program from the Power of Moms as our special holiday gift to the world. To get the program of their choice, moms were asked to simply send us an email specifying which program they wanted. And as long as they were sending an email, we figured we might as well get some feedback on what they like most about Power of Moms so we can be even more in tune with what is working for our audience.

This morning, April and I woke up to 100's of kind emails from moms all over the world, sharing their kind thoughts about The Power of Moms. And reading through their comments has proven to be the best Christmas present ever for me. These moms really love what we offer. They really get the point of it all. What we've built is making a real difference for real moms and families out there. What we carefully and prayerfully throw out into cyberspace is hitting its mark. Good to know. Very good to know.

Power of Moms started off as a nice little labor of love for me, a way to help moms learn from each other while gathering the mothering wisdom I needed for myself, a chance to use my interest and experience in training and teaching and writing to make a little contribution to the larger world during my kids' nap time. But over the past 5 years, it's grown into a community of over a million moms with a wonderful volunteer Board of almost 40 moms who help April and I take care of the everyday functions of this website with daily articles, podcasts, videos, programs and resources galore. How I love being part of this community of deliberate mothers!

Here are a few comments people sent in:
I appreciate the gentle & friendly guidance and advice, the camaraderie and mentorship, from those who have been-there-done-that in parenting. I cannot find a parenting mentor like that in real life.

What I REALLY appreciate is how much you guys give away free! It is so generous. And knowing the philosophy, style & quality of your work from the free giveaways makes it easier to contemplate forking over big money for the paid programs. I am dancing around purchasing the Virtual Retreat right now as my Christmas/birthday present. 
I NEARLY made it to the Sydney retreat, and I also really appreciate that you actually had a retreat in Australia.

Again, thank you so much for your generosity,
Victoria.
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The way your motivation to be a great mom is creatively shared for the moms out there like myself, who are equally motivated, yet are blessed with talents NOT at all in the area of organization!  I struggle to keep our small home tidy and chaos-free, and as a single parent, it's not easy!   
Therefore, you bless my home by offering your talents and consistently making available the tools and encouragement to be the mom I truly believe we all want to be!  I hope that I bless others by what God has gifted me with.  I think maybe, that it's all about that!  Not being great at everything, but sharing your portion with others, and hopefully, together, we'll raise great kids!  
Thank you, Erin
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I'm very new to your programs, and have only been to two Learning Circles so far, but I like the honesty in the articles. I don't feel competitive with the authors, or judged at all. I just feel supported and encouraged. I like that. 
Sally
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Thank you for all of the work you put into the programs. I want to do so many things (like get my mind organized or make a summer camp for kids) but it would take so much trial and error to customize any program for moms or take more planning and enthusiasm than I could muster to start it from scratch. Thank you for doing the work for us, April and Saren! What you all are doing makes a difference!
- Jessica
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It's hard to pick only one thing that I appreciate.  But, I really love all of the inspiration.  I  think being a deliberate parent is so very important, but it's not always easy.  So, when I find that I'm running off track a bit or becoming caught up in the day to day craziness and losing focus of what's important...it's great to read all of the ideas and inspiration on Power of Moms.  It reminds me where I want to be! 
-Virginia

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One thing I love about Power of Moms is that if I'm having a rough day I can go to your website and read an encouraging essay and get re-motivated as a mother. To appreciate the good and to realize that with things like crying tantrums, "this too shall pass."
Thanks so much for the Power of Moms! Can't wait to read Twelve Powers of Deliberate Mothers, mine just arrived yesterday from Amazon!
Merry Christmas! 
Becky 
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One thing I appreciate about the Power of Moms is knowing that I'm not alone. There are so many moms out there struggling in the same way as I am and with its awesome articles the Power of Moms websites and retreats bring us together so we can help and encourage each other along the way. 
Cheeri Redd
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What I love most about Power of Moms is that the articles are so honest. There is no sugarcoating about motherhood. You tell it like it is and how you can suck out the marrow of motherhood despite the hard parts.
The worst thing I can imagine is to realize that I have not valued my kids enough and have not enjoyed motherhood. It is the best time of our lives now, and we have to appreciate it. 
Please excuse my poor English, I am from Germany and English is not my mother tongue.
I purchased Mind Organization for Moms, and I love it. It helped me so much to get my head clear for the really important things.
Thank you very much for your gift and for your amazing website.
Best regards
Cordula Heymann from Germany
_________________________________
I am so grateful for this community of thoughtful mothers -
it seems as though the outer world is so very demanding
and materialistic and moving so, so quickly - this forum
allows me to reconnect with my values as a parent and
renews my determination to guide my children as best
I can according to our family values.

Thank you for all that you do and happy holidays!!
 
Best, Kathleen
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One thing I really like about the Power of moms is that gives me new ideas to help solve problems that challenge every mom.  Why should I recreate the wheel if someone has already mastered it?
- Katie
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I appreciate Power of Mom's because I can count on their materials being truly useful and effective, always uplifting and positive, and simple for me to understand and apply. Thank you for offering a place that supports and strengthens mothers. You are doing a wonderful work! 
- Cassondra
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What I like about the Power of Moms is the weekly emails - they are so easy to review and offer great information.  I can quickly look at the articles and information relevant to me and none of the information takes an enormous amount of time.  It's perfect for busy moms like me. 
- Wendy
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I discovered Power of Moms with the DIY Summer Camp program last summer.  It was the best thing ever!  I needed ideas and organization since we weren't traveling this summer.  The kids got so excited about the binders I made them and everyday they looked forward to getting up and starting to learn!  Power of Moms you keep up the good work!!  It's empowering to me, to see how effective I can be as a mom.  Thanks!
Marea 
________________________________

I love how the Power of Moms cares more about moms than money.

thank you!! 
- Beth
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I just want to thank you for the thoughtful, tangible tips you provide.  I often find that when friends and I talk about issues we're having, we commiserate, ending with "when you figure it out, let me know how you did it!".  The Power of Moms gives me tips that I can actually try out, which is great....especially if I actually do try them!

Thanks again, 
Amy
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I appreciate that every time I get an email from you, it makes me stop and think about my day and how deliberate I am being at that moment.  I appreciate that you fully give back to all your readers. - Samantha
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The thing I love most about the Power of Moms is the learning circles.  This is the one night a month I really look forward to and always feel so refreshes and insightful afterwards.  I love the articles and find myself reflecting on them throughout the month.
- Brittany
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I have really been uplifted by all that the Power of Moms has to offer. First I stand amazed that y'all can run such a site with so many different facets, and second I am grateful for the encouragement  it gives me to be a better mother. I try not to spend too much time on the computer in general, for me it just makes me feel guilty, but when I get on and read an article from the Power of Moms, I always feel like a better person. It gives me that little boost I need at times. So thank you for giving us this web site as a way to become the mothers that we all have the potential of being! -Krista


So yeah. All those countless hours we've put in on Power of Moms work for the past 5 years have really made a difference. April and I are accomplishing what we've felt "called" to do for moms. It's so wonderful to see our main goals and hopes reflected back to us in these comments. What a perfect Christmas present these comments are!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Let it Snow - and a special gift

Last Sunday night it finally snowed (it's been in the 50s and quite balmy which felt great up until after Thanksgiving - putting up the Christmas decorations with everything green and bright outside the windows just felt a little odd).

We were reading stories when the kids gleefully shouted out that they saw snow and we decided we'd better close the book and seize the moment and sit there by the window, watching the snow fall.

The kids were excited to take pictures of the scene that felt so magical - especially the way the Christmas tree lights reflected on the window and made it look like there was an invisible tree with visible lights on our front lawn.

We sang "Let it Snow" and the words were so perfect.

Sometimes you just have to stop and watch and enjoy. Especially when snow is feeling so rare this year.

It's been back in the 50's again this week. I'm so glad we took the time to watch the snow on Sunday.

P.S. Want a free program from The Power of Moms?

At Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we also celebrate motherhood as we think on the hardships Mary endured to bring this special baby into the world then see Him do wonderful and hard things. I always feel an extra dosage of love and appreciation for motherhood in general at this time of year. So April and I decided to give away a free Power of Moms program to all the moms of the world who might want one. Click below for details and PLEASE share this link with all the moms you know. If all 1000 of you who regularly read this blog each sent this link to 10 friends, that would be 10,000 moms who'd be able to enjoy these great free programs that could really impact their lives and then if those 10,000 moms shared with their friends - wow . . . . Then if the 22,000 moms on our Power of Moms newsletter list each it to 10 moms, and they each sent it to 10 moms - bigger wow . . .

My greatest desire with Power of Moms is to help every mom out there get the support she needs while giving her a chance to lend her support to the other moms around them. And offering all moms a free program can not only help them get specific help through the program they select as their free program, it can also lead them to find many more helpful ideas at The Power of Moms. And if moms are supported and able to be the moms they really want to be, the future looks very merry and bright and I see a lot of peace on earth.

Anyway, here's the link. Pick a free program. Share. Enjoy!
Pick a Free Program at The Power of Moms
(Just select this link above, press down the ctrl and c keys to copy, then in an email or Facebook or blog post, use the ctrl plus V keys to paste in the link. Maybe you totally know how to do this already but I didn't realize how to copy and paste like this until somewhat recently...)


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Great Video - The Beauty of Giving

My brother Josh sent me a link to this great 1-minute video that has a beautiful twist at the end.

For ideas on giving your kids the joy of giving, check out this post I did a couple weeks ago on Power of Moms (great photo of me and my siblings on Christmas long, long ago).

Three Steps to Giving the Gift of Giving

Monday, December 10, 2012

Scripture Challenge Week 20: Specific Inspiration from the First Presidency Christmas Devotional

This week I'm focusing on a little "modern day scripture" in my scripture post.

I missed watching the First Presidency Christmas Devotional last Sunday. We thought it was recording but somehow it didn't get recorded. But I loved reading this report with the highlights of the addresses given.

I felt inspired by President Monson's talk to make extra efforts to do acts of personal service this Christmas. I loved his story of how he'd been a bit of troublemaker in primary as a boy and how the primary president had so lovingly asked his help in getting all the older boys to be more reverent. Many years later, when the primary president was in a nursing home, he decided to visit her at Christmastime to thank her for the positive influence she was in his life. When he arrived, she was just sitting there, despondent, staring at the plate of food in front of her. He decided to feed her. As he fed her, he told her how much she'd influenced him, even though he was told that she hadn't spoken in ages and didn't even know her own family these days. As he left, she very surprisingly said, "

But even if she hadn't recognized President Monson or seemed to care at all that he visited, the visit still would have been worthwhile. She might have felt that love inside and it might have brightened her dreary life. And the visit would have made a difference to President Monson. The effect on the server or giver is just as important as the effect on the receiver, isn't it?

So next week when the kids are out of school, we're going to visit my Grandma. It's been a couple months since we've gone to visit her and my parents have told me she's really declined. She's had dementia for a few years now and when we've visited her lately, she hasn't had a clue who we are and has asked us the same questions about 100 times and then has promptly forgotten that we visited as soon as we left. But my kids have felt her sweetness and love and have learned patience and kindness as they've answered her questions again and again with bright smiles on their faces and given her lots of hugs. She's clearly been happy when we're there and her happiness in the moment is a worthwhile thing - even if she doesn't remember the visit a few minutes later.

But since our last visit, I've heard that she's declined quite a bit further. She's only waking up for a couple hours every 24 hours and is always asking "am I alive?" when she does wake up. She used to be able to carry on conversations (repetitive ones, but conversations just the same). Now she can't really talk much and keeps falling asleep after a few minutes of talking. She has a lady that comes in and helps her bathe and my uncle lives there and gets her all her meals. So she's fine. And I've thought maybe it would be best not to take the kids to see her - that way they'd get to keep the positive memories they have of her from a few months back.

But I think the kids will bring out a more active response in my grandma than my parents and other adults have. And whether she really cares that we visit or not, WE will care. And the effect on the server is just as important as the effect on the receiver, isn't it?

President Uchdorf's talk inspired me to be a much better receiver this Christmas. My love language is not gifts. I really don't care much about receiving gifts (unless they're really super thoughtful and sentimental and I don't expect such things very often at all). In fact, gifts mostly stress me out. I want so much to give meaningful gifts that I have a super hard time ever settling on a gift for anyone. And when it comes to receiving gifts, I guess it often feels like an exhausting game of tag to me - someone "tags" me by giving me a gift and then I have to set off running to "tag" them back with an equal or greater gift - and that adds to my to-do list and make me stressed out.

According to President Uchdorf:
“Isn’t one of the great joys of Christmas seeing the excited faces of little children as they take in their hands a wrapped gift that is just for them?” asked Preisdent Uchtdorf. “As we get older, however, our ability to receive gifts with the same enthusiasm and grace seems to diminish. Sometimes people even get to the point where they can’t receive a gift or, for that matter, even a compliment without embarrassment or feelings of indebtedness. They mistakenly think that the only acceptable way to respond to receiving a gift is by giving back something of even greater value. Others simply fail to see the significance of a gift — focusing only on its outward appearance or its value and ignoring the deep meaning it has to the sincere giver.”

“My brothers and sisters, what kind of receivers are we? Do we, like the Savior, recognize gifts as expressions of love? … I hope that this Christmas and every day of the year we will consider, in particular, the many gifts we have been given by our loving Heavenly Father. I hope we will receive these gifts with the wonder, thankfulness and excitement of a child.”

So this year, I'm going to be a much better receiver. I'm going to receive gifts with love and joy and give gifts with love and joy and lay the stress aside as much as I possibly can. I'm going to focus on giving gifts of service since I'm better at that than material gifts. And I'm going to be positively thrilled by anything I do receive!

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Italian Sausage Lasagna

Here's our family's favorite lasagna recipe. It's pretty quick to make (you use noodles that don't need to be boiled). It's healthier than many other lasagna recipes (uses less cheese but still feels decadent). And the sausage adds a lot of great flavor and makes this different than your average lasagna.

Italian Sausage Lasagna

Ingredients:
1 1/2 lb Italian seasoned ground turkey (Jennie O brand is great) or regular mild Italian sausage (or you can slice up chicken Italian sausage links)
1 onion, chopped
1 24 oz pkg of low fat small curd cottage cheese
2 eggs
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp oregano
2 jars of your favorite tomato pasta sauce (my favorites are Classico Tomato Basil or Bertolli's Marinara)
12 oz box of oven-ready lasagna
2 cups of finely shredded mozzarella cheese Italian blend cheese
(optional - thinly sliced zucchini coins from 3-4 small zucchini)

Instructions:
1. In a large skillet, brown sausage with onion. Then add in 1 jar of tomato sauce.

2. While the meat is cooking, mix cottage cheese with 2 eggs, parmesan cheese, and oregano in a mixing bowl.

3. Spread 1 cup of red sauce on the bottom of a 9-13 pan. Arrange oven-ready uncooked lasagna noodles on top of pasta sauce in the bottom of the pan. Spread 1/2 of cottage cheese mixture over the noodles. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese on top of the cottage cheese layer. Spread 1/2 of meat and sauce mixture on that (then a layer of sliced zucchini if you like). Put on another layer of lasagna noodles on top. Repeat with the other half of the cottage cheese mixture, another 1/2 cup of shredded cheese, and the rest of the sauce and meat from the skillet (then another layer of sliced zucchini). Then do a final layer or noodles and spread the second jar of sauce on top of the noodles. Then spread the final cup of shredded cheese on top (can reserve a little of the meat to put on top with the sauce if you like).

4. Bake at 375 for 40 min covered with foil. Take off foil and cook for about 15 more minutes.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Cutest and funniest video - old Nativity play

I got an email asking for help from a Joy School group - they have really little kids in their group and wanted some tips on how to make a Nativity play work for their little Joy School Christmas party. So I dug up an old video we made the first year I did Joy School with the twins and all my kids thought it was the cutest and most hilarious thing ever. So I thought I'd share it here:

I miss those baby voices and I miss teaching Joy School!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Decorations, Slumber Party and Christmas Clothes

I wasn't really feeling it on getting out all our decorations this year and getting the tree up and decorated. Maybe it was because it's still been pretty warm. Maybe because I've been pretty overwhelmed with some Power of Moms project (two big new programs we're wanting to launch right after the holidays). Maybe just because.

But I rallied. And Ashton and I happened to find about the most perfect real tree for a great deal while we were out shopping on Thursday. The kids and I got all the Christmas garlands and nutcrackers and Nativity scenes out and set them up then we worked on the tree all afternoon and evening on Friday. I don't love putting the lights on the tree. My back kills me as I'm bent over and in weird positions getting those lights on - it always takes me about two hours since I'm pretty particular about the lights. But this time it went along nicely as the kids helped untangle and test the lights and then took turns reading aloud while I got those lights on.

We're reading this book called The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. My mom bought up all the used copies she could find a few years ago (it was out of print and not that easy to find - but I just discovered that it's back in print - yeah!!!) and gave one to me and each of my siblings a few years ago. I read it to the kids that year and it was great but they were a little on the young side to really get it. This year they all REALLY get it and it's been so great learning all about how little Nickolas was a sweet and kind boy who took such good care of his little sister and then, all in one night, through a terrible chain of events, his sister and both parents died and he became an orphan who had to be passed from house to house in the little village as no family was wealthy enough to keep an extra child for very long. And through it all, he was extremely helpful and kind and taught himself to make little wooden toys for all the children in the village. It goes on to tell about how he got his first sleigh, how the first stocking came about, how he got his first red suit and so on. It's all fiction but it's a beautiful story about a really sweet and good little boy who makes the best of hard situations and solves problems with love and my kids have been totally eating it up. I love reading stories like this that make us all feel like being better people.

Anyway, so we got the tree up and had lots of fun taking out all the special ornaments we've got from places we've visited and sharing memories as we placed them on the tree. Then we put up all the gold and red balls and talked about the symbols of the colors of Christmas.

Here's the finished tree with our special ornaments from England, Africa, Australia, Russia, Bulgaria, our pioneer trek last summer, San Francisco, Mexico, Belize, and from specific fun activities we've done together - I love the stories each ornament offers - and so do the kids. Tip: key chains make great ornaments if you can't find an actual ornament as a souvenir... (why didn't I turn the tree lights on for this picture???)



Here are some of our Nativity scenes - a cool hand-carved spinning one Jared got in Germany, one Jared and I got in Bolivia, and the snow-globe Nativity the kids love from the exotic land of Costco


Jared and Ashton took off for a boy scout camp out (in the pouring rain - but they still did it!) and the rest of the kids and I had a special slumber party together. We ate our favorite brownies and ice cream (Ghiradelli double chocolate brownies are totally the best brownie mix I think and when you put them with Oregon Black Cherry Tillamook ice cream and a few sliced bananas - wow). We watched this great movie my friend recommended (A Cat in Paris - it's on Netflix instant right now - fun, clever, exciting animated story). Then we all slept in my room together.


I like my kids. A lot.

On Saturday Eliza made us all cinnamon rolls for breakfast (in keeping with the Scandanavian tradition of Saint Lucia), the twins had a basketball game (they lost - they always lose - defense is a foreign concept - but they had fun), then Ashton and I headed out to get that big boy some new Sunday clothes - he's completely grown out of everything and it was time to get everyone their Christmas Sunday clothes (our first gift of Christmas to our kids is new church clothes that they get to wear starting the first Sunday of December). It was great to have time to bond with this great boy of mine (who I end up being at odds with far too much lately). We found Ashton his first full suit which he was very excited about (and which didn't cost nearly as much as I'd worried it would cost). We found great stuff on sale for all the other kids as well. And we had some good chats about all stuff we saw and people we encountered in the mall.

Here are the kids in their new Christmas outfits. They were all pretty darn excited about what Ashton and I found. And they're actually getting a little better at posing for pictures without a huge fuss and a few tears (but I had my dumb camera on the wrong setting...).



Yesterday in Primary we practiced the Nativity play we'll be doing for the ward Christmas party this Friday. We sure have a lot of very cute kids in our ward and I was so glad for the big bag of shepherd, king and angel headdresses I've got from years of doing our Children for Children concert with the Nativity play at the end (If anyone's near Ogden and wants to come to our concert this year, you're most welcome. It'll be on the 17th and the invite is here.).

So cold or no cold, snow or no snow, we're into the Christmas season. And it's beautiful stuff.

P.S. I got to go hiking today after my sadly thwarted attempt last week. It felt so good!

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Scripture Challenge Week 19: Great Joy

Alma 22: Lamoni's father, who's apparently never been remotely religious, really listens to Aaron who lays out the whole plan of Salvation. Lamoni yearns for the eternal life that Aaron speaks of - "I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom that I may receive this great joy." (verse 15)

Aaron's answer: "If thou desirest this thing, if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then thou receive the hope which thou desireth."

I want great that great joy that Lamoni wanted. And I've known pretty much all about my life about the plan of salvation and the path to eternal life and what I'm supposed to do to be on that path. But reading about Lamoni's excitement made me realize more fully the true wonder and simplicity of it all. Joy is there for the taking. Eternal life is ours. All we have to do is turn to God, believe, hope and act on what we know. We don't have to understand or accept it all at once. We just have to try to believe - to really desire, like Lamoni, and to act on that desire by reaching out our hands to God. Plus we have to be willing, like Lamoni, to "give away all our sins to know [God]" (verse 18). We can't keep our sins and still have the joy and salvation that God wants to give us. We aren't expected to be perfect. But we can bow down before God every day and repent every day. These relatively simple actions keep us on the path. And it's a beautiful path full of great joy that is made possible by our Savior.

During church today, Isaac was sitting on the bench right behind me, helping with the little kids of our friends. He had little Charlotte next to him and during the sacrament, I heard him quietly talking to her. He said, "See, during the sacrament we can think about anything we've done wrong and we can say a little prayer and then it's all fixed and Jesus takes it away. Isn't that cool?" It struck me how totally cool that really is. We can give up our sins and know God. And we can do it again and again and again if we need to. He's always there for us. His hands are always outstretched. We can get rid of sadness and pain and the burdens of sin if we call on His name in hope and faith and repentance.


Saturday, December 01, 2012

Roasted Beet Soup and Beet Chips

This week I decided to try some brand new food I've never cooked with or eaten much before - beets and turnips. They just looked intreguing at the grocery store. I did a little research and found some recipes that looked good, did some tweaks to make them my own, and came up with turnip chips that were good but not necessarily a favorite, beet chips that were really good, and some very beautiful and very tasty bright pink soup that delighted the kids with its color and most of them liked its sweet and pleasing taste as well. Plus I made some yummy beet chips (figured that as long as the oven was on, might as well make something else using the oven and the beets).

Here are the turnip fries, ready to roast (just clean the turnips, cut them in strips, toss with a little olive oil and salt, spread on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees until soft inside and slightly brown and crisp on the edges - about 20 minutes)


Here are the beet chips (just wedges tossed in a little olive oil and salt) and half beets plus turnips ready to roast.


Here's the finished soup which really was delicious.

(It was sort of dark so you can't quite see how pretty the beets really are inside or how vibrant and gorgeous the color of the soup was in these photos. Some day maybe I'll get a real camera and figure out how to use it...)

Roasted Beet Soup with Creme Fraiche

4 large beets, washed and cut in half
4 medium cloves garlic
1 good-sized sweet yellow onion, minced
1 tsp olive oil
4-5 cups chicken broth (less if you want a really thick soup, more if you want a thinner soup)
1/2 cup whipping cream (optional but it sure makes it good!)
1-2 tsp salt (to taste)
1/2 tsp pepper (to taste)
1-2 bay leaves (optional)

Put take papery outer skins off garlic cloves, place on backing sheet, spray with olive oil spray or canola oil spray. Put beets cut side down on same cooking tray. Cook beets and garlic for about 1 hour at 400 degrees (or until beets are soft and can be cut pretty easily with a fork).

When beets are done, set aside and brown onions in oil in a stock/soup pot.

Cut cooked beets into smaller pieces (to help them blend well) and put them in a blender along with the roasted garlic, cooked onions and 2 cups of chicken broth. Blend until smooth. (If your blender is sort of small, you'll want to blend in batches - I've got a VitaMix and it all fits at once in that container.)

Put blended mixture in stock pot and stir in remaining 2 cups of chicken broth, a little at a time, until smooth. Add bay leaves (optional). Let simmer for about 20 minutes (not necessary but makes it yummier). Just before serving, add the cream and stir it in, setting aside a little cream to drizzle on top when serving. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve drizzled with a little cream on top (or a little sour cream is good also). Great with warm crusty bread and butter.

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