Sunday, September 30, 2012

Scripture Challenge - Week 9: A Sad Thing

In the past couple weeks, I've ended up having conversations with several different people about a sad thing.

It seems like there are a lot of people in our church these days who are looking for more rules and more specific doctrine when it comes to how we should dress, what we should eat and drink, what we should believe politically, that sort of thing. Lots of people seem to be seeking after clear black and white answers in areas where the Lord has only offered guidelines or strong suggestions. I've read carefully through "For the Strength of Youth" and the primary, YW and Relief Society manuals as well as other official church materials and you know what? There aren't very many hard and fast "do's" and "don't's." In most places where guidelines are offered, words like "generally" or "should" are used rather than "always" or "must." Often, official church materials suggest that we pray for guidance as we strive to figure out what is right given the unique situations we may find ourselves in.

To me, it seems clear that the Lord wants us to figure out a lot of things for ourselves. As any loving father would do, God offers us a lot of guidelines and counsel. But also, as a loving and wise father would do and in keeping with the free agency that this life is all about, He stops short of giving us specific and complete directions and rules about everything. Long, long ago, God did away with the Law of Moses - the lower law of hard-and-fast long lists of specific "do's" and "don't's" - and replaced it with more nuanced laws. Love God. Love each other. Be Chaste. Be generous. Be modest. Be healthy. . . Through modern prophets, He's offered us very helpful guidelines to help us figure out how to live His commandments. But beyond a relatively few very specific rules, he leaves it up to us to figure out what obedience should specifically look like in our lives.

I applaud people for seeking for guidance about specifics on how to best obey God's laws in their own lives. I think it's important and commendable when people develop personal standards that are strict and that involve sacrifice. But what bothers me is when some people use their personal understanding of what a guideline might mean to judge someone else.

It made me sad to hear about a primary leader making a big deal about sleeveless dresses not being modest while several little girls in pretty summer dresses without sleeves are sitting right there in the room (what are they supposed to think? That their moms committed a sin by purchasing and dressing them in such clothes?  That they are capable of tempting men with their shoulders?...). It made me sad to hear of a Young Women's leader asking the 14 and 15-year-old girls in her class on Sunday whether they were going to the casual no-date school dance that weekend, then proceeding to tell them (after most of the girls raised their hands) that the prophet has taught that they should not be attending dances until they are 16 (I guess you could interpret some of the guidelines that way but that would be a personal or family choice, not something to preach as doctrine). It made me sad to hear about a young boy who saw a relative drink Coke and was seriously worried about this relative's soul.

I wish we could all focus more on the things that seem much more important to me based on the scriptures and what our church leaders talk about the most - loving others and seeking personal revelation and working out our own salvation.

Anyway, the thoughts and conversations that have popped up in the past couple weeks led me to really notice this passage in the scriptures this week:

"For they saw and beheld with great sorrow that the people of the church began to be lifted up in the pride of their eyes, that they began to be scornful, one towards another, and they began to persecute those that did not believe according to their own will and pleasure...yea there were envyings and strive and malice and persecutions and pride even to exceed the pride of those who did not belong to the church of God..." (Alma 4:8-9).

Don't get me wrong. I think the vast majority of the members of my church around the world are good people who are doing their best. And I don't see people outright persecuting each other much at church. But I do think that if we get caught up in the letter of the law and try to interpret what is right for anyone other than ourselves and our own families, we are led to some dangerous pride. And that can lead us to quiet and/or outwardly friendly persecution as well as strife. This pride and strife can really hurt fragile testimonies of others and cause us to loose our focus on the things that matter most - like loving each other and advancing our faith in Christ - while we get distracted by smaller things that may not matter very much in the grand scheme of things.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Creamy Orzo with Veggies

My sister-in-law Julie recommended this recipe (original is here) and it's become a family favorite - we've had it once a week for the past month. I generally stick to low-fat recipes and go for tomato-based sauces rather than cream or cheese-based sauces. But sometime a nice creamy dish just totally hits the spot. And my kids LOVE this. The said it was WAY better than macaroni and cheese (and way better for them!).

It only takes me about 1/2 hour to make this whole recipe from beginning to end (would take longer to prep if I used chicken as suggested in the original recipe but I don't bother with the chicken - it's delicious as a vegetarian meal and there's protein in the cheese).

I use whatever veggies I've got on hand (and I added in more quantities of veggies to the recipe - way better with more veggies I think). It's great with broccoli or fresh green beans instead of the asparagus, with grape tomatoes cut in half instead of the red peppers (but don't add those until the very end or they'll get all mushy), and the mushrooms can be left out if you don't have them on hand (my kids pick them out and give them to me and my husband - we love them). I've made a few other changes to the recipe as noted below.


Creamy Orzo with Mushrooms, Asparagus and Red Pepper

1 lb. orzo pasta
1 cup reserved pasta water or chicken broth (see below)
1-2 tsps olive oil (or some olive oil spray)
2 medium chicken breasts (1-1.5 lbs.), cut into chunks (optional)
8 ounces white button mushrooms, sliced
1/2 - 1 sweet onion, diced
1-2 large red bell pepper, cut into 1/2" pieces (or
1 lb. asparagus, cut into 1" pieces
1/2 - 1 teaspoon dried thyme (depends on how much you like thyme - I just like 1/2 tsp)
3 cloves garlic, finely minced (or 1-2 tsp crushed/diced garlic from a jar)
8 ounces cream cheese, softened (I always use 1/3 less fat cream cheese or Neufchatel)
1/2 teaspoon salt (add more to taste once everything's assembled)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley (I usually skip the parsley)
juice of 1-2 lemons (don't skip this! It's what makes it so good.)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook according to package directions until tender (but not overdone!). When the orzo is ready, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and then drain the orzo and set aside. (I don't use the pasta water, I use chicken broth instead - makes it tastier I think. Plus I can never remember to save the pasta water...)

While the orzo cooks, in a large nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat or just spray the pan with a good coating of olive oil spray. Put garlic and onion in the pan and saute a little. If you're using chicken, season the chicken with salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the hot oil and brown on all sides. When nicely browned (but not quite all the way cooked through), add the peppers, mushrooms, asparagus and thyme. If you're doing it w/o chicken as I usually do, put the veggies in the skillet and saute a bit then add a tablespoon of water and cover to let veggies steam and soften - 5-10 minutes depending on the hardness of the veggies used. Take lid off and allow veggies to brown a bit (spray with a little more olive oil if you like). Stir until most of the liquid has evaporated. Veggies shouldn't be totally done since they'll cook a bit more once you add in the cheeses.

While the veggies cook, cut cream cheese into chunks (like 6-8 chunks from one cube). When veggies are mostly done, add the cream cheese and the grated parmesan and stir so that the cream cheese melts and coats the chicken and vegetables (can cover and leave on low to let it melt). Add the reserved pasta water or chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Stir. Add the orzo, lemon juice and fresh parsley. Stir to combine and heat through. Garnish with additional Parmesan if you wish and have some lemon slices available to squeeze over the top of individual portions if you wish.

Serves 6-8. Best to serve in a bowl since it can be pretty creamy.

Friday, September 28, 2012

It always works out - in the end

Yesterday was a little crazy. My mom was really good about recording the crazy days and I want to follow her example more. The wildness needs to be remembered alongside the beauty. And the hard days offer such great lessons in the end.

Here are some snippets of my day yesterday:

I spent the morning cramming bits of work between phone calls that kept coming in then had a really good talk with April (involving crossing a few things off our list - yeah!!!). Then I spent 4 hours in back-to-back doctor appointments with Eliza (She's fine - we just wanted to get a few things checked out before we switch insurance and have to switch doctors. For one thing, she has these big bumps on her feet that hurt and rub against her shoes - turns out they're extra little bones that should probably be removed at some point but nice to know they're fine for now - just need to get some little pads to help ease the pain...).

As we left the last doctor's office and got a late lunch (we were both starving and Eliza needed a little TLC), Isaac called to ask where his uniform was - he had a cross country track meet right after school and had forgotten to put his uniform shirt in the wash so it wasn't ready when he left for school that morning so I kindly said I'd wash it for him and bring it down to the school at some point but when Isaac called, that shirt was sitting wet in the washer and I was not near home yet and Isaac's bus was leaving in 5 minutes. I asked if they had any spare uniform shirts he could wear and he said he'd check and call me back. Meantime, I got Eliza home and beat the carpool home just barely, got Eliza and the twins going on homework and put Isaac's shirt in the dryer, realizing I could meet him at the school where they were holding the meet and give it to him there since the girls usually race first so I'd have some time to get Isaac his shirt before his race. I wasn't planning to go to that track meet because I needed to help Liza and the twins with book reports due on Friday and needed to get Ashton to his football game. But the track meet would have to be squeezed in and hopefully it would work out OK.
As I got the kids going on their homework, I got a call from Ashton asking me to pick him up from school because he needed to bring the robot he's working on plus a case full of robot parts home and couldn't roller blad home with all that stuff. I left the kids doing homework and drove the 5 minutes to the school where I found Isaac still there with his cross country team - the bus hadn't come yet. Darn! Would have been nice to know that the bus was still there so I could bring that still-slightly-damp-but-just-fine uniform shirt down to the school with me and be less pressured about getting to Isaac's meet (I didn't know where the school was where they were holding it - hadn't had a chance to look that up yet - could be really far away - could end up being pretty hard to get there...). Isaac had a HUGE spare uniform shirt on and I hugged him and told him I'd do my best to get to the track meet to bring him his shirt and watch him run but that I wasn't totally sure it would work out. He said he'd be fine with the huge shirt if it came to that.

Then I couldn't find Ashton at the school. Took me 15 minutes to finally track him down. He was having a great time working on robots with the die-hards in his robotics class and said he didn't hear me when I'd told him he'd have to be out front, ready to go when I came to pick him up. He doesn't hear a lot of things these days. But his robot is looking really cool and it was a silver lining to see him in action with his friends. He's really seeming to love school and is loving having cool classes and extracurriculars this year. And it was fun to see Isaac board the bus with his cross country buddies. He's by far the youngest on the team - it's 6th-9th graders and Isaac is a very young 6th grader (summer birthday). But he was joking around and laughing with all the older kids and seemed to be really enjoying being part of the team. Good to see.

I went home, looked up the school where the meet was and saw it was only about 20 minutes away. Decided I'd better go. Helped the twins and Liza with their book reports and homework. Left Eliza to finish the puppet she has to make for her book report and Ashton with the pile of homework he had. Took the twins with me to the track meet.

Well, the school where the track meet was is a brand new school and my phone had a hard time with navigating us there. After driving around for an hour and having the phone tell us that we'd reached our destination which proved to be an abandoned shack and then re-checking the address and finding a different on on the school's website and having the phone take us to a random house, we finally gave up on finding the school and asked the phone to take us home.

On the way home, we ended up randomly finding the school. Sadly, Isaac's run was already finished. He was red-faced and sweaty and triumphant. He had come in 9th place out of about 50 runners, most of whom are a lot older and taller than him. I was so sad we missed it. But we were glad to be able to congratulate him and give him the bottles of water he was needing and take him home with us. He did just fine - huge shirt and all. And the twins and I had some good laughs over the crazy lady in my phone who took us to the wrong destinations. Isaac was grateful we tried. I want my kids to always know that at least I try hard.

We were way late to take Ashton to his game but luckily Jared had been able to make it home early to take Ashton and they were only slightly late. So the twins, Liza and I quickly ate some dinner, rounded up our neighbor and headed to the Cub Scout Pack meeting I was supposed to go to as the Primary rep for the scouts and that I wasn't sure how I was going to attend if I had to be at Ashton's football game (which is way far away). So glad Jared was able to cover that game. We only got to the pack meeting about 10 minutes late.

The pack meeting was fine. I helped with games for the boys while the pack leader did a meeting for all the parents - nice to get everyone on the same page. At the close of the pack meeting, just before calling on someone for the prayer, the the Pack Leader came over to me and discreetly asked if I had the refreshments. Then it all came back to me. I'd signed up for refreshements about a month ago and put it on my calendar so I wouldn't forget but I did forget - completely. All I could say was "Nope, I don't have refreshments. I totally forgot. I'm so sorry." But we just had the closing prayer and no one (other than the twins) really asked about refreshments so it was all OK in the end I guess.

I guess the lesson is that things pretty much always work out OK in the end and I should remember that and stop getting totally stressed about things all the time!

Now I'd better go buy jeans for the twins since I can't seem to find their last-year jean which are probably too small anyway - they're supposed to wear jeans, white shirts (got those washed) and straw hats (got to find the two I THINK we still have from pioneer trek in the basement) for the performance they're doing with their class at the school carnival tonight (which I was supposed to help with but it conveniently happens at the same time as the ward ice cream social that I'm supposed to help with - I THINK I have it mostly figured out how we can be at the most vital parts of both events but we'll see what happens. Oh! And I'm supposed to make some homemade ice cream for the ward party but that might not happen - got some ice cream in the freezer that I can mix some fresh fruit into and it'll be fine...). Ashton signed up to help with  a booth at the carnival to do fundraising for robotics club right so there will have to be some back and forth as we try to hit the most vital parts of these two simultaneous events...). I felt pretty guilty but I didn't sign up to help with anything specific at the carnival this year - I did way too much last year. We'll just go for the kids' performances at the beginning and then hit the ice cream social and somehow get Ashton back and forth since he's supposed to be helping with a robotics fundraiser booth at the carnival. No matter how much I DON'T sign up for, somehow I seem to be signed up for a little too much...

But as I learned yesterday, things will work out. They usually do. And when they don't, it's usually not as big a deal as it might seem in the moment!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I'm so glad we squeezed that in...

Wow. This weekend ended up PACKED! I knew it would be busy but somehow more and more things kept popping up and somehow there weren't really overlaps so it all sort of got crammed in. It all turned out great. But I'm tired.

The kids were out of school on Friday so while Eliza performed in two matinee performances with her beloved dance class, the boys and I went on a gorgeous hike. We haven't been hiking in WAY too long and we all needed this. Hiking fills my soul. And the kids were so excited about the gorgeous leaves they found and scampered up what turned out to be a very steep and long trail. (Well, one of my kids wasn't exactly scampering and was acting like he's too cool to notice nature - but deep down, I think he still had a good time.)
 I love fall!

It was a lot hazier than usual because there have been all these wildfires north of here.

After the hike, we picked up Eliza and her dance friends from their performance then my friend Emily and I took our girls out to an excellent Japanese restaurant (Tona on 25th - I highly recommend it) that we wanted them to experience as a special reward for the hard work they've been doing lately. As some unusual looking food appeared on our table, I told the girls that in my book, it's fine to have foods you don't like but people should at least try things before they decide whether or not they like them. One of the girls quickly came back with "I don't think I like your book." Clever girl. But all the girls quite liked a lot of what we ordered and the food was all so pretty and so very tasty to me. Very nice little lunch. I wasn't sure if we should try to fit this lunch into our already-busy day when Emily suggested it. But I'm so glad we squeezed it in. It was so pleasant.

After lunch, we hurried home to grab our other kids and get down to the train station to watch an old steam train pull into the station to commemorate the 150th birthday of Union Pacific Railroad.

We waited.

And waited.

I guess old steam trains aren't often on time.

The kids, especially my boys, were SO excited when that thing finally pulled into the station! I wasn't sure it would be worth our time, but I'm pretty glad we squeezed that in and the boys are super glad about it.

(This train is a twin train to the one that pulled into the station. It's always on display and the kids never tire of climbing on it.)

Then we heard they were doing a special kids' sprint race as part of the XTerra events this weekend right up the street (XTerra involves lots of different very serious races - trail running, mountain biking, road biking and swimming). My kids weren't really dressed for running a race - but they wanted to do it anyway - it was a nice short race. It worked out great.

The kids were pretty pleased with their medals.

And very happy with the free snow cones they got for finishing the race.

I'm so glad we squeezed that race in. (But I didn't love the snowcone sticky mess that ended up ALL over Oliver!)

We headed home, ate a little dinner, then it was time for Eliza to do her final dance performance. We weren't exactly sure what the performance would entail and hadn't got around to getting tickets but a friend gave us some extra tickets she had and Jared and I went and brought Oliver along as a special little date (he was the only one really interested in going). It turned out to be a WONDERFUL performance including some dances at the beginning (featuring Eliza - and I have to say, I think she's pretty darn good) and then a lovely children's dance theater productions involving gorgeous dance by children that went along with a narrated story. Oliver was glued to it the entire time. I'm so glad we squeezed that in (and sad that I didn't video it - I was enjoying Liza's dance so much that I just didn't think of it!).

Saturday morning we cleaned (quite quickly and somewhat painlessly thanks to this new system of ours - but I have to say we were a bit behind so there was more cleaning and complaining than any of us would like on a Saturday - still working on all this. And I wasn't as nice as I should have been...).

Saturday afternoon, some dear friends who we've known our whole married life came up from SLC to join us for the Harvest Moon Festival downtown. Great kids' activities and crafts, all free. Such a fun event for kids. Maybe a little less fun for adults who get to stand in the sun holding all the kids' craft creations and trying to keep track of wandering children. But it was great to have a chance to catch up with our friends and share our beloved downtown with them. And we were miraculously able to sit down and enjoy some nice conversation over lunch while all our kids enjoyed their own food in a somewhat civilized manner.

In the craziness of herding 11 children around, this was the only photo I got! I'm so glad we were able to spend time with friends and enjoy such a nice community event - even if it was hot and all that.

Then Saturday night, we went to my cousin's daughters off-treatment party. After 2 years of chemotherapy, this sweet little girl is cancer free! It was a super fun celebration and was so great to be there to support Cami and her family. The food was excellent. There was swimming and a bounce house. The video that Cami's dad (my cousin Pat) made was SO well-done and such a tear-jerker. And I got to catch up with all my cousins. Wish I'd taken pictures.

I'm so glad we squeezed that in.

Then later Saturday night, when all the kids were tucked in bed, Jared and I were so tired but we decided to head to a party a couple blocks away that our friends were putting on at a new roof-top bar they're just about ready to open. Gorgeous place. So nice to catch up and laugh with neighbors and friends for a bit. So nice that we've got a kid big enough to babysit these days. So glad we squeezed that in.

Then today, we watched some friends' kids while they went to the Brigham City temple dedication then they watched our twins while we went to the same thing (there was a session at 9 and one at noon and you could only bring kids over age 8). Worked out nicely to do the switch off. Great to sit snuggled with my older kids (why do they always over air condition places???) and listen to inspirational talks and see the dream of so many come true and the work of so many be completed as that beautiful temple was dedicated.

After the dedication, we headed to Park City for dinner with my parents who've been out of town for almost a month and are heading back out of town for a month or so early tomorrow morning. When my mom invited me on Friday, I was a bit hesitant given how full our weekend was already looking. But we haven't been to their house in ages and we needed our "Grammie and Grandfather fix" as much as they needed their "Loosli kid fix." So we loaded up and headed down there, enjoying amazing foliage on the way.

We had a really nice dinner and visit with my wonderful parents. Grandfather took the kids on a short hike involving seriously exciting imaginative adventures. Apparently they saw an elf and found several homes of trolls. Always very exciting to be with Grandfather. I'm so glad we squeezed this visit in!

Then on the way home, we stopped by my brother-and-sister-in-law's house and had to go around several police blockades in their nice neighborhood to get to their house. Turns out some crazy guy said he'd planted a bomb in several people's back yards and they'd had to evacuate 40 homes and seal off the area while they tried to get the guy. Wow. Never a dull moment! We ended up having a great talk in the car on the way home about crazy people and what people do for attention and why they might end up so desperate for attention...

Car time can be such great talk time. We had a great talk on the way to my parents house also - reviewed our family policies on work and money and unveiled the policy Jared and I have been working on about what the kids will be expected to pay when it comes to a car when they're 16, college tuition and room and board, and missions (this is totally on my mind since I'm working on a new Power of Moms program all about teaching kids about work and money - more details later). The two hours on the way to and from my parents' house proved to be really good.

So as I finish writing this, I'm realizing that sometimes it's great to squeeze in a whole lot of things that are really great things. I'm tired. But it was all worth it. And this week, I'm keeping things as simple as possible. I've got some catch-up time while the kids are at school each day so that makes it feel much more OK to have packed this weekend.

Sometimes it really doesn't work out to pack things in. I've had weekends that were packed where I felt like a lot of it was a waste or several things went quite wrong - or a combination of the two. But this weekend was a good one. I guess you never know for sure. But everything this weekend just felt right. So we did it. And it pretty much worked out great. Yes, there were stressful moments. And I admit I got pretty upset and yelled too much during Saturday cleaning when I got my expectations out of whack right when one child was being especially difficult. I had to do some apologizing and take my expectations back a couple notches.
But I don't think any of us would have given up anything this past weekend, even though things were tighter than we really like them to be.

You win some, you loose some. And this weekend was generally a nice stretch of wins.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Scripture Challenge - Week 8: Gratitude for the driving winds that take us to beautiful destinations

This week I mixed it up a bit. I was feeling less motivated about scriptures so after reading on in Alma for the first few days this week and feeling a bit bogged down, I decided to move to another part of the scriptures. Switching up where I'm reading always seems to help me. I'll go back to Alma and it'll feel fresher a bit later.

So this week, I found some stuff in Ether 6 that really spoke to me.

The Jaredites are travelling across the ocean to the promised land. They've worked hard to build sturdy barges according to instructions from the Lord and have figured out how to have light inside their vessels (I love how the Lord doesn't tell them what to do about the problem of how to have light inside their vessels but asks them to come up with a solution and present it to Him. This is a pattern I need to follow more with my kids and as I bring problems to the Lord...).

In verse 5-6 it says, "The Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind. And... they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind."

It sounds like that fierce wind and the mountain waves were pretty crazy and scary. And lots of times "they were buried in the deep." (v. 7)

But they were safe because their vessels were built just right - they'd followed the Lord's directions just right. And when "they were emcompassed about by the many waters they did cry unto the Lord and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters." (v. 7).

The wind "did never cease to blow towards the promised land." (v. 8)

And through what sure sounds like some hard trials, "they did sing praises unto the Lord...and did thank and praise the Lord all the day long; and when the night came, they did not cease to praise the Lord." (v.9)

During many phases of our lives, the Lord is driving us with fierce winds and mountain waves and scary times towards the "promised land" He has in store for us. We can focus on how bumpy and uncomfortable and often frightening those strong winds are making our ride. Or we can focus on how blessed we are to be driven towards the beautiful and wonderful things the Lord has in store for us. We can murmur or we can sing praises. It's up to us.

And the hard stuff in our lives often isn't short. A lot of endurance and ongoing faith is often expected of us. The Jaredites endured this tossing on the sea for "three hundred and forty and four days." (v 11)

But how much more we appreciate things when we've had to go through hard stuff to get to them!

"When they had set their feet upon the shores of hte promised land they bowed themselves down upon the face of the land and did humble themselves before the Lord because of the multitude of his tender mercies over them." (v.12).

We can look back and see how much help and love we experienced through trials or we can look back and see just the pain and suffering. It's up to us.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Quinoa Black Bean Salad

I was in a cooking slump for a while. It was so hot and we were going so many different directions. Our meals got pretty basic for a while. But now that we've got cooler weather and more of a set schedule, I'm getting into cooking again. I feel such a sense of accomplishment when I get something lovely and tasty on the table and we enjoy a nice family dinner. Some nights dinner is leftovers (love having leftovers on hand!) or simple pasta and sauce. But at least 3 nights a week, it's my goal to make something a little more involved (but still very easy).

I got this great recipe from my sister Shawni.  I think it's a great Indian Summer recipe - involves some cooking and some nice fall flavors but is served cold.

For info on how to cook dry beans really really easily and more bean recipes, visit this post.

Quinoa Black Bean Salad

3 c. cooled cooked quinoa (=1 c. raw quinoa and 2 c. chicken or vegetable broth; cook it like rice by bringing it to a boil then letting it simmer for 15-20 minutes - when the little circle things come loose from the grains and all the liquid is absorbed, it's done)
2 cups of cooked and drained black beans (or one 12-oz can, drained)
1 can white corn (drained...I use frozen corn)
1 c. grape tomatoes (sliced in half) or 3-4 chopped large tomatoes
1/2 red pepper (chopped)
1/2 a chopped red onion or 4-5 chopped green onions (to taste)
1/2 bunch chopped cilantro

Mix everything together. Then pour the dressing over the top and mix it in:

2-3 tbs. balsamic vinegar (I like it with 3 tbs because I love basalmic vinegar)
1 tbs. olive oil
1/4 c. lime juice
1/2 tsp salt (or more if you didn't use chicken broth to cook the quinoa - just add to taste)
1/2 tsp sugar

Serve at room temperature. I like to add avocado chunks too - mix them in or serve on top. You can also add feta or craisins. I often serve on a bed of lettuce (as in the photo). And a little extra lime squeezed on top is nice.

Serves 4-6 people. I usually double or triple this. It freezes well if you want to make a lot!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Great Retreat in Idaho Falls

I spent Friday night driving up to Idaho with two dear friends (one of whom is luckily also my cousin), Tiffany and Taunie. We talked about everything from the very serious to the very silly on our drive and it was such a fun trip!

Then we arrived at the home of a mom we'd never met before who'd agreed to host our Idaho Falls Retreat and graciously let us spend the night at her home so we'd be there ready to go the next morning. As soon as we walked in, our hostess told us that we actually weren't strangers - her dear parents were our good neighbors in St George. I love how The Power of Moms makes the world so much smaller and how we can show up anywhere from Idaho to Australia and find instant bonds with moms we've barely met but feel like we've somehow known forever.

Saturday's Retreat was amazing. I know I say this every time. And I have to admit that there's always a little worry as I head into each new Retreat that maybe somehow this will be the Retreat that flops, the one where moms don't seem engaged or where the food doesn't show up or something like that. But we've now done 17 Retreats and every single one has been a fabulous experience for me - and sure seems to have been a fabulous experience for everyone else there based on the feeling in the room while we're there, the lively conversations that go on, the tears and laughs involved, and the kind emails and blog post links I receive after each event.

This Retreat had a special place in my heart because deep down, I'm sort of an Idaho girl. My mom's from Idaho. We spent every summer growing up at Bear Lake in Idaho and continue to spend our summers there.  My husband's from Idaho so that has tied me to Idaho even more as I've developed a deep love for all his excellent family members and his family's farm there (we even named our oldest son Ashton after the town where Jared's family has farmed for generations). So it was extra fun and meaningful for me to be able to help present our first Retreat in Idaho.

Here are all the wonderful moms who attended. These 42 women collectively mother 164 children. Those are some lucky children. They have excellent moms who are working to be even better. They will go forth and do great things in the world thanks to the good moms and families they come from. And the ripple effects will be endless. Thousands of lives will eventually be effected by what was discussed and shared on Saturday. This is a picture of true power:

I wish I'd had time to sit with each and every one of the moms who were there and pick their brains and bask in their goodness - but I was so grateful for all the great comments and ideas that were shared and for the moms I was able to get to know a bit (and the moms who I already knew because they'd come to other Retreats before - so fun to see some familiar faces and build real relationships with these great repeat attendees).

I loved presenting with Tiffany and having my cousin Taunie there to add her wisdom as well. Taunie will be my co-presenter at our upcoming Spokane Retreat so it was great to "practice" presenting together a bit. Tiffany and I go way back to the days when I lived in England when I was 16. She and I went to church together there. She was this cute little 12 year old. Who would have guessed we'd be great friends who enjoyed presenting together at Power of Moms Retreats one day!

This Retreat had a special place in my heart because deep down, I'm sort of an Idaho girl. My mom's from Idaho. We spent every summer growing up at Bear Lake in Idaho and continue to spend our summers there.  My husband's from Idaho so that has tied me to Idaho even more as I've developed a deep love for all his excellent family members and his family's farm there (we even named our oldest son Ashton after the town where Jared's family has farmed for generations). So it was extra fun and meaningful for me to be able to help present our first Retreat in Idaho.

At the Retreat, we talked about how to take care of ourselves as women and take care of our own mental, emotional, social, spiritual and physical health so that we can be in a better position to really give what we want to give to our families and be great examples of personal progression to our kids. We talked about creating margins in our life and while I've talked about this again and again, this time I'm SERIOUS. I WILL have more margins in my life (a little more about that in my last post on what I learned in the scriptures this past week).

We also talked about building an effective family discipline system, family economy, and family culture and so many shared such great ideas. One of my favorite ideas we talked about that has become a new mantra for me is this:

A lot of the best stuff came out in the small group discussions as all the moms had a chance to learn from each other. There is so much wisdom and love and experience there when you get a group of deliberate mothers together!

Along with lots of talking, we ate lovely food, passing around everything from chocolate covered pomegranates to grapes to carrots (got to have some indulgences alongside the healthy stuff...) and enjoying great sandwiches at lunch that were provided by our lunch sponsor Gator Jacks of Rexburg. If you're in Rexburg, be sure to give them a try!

If you can't make it to a retreat in person, you can have your own personal Retreat or get together with some friends to watch our Virtual Retreat. I love that we can offer this now because I used to feel so bad when we'd get emails asking us - and sometimes begging us - to come do a Retreat in a given area. We just can't get everywhere in person. But with these video-based Retreats, we can get everywhere at least virtually and all moms can benefit from at least a piece of the Retreat experience.

If you want to make it to a Retreat or Workshop in person, check out our Upcoming Retreats and Workshops and see if there's one you could attend. According to one mom, "Today was the very best use of my time and money that I could ever imagine. My life and my family will forever be changed."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Scripture Challenge Week 7: Being more liberal and generous

I read Mosiah 28-Alma 2 (not a lot this week - I read a little every day but sometimes it was a very little and  pretty wimpy as far as really reading for messages - I'll go deeper and do better this week)

Alma 1:29-30 talks about how the people were prosperous and that they freely shared with those in need and did not set their hearts on riches. They were "liberal to all, both old and young...whether out of the church or in the church..."

I think the main message I got this week (other than that I feel better about scripture reading and my life in general when I take notes - something I slacked off on this week), was that I need to be more liberal with my means and my time. Last year I was very very frugal with money and time. It seemed necessary. We had a tight budget and my time was very tight as I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to meet all my family's needs while trying to run a business and help all the moms in the world. There were no margins financially or time-wise. When someone came up to me in the Walmart parking lot asking for a dollar to help them fix their car (or buy food for their kids or any number of other things that seemed somewhat dubious) or when one of the kids ruined something we'd have to pay for, I felt angry and stretched too thin. I didn't feel like we had any wiggle room for uncertain causes or expected needs. When the phone rang or someone knocked on the door or I realized a someone might need help from me, I felt really annoyed. I didn't have that extra minute to answer a phone call or deal with that person at the door or that friend in need! I had just barely enough time to do the vital things on my list and my days were packed with every minute feeling booked. Unexpected needs were most unwelcome.

I'm realizing now that the tightness I was living with wasn't good for anyone. Tightness with time and money leads to stress. Margins with time and money allow us to be liberal and to feel that great feeling of generosity. I love feeling that I can be generous with my time and money - and a lot of feeling that way is simply DECIDING to feel that way. Even when we really are so busy and so tight on funds, we can usually rearrange and subtract at least slightly to get to the point that things aren't so tight.

I've seen people be liberal and generous even when they are in very tight places. I so admire generous people. I can be liberal and generous a whole lot more and can do a better job maintaining that regardless of my circumstances. I can take do a better job welcoming the interruptions and the serendipity of life. I can give a person in the Walmart parking lot a dollar sometimes - small price to pay to escape the bad feeling of not being generous. I can leave space in my schedule to allow for the neighbor who needs to chat and the mom I run into at the school who might need a friend.

So there are my thoughts for this week!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Delicious Overnight Steel-cut Oatmeal

As it's been getting a bit colder, this has been a favorite yummy super-easy breakfast. Just put it in the crock pot the night before and voila! Nice tasty hot breakfast ready when you wake up.

2 cups of dry steel-cut oats (don't try to use quick or old fashioned rolled oats!)
8 cups of water (I actually use 7 - I like my oatmeal a little thicker)
1 cup of sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup of raisins
(can also add chopped walnuts or pecans, berries, chopped apples, craisins, bananas, etc.)

Put the oats and water in the crock pot before you go to bed. Set it to cook on low for 6 hours (if it doesn't have a timer, it can cook a little longer until you wake up but it does get a bit mushier after 6 hours and many people prefer it slightly chewy). In the morning, stir in the sugar, cinnamon and other toppings. If you like, you can stir in chopped apples about a 1/2 hour to an hour before serving so they can cook a bit. Serve with a bit of milk or a dollop of vanilla yogurt. Add a little more sugar if you think it needs it. So easy, healthy and yummy!

Friday, September 14, 2012

A great video and two free books

Your Children Want You from Whittier Area Community Church on Vimeo.

I love this little video I recently stumbled upon (thanks Pinterest). I guess a church in Wittier (not sure where that is) did a special Mother's Day performance featuring a dramatic reading of a truly beautiful post by my Power of Moms partner, April, called Your Children Want YOU. It's definitely worth 6 minutes of your time. I bet you'll cry. And I bet you'll come away feeling like the great mom you really are.

While I'm talking about inspiring motherhood resources, we're giving away my two all-time favorite motherhood books at The Power of Moms. They both just happen to be my my mom but I don't think I'm particularly biased in saying that they are marvelous books with just the right mix of laughter and learning and inspiration.

Please share the link with all the moms you know!

If you want access to a bunch of my parents' great books for free, they've set up a great new website where eventually, most of their books will be available as free downloads. Only some of their titles are there now, but check it out if you love their books:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mellow Labor Day Weekend

Things have been flying at us fast and furiously lately - school starting, the Grand Teton Relay, a trip to Tennessee for Jared for work, start-up of scouts and dance and so many other things. So it worked out great to just stick around for Labor Day weekend - especially when we found out Jared's sister and kids would be coming to town.

On Saturday, we'd planned to do banana pancakes for our guests then go for a hike. But there was an amazing thunder and rain storm all night Friday night so the mountains were way to muddy for hiking and the power was out so we couldn't cook all the pancake batter we made. Instead, we wandered down to the farmer's market downtown instead and enjoyed peaches and fresh bread for breakfast before checking out all the trains at the train museum.

We visited "Ogden's famous dancing horse, Sundance" at the farmer's market (something the twins insist on doing every chance they get). He's a pretty awesome horse who can do all kinds of tricks.

We checked out all the cool painted horses in downtown Ogden and the great train station.

We wandered along Main Street - so many great little shops and restaurants and lots of street vendors on Saturday as well.

We climbed around on all the old trains at the train station (one of the kids' all-time favorite activities)

Then on Monday, Jayne visited again and we were able to do something we've been wanting to do forever - float the Ogden River. There were some mini-rapids to keep it exciting and some nice stretches of calm floating as well. The river was about 2 feet deep in the deepest places so that made it a very safe thrill ride. It was so much fun! Then we finished off with a delicious lunch at a restaurant right on the river.


Sunday, September 09, 2012

14 Years

Fourteen years ago Jared and I were married.

On our wedding day, 9-8-98, we thought we had a pretty good idea of what we were getting into. We knew we were embarking on an exciting adventure. And we knew there would be plenty of hard stuff to deal with. But we really had no idea how exciting or how hard it would be.

There's nothing like marriage to to humble you and stretch you. 

I used to dream of a marriage where there would be adoration right and left, deep soul-to-soul conversations pretty much daily, and lots of mind-reading built in. But I've come to have great affection for a marriage involving the synergy that comes from a strong partnership between people who love and respect each other deeply and understand and appreciate the differences that make them need each other.

Maybe there are some people out there (real people, not people in books and movies) who have easy marriages full of non-stop romance and fun. But I don't know any of them. I do know there are some people who feel deeply beautiful soul-mate connections with their spouses - but most people seem to need a LOT of years of ups and downs and learning and trying to develop a marriage both parties feel good about. Some couples seem to be better at friendship, others are better at partnership, some are better at mutual appreciation, others are better at connection. There's no one "right" type of marriage relationship.

Jared and I have had amazing times together this past 14 years - amazingly great and amazingly difficult. We've learned a ton - a lot of it the hard way, some of it the really really hard way. We're still learning new things and re-learning things that we should have learned more thoroughly previously.

Perhaps the most important things I've learned so far (and that I'm still needing to really work on) are these six things:

1. Let go. I've let go of a lot of things that I thought were very important. And I've learned to value new things that I didn't think were important initially. Letting go is hard. And so many things I thought I let go of pop up and demand to be considered when I thought I'd thoroughly let go of them. But letting go is necessary. And offers such freedom when I can truly cast off certain wants and needs and expectations.

2. Be grateful. I can choose whether to find fault or find blessings. When I choose to see all there is to be grateful for, things work out much better. I am amazingly blessed to be married to a man who is smart in ways I am not smart, capable in ways I am not capable, and a perfect complement to me in so many ways. I'm grateful for all the ways marriage has rubbed off my rough edges (even though it was painful). I'm grateful  to be married to a truly good person who is everything I never knew I needed.

3. Give 100%. I used to think I should give 50% and Jared should give 50% and that would work out great. I've learned we both have to plan to give 100% and that all I should really be thinking about is whether I'm doing my 100%.

4. If it's important to you, it's important to me. Jared loves watching sports on TV, flying airplanes, and having certain material things that I would never even know existed without him introducing them to me. He's careful not to let his interests take over all our free time or mess with our financial health. But since these things really matter to Jared, they need to matter to me. On the flip side, I care about lots of things Jared doesn't naturally care about (and my list of things I care about is WAY longer than Jared's...). Jared does a great job of making what matters to me matter to him. We don't have to like and need the same things. But we do have to respect and support what really is important to each other without judgement.

5. Don't expect to change anyone besides yourself. Be the change you wish to see - and then be OK if you're being that change and it's not making the overall change you had in mind. Work on yourself first and foremost and learn to accept and work on your own faults.

6. Marriage is work every day. Like all serious and worthwhile work, it can make your tired and frustrated and is sometimes so hard it makes you want to give up. But it also brings the kind of real joy and satisfaction you can only get from serious and worthwhile work. It's the kind of joy and satisfaction that can be hard to see or feel in the everyday without making an effort to feel it, the kind of joy and satisfaction you feel most deeply in looking back and seeing all you've been through together and all you share and all the goodness your union has brought forth. I like this quote by Ursula Le Guin "Love does not sit there, like a stone. It has to be made like bread, remade, made new."

Marriage is a very very good thing.

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes about marriage that I probably would have shunned if I came across them years ago. They're decidedly un-romantic but they've helped me realize some important truths and let go of unrealistic expectations. And I've found that when expectations are in check, romance is much more likely to happen.

"Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking together in the same direction."
–Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry

"I was never one of those women who tell you that they're always on the same page as their spouse. I feel like you're ahead of the game if you're even in the same book" - Anna Quindlen

I'm so grateful that I've now spent 1/3 of my life with an amazing man who supports me and loves me and stands by me in a marriage that has brought me the adventure and stability I dreamed of alongside the learning experiences I needed.

For our anniversary, I met up with Jared after work in SLC and we went to a fabulous restaurant, spent the night downtown, then went to the temple where we were married the next morning. Some friends were kind enough to watch the kids overnight. We haven't been away together for years and while a get-away seems less drastically needed than it did when all the kids were so little and needy, we realized that it's still greatly needed. Having many hours together in a different setting with nothing to think about except each other does wonders for a relationship. We've decided we need to do this at least twice a year.

Here we are at the temple on our wedding day:

And here we are in the same place 14 years, 5 kids, 6 homes, several jobs and start-ups, and hundreds of adventures later:

Finally, here's a little video I made a couple years for our anniversary that we like watching with the kids each year on our anniversary. Making and watching something like this sure helps me count my blessings. What wonderful adventures we've shared! And we've got plenty more to go...

Scripture Challenge - Week 6: Cycles and Angels and Redemption

This week I read Mosiah 23-27.

It must be so frustrating for God to see his sons and daughters embrace the truth, find great happiness and prosperity as they live righteously, then get comfortable and proud and slide into unrighteousness. This pattern is repeated SO many times in the Book of Mormon and the Bible as well. As a parent, I see my own kids feel so great about themselves and their lives when they're in positive patterns of working hard and being kind and getting enough sleep. But sadly, these happy times in their lives are all-too-often followed by some crash-and-burn as they get tired of trying hard or get distracted or simply forget. And I fall into these cycles of doing things right and getting comfortable then slipping a little and then ultimately ending up in a place I don't want to be. Maintaining good patterns in our lives is SO hard. We all know generally what is right. But doing it again and again, day in and day out, even when we're tried and we don't feel like it, is one of the hardest and most relentless challenges in this life.

There's a great reminder for all parents in the story of Alma's son and Mosiah's sons. They were born to great parents (Alma was a prophet and Mosiah was a righteous king). These boys were likely raised with truth and righteousness. But they not only fell away from the truth, they actively worked to "destroy the church of God, going about secretly to destroy the church and lead astray the people of the Lord." How terribly sad and frustrating for their parents! And what a blessing it was when an angel appeared to them and set them straight. I'm sure there are so many parents who earnestly wish for an angel to come along and help their wayward kids get back on the right path. But I like how this story points out that we should never loose hope when our children seem to be off track and that the Lord is there to help - usually in more subtle ways than sending an angel - but as we seek His guidance, He will help us see what we can do and He will send others to help them as well.

There have been several "angels" in my kids' lives. My kids are young and they haven't really had the chance to make big bad choices so far. But there have been many occasions when they could use some outside help and direction and I've been so grateful when that help and direction has come along. I've loved how neighbors, teachers, relatives and friends have often offered just the right words or suggestions at just the right time. Often they say exactly what I've been saying. But coming from someone else, it somehow is more powerful...

I hope and pray that there will be "angels" along the road ahead. I know we're going to need them.

And here's a video I stumbled upon that goes well with the messages of redemption I read about this past week. The kids and I just watched it together - we've decided to watch a few of these "Mormon Messages" together and talk about them every Sunday afternoon - opens up some great discussions.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

A couple announcements and some great links...

I keep forgetting to blog about this very important stuff.


I don't have any more piles that look like this:

My amazing Power of Moms partner, April, the queen of organization herself, has put together a new School Paper and Homework Mastery Kit that has made a huge difference in my home and 100's of other homes so far. All the papers my kids used to fling at me when they'd get in the car after school now go in a specific place and there's a nice simple system for dealing with them. Ahhh, the joy of it! And when my kids announce that they need to do a science project proposal or a book report (which they've already done), I know just how to coach them through figuring out what needs to happen when so it can be completed in a timely manner.

Here's a podcast I made with April sharing some of our best ideas on helping our kids get their homework projects done in a timely way:
Overcoming Homework Procrastination

And here's a great video April made with her daughter about the 5-step process for getting projects done.
Five Steps to School Project Success

Here's a post I did on school-day routines that lots of people are pinning on Pinterest and talking up on Facebook. Thought you might enjoy it (has some chart examples and a podcast by me, my mom and my sisters):
School Day Routines

And one last thing - if you're serious about getting seriously organized, there's a special price on April's comprehensive and seriously life-changing Mind Organization for Moms program through this weekend. My sister Shawni and I are working together on getting our lives more organized and productive and less stressful using this program. I love how it's set up so you can follow simple assignments and get all the way organized in two weeks following the suggested schedule. Join us if you like!

On another note, I get to be the key speaker at these two upcoming Retreats:

  • Idaho Falls Retreat on September 15th (space still available - I get to bring the whole family and visit Jared's mom as part of this Retreat trip since it's in easy driving distance - love it when it can work out that way)
  • Spokane, WA Retreat on October 13th (registration just opened - I've never been to Spokane - totally excited to check it out and to do this Retreat with my cousin Taunie as my co-trainer)
Please spread the word to anyone you know in Idaho or Washington. These will likely be our only two Retreats in the west until we do our annual Retreat at my parents' house in Park City in April or May.

And in case you're wondering, Power of Moms is going very well - and not at the cost of my personal sanity. I've slowed things down a bit but I'm still often trying to cram in more than I should while the kids are at school and sometimes find a bit more work than I'd like trickling into after-school and evening time. There are still hard days when I feel totally overwhelmed. But in general, I'm keeping my boundaries pretty firm and feeling much more balanced than I did last year. Yeah for me!

Monday, September 03, 2012

Scripture Challenge - Week 5: It's supposed to be hard

This week I read Mosiah 16-25. I got a bit behind so I spent a really nice hour catching up on Sunday afternoon. It was great to read a big chunk all at once and really get the flow of the story rather than reading in little bits like I usually do.

Here are a few quick messages that I wrote down in my little scripture journal as I read this past week:

  • Mosiah 18:10 - God really really wants to pour out His spirit on us and give us wonderful things but we've got to be doing what we're supposed to be doing in order for Him do do that. I so often want so much to give my kids the rewards I've promised them and I'm often as disappointed if not more disappointed when they don't hold up their end of the bargain and I can't give them the reward I was excited for them to have. I love thinking of our Heavenly Father so anxious to give us good things and I want to be worthy of what He'd love to give me.
  • Mosiah 19-20 - The Lamanites assume that Limhi's people stole their daughters and attack Limhi's people but actually it was the priests of King Noah who took the daughters. It is so easy to jump to conclusions about so many things. Assumptions are generally dangerous things. It's important to delve into the truth and not jump to conclusions (especially important for parents, I think).
  • Mosiah 21 - Fighting for what's right at the wrong time generally doesn't work.
  • Mosiah 22 - Sometimes you have to leave everything to get what you really want and need. We're blessed that we don't have to leave everything as people long ago often had to do. But sacrifices are necessary parts of life.
  • Mosiah 23 - The Lord doesn't usually remove hardships right off the bat when we ask Him to. Hardships are necessary for our progression. Life isn't supposed to be easy. But as we pray and work and humble ourselves, the Lord will ease our burdens.
  • Mosiah 23:27 - Gratitude is so important. We must take time to really give thanks. Yesterday for Fast Sunday, we fasted in thanksgiving for Jared's job, for our health and strength, for our wonderful kids and extended families, for the strength we received during some very rocky times last year when we wondered if our prayers were being heard (help we couldn't see very well at the time but can see clearly now). 
  • Mosiah 25- People can really change. The priests of King Noah urged Noah to put the brave and righteous prophet Abinadi to death, ditched their wives and children so they could run away faster when the Lamanites were pursuing them, stole the daughters of the Lamanites when they needed new wives, and then, in the end, they realized their wrongs and the bad traditions of their fathers that they'd bought into and ultimately lived as righteous Nephites. They were apparently good enough husbands to their new Lamanite wives that these wives pleaded with the Lamanites to spare their husbands when the Lamanites captured these priests. 


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