We’ve Decked the Halls

I’m still learning how to deck the halls of the Homestead for the holidays. This year I’ve found that more decorations are in left in the boxes than are out on the shelves..but what we did get out is helping us enjoy the season more even if the season itself feels more like March than December!

The Weather outside is Frightfully WARM. Our greens are taking a beating but at least the colors of Christmas (minus the white of snow!) are welcoming visitors and the UPS man who drops things on the porch almost daily right now…
Christmas card garland is coming together nicely. As we receive holiday greetings from friends around the world we add them to the banister. By Christmas day its a fun and colorful display and a sweet way to remember that we enjoy many wonderful friendships.
I made the stockings, with my mom’s help, many years ago. They don’t really ‘match’ our other Christmas decorations but I just cannot give them up. I’m still trying to learn how to decorate this space – this year I kept it very simple, more decorations stayed in the boxes than came out onto the shelves. Tomorrow I’ll pick up a few bunches of fresh greens and hopefully some paperwhites and red tulips to liven things up until Christmas.
Truly this is the most beautiful Christmas tree we have every had. My sister in law Jody is truly a lighting expert, and I try every year to trade her an afternoon of light stringing for a few freezer meals she can serve her family during her busy December. It is the best trade of my entire year! Madi was our chief tree decorator this year, and I love how carefully she placed every ornament.
We have ornaments from every city we have lived in and every country we have lived in too. The beehives are new this year, a reminder of our great state of Utah. The crystal icicles are from Sweden and the beaded bells are from South Africa. Could I decorate anything without a letter ‘G’ ? Nooo.


Sunday Dinner #2

The chicken was a hit, the spinach not so much. John and I love roasted vegetables, but our teenage girls refused to eat something they felt was ‘burnt on purpose’…

This week’s dinner came from one of our favorite every day cook books, “Keeping Up Cookbook” compiled by Grace Ivory Rock and Amy Henriksen Foulger. Grace and I have served on PTA boards together, we are so happy for her success with these great recipes.

This is a little departure for John, who usually cooks a more complicated meal when he gets to ‘play’ in the kitchen. This week he chose an ‘every day dinner’ which was simple to prepare and serve. He was only in the kitchen about an hour before dinner. This recipe got a ‘Very Good’ rating written by John right on the page of the cookbook. That means we will make it again!

Almond-Rosemary Chicken over Spinach

4 chicken cutlets                                   1 beaten egg

2 tablespoons buttermilk                       1/2 cup finely chopped almonds

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs                   2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon canola oil                           1 small shallot, chopped

8 cups spinach                                        1/4 teaspoon salt

pepper to taste

1. Whisk together egg and buttermilk in a bowl. Stir together almonds, panko, rosemary and salt on a plate. Dip chicken in egg mixture, then roll in almond mixture until well coated. Add oil to a skillet over medium heat and cook breaded cutlets for 5 to 7 minutes on each side, or until coating is well browned and chicken is no longer pink in the center. Remove to a plate and set aside.

2. Add shallot to pan of chicken drippings and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in Spinach, salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Serve chicken on bed of sautéed spinach.

Grace adds this note: “To make your own chicken cutlets, split 2 large chicken breasts into top and bottom halves by running a sharp knife through the center of the breast, knife parallel to the cutting board.”


The Yearly Christmas letter…

We have gone away from sending out that long ‘here is what we have been up to this year’ type of letter with our Christmas cards. I felt silly believing that all of our friends and acquaintances would really WANT to have a year in review of our family. But there are the few who have an interest, so I’ve gone to leaving our blog address on the Christmas card and then spilling out all my gushing praise of children and the blessings of the year here, on the blog.

More than anything, I feel this has been a year of peace. Not that we have peace at home all the time; there is plenty of contention and imperfection. But we have enjoyed good health. We have enjoyed steady employment -even though that was sprinkled with some excitement and uncertainty for a little while. We have enjoyed great experiences including a couple of family trips and some fun family experiences not to mention a once in a lifetime journey for John and I to Italy. We have enjoyed friendship. We have seen growth in our children, in our marriage, and in our garden. We have felt more joy than sadness. We gone more steps forward than back. And for these things I am so grateful and express my deepest gratitude to God because I know that all good things come from Him. We have had trial. We have perplexed parenting issues, which I have tried to be honest about in previous blog posts. We have had pain. But even in these things we have learned and become, I think, a little stronger. Which is also a blessing to be acknowledged. So here I am, acknowledging it.

(P.s.; all the beautiful photos but two were taken by our amazing friend and long time photographer, Logan Walker. You should check her out at loganwalkerphoto.com She is a gifted photographer and an all around amazing person).

So, a few pictures and paragraphs to give you the year end run down:

Elder Graham with a good friend from the mission. Elder Graham has grown so much this year.

Elder Mason Graham (19) serves as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the Texas, Houston Mission. He speaks English and currently lives and works in Spring Texas. Mason has grown so much this year, especially in the past few months. We have noticed a true difference in the tone of his letters. They have gone from expressing personal frustration at his shortcomings to just being full of excitement to serve others. He is getting lost in his work. He is becoming more concerned with the welfare of others than of his own; and this is the sign of a change of heart. This change brings us closer to God and more effective in His service. And it is the greatest Christmas gift I will receive this year – to see one of my own children come to know and Serve God and try to follow His son, Jesus Christ, in such a deliberate daily effort. We are proud of and thankful for Mason.

Bryn started the year with a new drivers license. She has used it SOO much in 2014!

Brynley is now a Junior in High School. She is SUPER BUSY. The weeks fly by for her as she attends school and studies hard, works a part time job teaching Dance to younger girls, participates as a varsity cheer leader and dances in the school dance company. I’ve been most impressed by Brynley’s new found love for Sports Medicine this year. In taking an introductory class at school she has found a passion that may become a profession some day. We have been really happy for her as she has worked hard in school for fantastic grades and we’ve seen her develop her love for dance to a point where she may want to enjoy it beyond her high school career. Its fun to see how the experiences she is having are shaping her future. She has chosen good friends and she is a good friend to her brother and sisters at home. We are grateful for her help and proud of her accomplishments.

Madi has grown up so much this year. So many talents and so much good humor in this little body!

Madison (14) is in 9th grade at our Junior High School. She wishes the high school had 9-12 grade and feels she is ‘so beyond’ junior high. We can see where she is coming from. Madi has grown up a lot in the last year. Her hard work and determination have won her a spot on team 1 of her club soccer team after a concussion last spring that kept her off the field for the entire season. Madi worked her way back to good health and this fall is back at it on the field. Madi didn’t have to miss time at the piano bench, even with her injury, and her musical abilities are something to truly be admired (and even envied by her parents). Madi has this amazing singing voice which she bravely shared  last year at the school wide talent show. She has just begun formal guitar lessons and formal voice lessons and her piano continues to improve. All this while maintaining great grades in the most challenging classes our school has to offer her. This year I have been most impressed with Madi’s humility in striving to improve herself physically, spiritually and emotionally. We all have those times when its a bit more about learning than it is about ‘performing’ in our lives. This year has been a learning year for Madi. She takes big steps forward in her life as she works hard to apply all she has learned in the classroom, from loving mentors and teachers and by her own hard work and study.

Porter has worked hard to be a good brother, friend, son and scout this year.

Porter has had such a fantastic year! 2014 has been good to this kid. He has turned 12 and been given new responsibilities at church by becoming a deacon and serving in those duties with real dedication. He traveled with John and I to New York last summer as a birthday gift and we enjoyed seeing musicals, eating good food and having fun getting to know this kind hearted kid. He has tried new things; including running for a class office at the junior high and trying out for the school play. Last spring he played the part of Gipetto in the elementary school musical and absolutely nailed it. Porter had a good lacrosse season and continues to improve in the sport. This summer we also made Porter try the swim team, and he worked hard and improved all his strokes. He also liked a summer golf program he did with some great kids in our new neighborhood. Porter is making some terrific friends and is a friend to everyone he meets. He still misses our old next door neighbors but has tried hard to build new friendships near the Homestead. We are so grateful for these great kids who have become a fun part of Porter’s life. Most of them are in the same scout troop, which Porter has worked really hard to advance in. I’ve been most impressed with Porter’s willingness to help others and learn new things this year. Its a lot to take on Junior High, and he is still learning the art of self organization-but he is still willing to learn, and that’s what matters to me. I’ve enjoyed watching him be kind to his little sisters and I’ve really appreciated all he has been willing to do to help me here at home. Porter is becoming a great piano player, and he has a been willing to share that talent by even playing in church some sundays. This says a lot about his willingness to serve others; a quality that I love and admire in this great kid.

Molly is determined and has a soul as bright and precious as gold.

Molly(10) is now in 4th grade and is working so hard to improve in school. She loves to be OUTSIDE. Truly, unconfined nature is her happy place. We find her most ‘herself’ when we ski, hike, camp, go to the beach or the lake or send her to the back yard. We have found that Molly’s ‘sport’ is rock climbing; she enjoys 2 hours of climbing a week at a local gym and we move heaven and earth (and homework assignments) to make sure she is there. She didn’t even miss when she broke her arm at the beginning of the school year! Nothing has stopped her. Molly struggles at the piano bench and at the homework table, but she soars when asked to help the little children during nursery at church. She has a soft spot for helping others and a great desire to ‘be good’. She has to fight and train her brain and body to comply with her soul’s desires, but we have hope and faith that she will do this as she keeps working so hard and moving forward through these challenges in her life. We are grateful for her place in our family and we are learning to have so much respect, love and compassion for this beautiful daughter of ours.

Lucy truly can see sunshine and rainbows every day of her life. Blessed with optimism and a genuine internal happiness, she is the bright spot in our home

Lucy (8) is in 3rd grade and is doing really well in school. She loves to read and she loves to talk to her friends-which her teacher has had to point out to us on several occasions. Its no wonder she is a little extra social; Lucy wants to make friends wherever she goes. She is so interested in others and their welfare. She will often talk to me about someone at school who she is trying to make happy. Lucy is quick to smile, hug, laugh and console. She is a stable and positive influence for her older Sisters and she is adored by her older brothers. Lucy has enjoyed piano and dance this year and does well at both. Recently Brynley substituted as her dance teacher and had the same feedback for us as her elementary school teacher; Lucy was as interested in talking as in dancing. She must take after her mother…

I’ve been very happy for Lucy this year as she made the decision to be baptized a member of our church. This occurred in March, and as she has grown and had experiences since then she has commented how much she loves God and how grateful she is that she has the gospel in her life. Recently we had an ‘adoption moment’ together, where Lucy cried and felt the loss of her birth mother. Because we don’t know her birth mother’s true identity or where a bouts, Lucy felt worried and concerned for this woman who she has never known. We prayed together and she asked the Lord to watch over her birth mom and take care of her. If any request made by a child has been heard and will be answered, surely this one will. Lucy, at ending her prayer, was still tearful and weepy but said she felt peaceful and she knew she would meet her birth mom some day. Out of the mouths of babes proceeds forth truth. Lucy is a bright spot in our family. I am so grateful she was placed in our home, for us to learn from and for us to have joy in teaching.


As for John and I. We just keep getting older. This year we have tried to turn back the clock (or at least slow it down) by picking up a fun hobby together. We enjoy working out each morning, early, at a local cross fit gym. We have really come to enjoy having this hobby together and find it so refreshing to try new things and make improvements in our physical selves. We hope this healthy lifestyle will continue for years to come and that it can be a way for us to be able to serve others and be active ‘middle agers’ as the years keep ticking by.

John has worked hard in his professional and personal life this year. The company he had been leading, glasses.com, was sold in 2014 to a huge glasses manufacturer, and after months of transition John was brought back from that venture into the fold of 1800 contacts again. He now serves as their C.O.O. and is beginning to enjoy some new and exciting opportunities in his professional role. He has been asked to lead the Stake young men’s organization for our church, which  means lots of scout experiences and opportunities to help the teenage boys in our area grow in varied ways. He is learning so much in this capacity and we are grateful for the good men and women he works with. He has grown an amazing garden at the Homestead, which we have feasted on from March til November. Brussel sprouts, potatoes, herbs, squash, raspberries and strawberries as well as peaches, pears, apples and cherries have been just some of the bounty of the garden thanks to John’s complete dedication. He has spent time on scout camps, daddy daughter dates, game nights and many other fun evenings as well as being my date every Saturday night for one adventure or another. He has become a soccer fan (go REAL Salt Lake) a true cross fitter and fitness junky, continues to be a fine chef, is a stellar math and physics tutor, and is a true leader in our home. Having teenage daughters has been a challenge for both of us, but he seems to have such a strong and tender heart when it comes to his girls and I can see that they lean on him (just like their mom does) and he helps them in so many ways. I am so deeply grateful, so madly in love, so truly full of admiration and so beyond blessed to be his partner.

And as for me, my year has been full of homemaking, carpooling, PTA-ing, dinner making, exercising, laundry washing and so many mothering moments that have meant so much to me. I enjoyed reaching a long set goal of completing the Burley Idaho Spudman triathlon in July (olympic length). I have loved working out with John each morning and have really become a believer in ‘functional fitness’. I am working hard to organize our family history in ‘real time’ (which is why this blog post is more like a book chapter) and have LOVED the travel we have experienced in 2014. I feel so deeply truly sincerely thankful for the year that has passed, and look forward to a happy and healthy and productive and surprising 2015. To any and all who read this post  I would like to leave you with my sure understanding that at this Christmas season we celebrate a real event, not just a sweet story. I know that Jesus Christ lives and knows us. I know He came to enable us to return to a Heavenly Father whose plan it is for us to belong in families forever. I know that when we rely on Christ He alone through His grace and power can help us overcome weaknesses, change our hearts and make us whole and capable of being comfortable and ‘at home’ in holy places. I know He has provided us with living apostles and prophets, and that there is scripture which testifies of Him and of His Father’s plan for us. Of these things I humbly add my own witness and testimony and wish for any who know me to know Him better. Merry Christmas and God bless!

Throw Back Thursday: Christmas 1999

(I have only hard copy photos of this Christmas, and when I can dig them out and scan them in I will add them to this post)

My emotions surrounding this Christmas are so sweet and tender. I was ‘great with child’ expecting Madi to be born just 12 weeks after the holiday – so in that expectant state it can be rightly assumed that I was extra tearful and tender about anything and everything. This was one of only a few years in our marriage that we were not spending in Utah with extended family. Our young children were just old enough to ask questions about how Santa knew (or more importantly, they asked questions of ‘would he know?’) that we were not in the home where our stockings were hung. Flying a family of 4 was expensive. Being only 12 weeks from the baby’s arrival made travel a little ‘iffy’. John’s work as a young consultant in a large and prestigious firm made his obligation to his career a high priority. All of these truths factored in to our decision to stay in Dallas for Christmas. In my tender state, I did not look forward to the holiday. Though I was excited to see our kid’s joy on Christmas morning I dreaded the hours that would precede and follow that moment; Christmas eve spent alone and Christmas afternoon too quiet in our house with no one to visit or celebrate with. It was in this state of mind that we went to church the week of Christmas to worship with our congregation, and celebrate the birth of Christ.

In the LDS faith we do not choose our congregation but rather we attend the congregation that we live in the boundaries of. This is done so we can minister more easily to one another and watch over each other because we live within a relatively close distance. Our Ward boundary included many Spanish-speaking families who lived and worked near the city. In our church meetings we often heard as much Spanish spoken as English and we tried hard to enjoy a sense of community and love within our church congregation even though we had different cultures and backgrounds. We loved this congregation (called a ‘Ward’) and John had been given the assignment to work with many of the Spanish speaking families. He was the Elders Quorum president, which meant he coordinated the needs of many young families in the ward concerning spiritual and temporal matters. When families moved in or out of the ward John helped to coordinate volunteers to help the families get in or out. When families were struggling and needed help to continue to attend church or if families had not attended in a long time together (especially if the father in the family had not been regularly attending for some time) John would visit with that family and check to see if there was anything the congregation could do to help strengthen them and invite them to return. When individuals or new people became baptized members of the church John also looked out for them (along with his counselors, the full time missionaries, and others). Because of this assignment we were blessed to meet and associate with many many families who weren’t ‘just like us’. We often took our two little children with us on Sunday afternoons and evenings to visit other families. Many times on those Sunday visits the kids and I would be the only ones who didn’t understand the conversation. I struggled to learn Spanish and really wanted to connect with the families we met and grew to love so much. I wish I could say I became fluent – but that just isn’t true. I got to where I could understand well enough, but mostly I still didn’t laugh at the right times when jokes were said (trying to figure out the punch line!) or I said the wrong things when I tried to speak. Our friends were very patient and kind towards me as I struggled to learn Spanish, and I appreciated the opportunity to show them my effort even though I never had much success in showing them my fluency 😉

In church we of course saw and greeted our Spanish-speaking friends and had the usual chit chat about how we would be celebrating the holiday. In my eagerness not to be alone or lonely I went out on a total limb and invited some of them to our home for Christmas Eve. This was a big deal not just for me, but also for them; because in many Latin cultures Christmas Eve is THE DEAL. The major portion of celebrating the season is on the evening before Christmas, not on Christmas day. In their accepting my invitation to join us for American ham and potatoes on Christmas Eve I did not know I was asking them to give up their beloved traditions; including all the yummy foods they enjoyed for the holiday, to be with us.

And many of them said Yes.

This speaks to their goodness right off the bat. That they in their love for our family would set aside the traditions they loved and were used to be with a lonely expectant mother in her desire to have a house full and feel less homesick. And they graciously came, and brought some of their yummy foods and festivities with them!

As Christmas Eve began and friends filed in to the house I wondered what exactly I had done to myself. Here I was, in an effort to feel less lonely, surrounded by people who I could not easily understand. At least when John and I visited families in their homes it was me and just one family trying to communicate. Now my entire home was filled with families communicating and laughing and enjoying conversation and I was the odd man out. Even our kids, who didn’t speak Spanish either, had the common language of play to share with the children who had come with their parents for the evening. But I was there, serving and hostessing, and unable to really share and communicate. For me, who is so FULL OF WORDS, and whose ‘love language’ is WORDS of affirmation, and who WRITES DOWN WORDS to solve problems…well there were no words for me that evening accept the few sentences of thanks that I could utter in Española, and Simple statements of Feliz Navidad…

My loneliness in those first moments increased.

John was has happy and comfortable in Spanish as English and was clearly happy with the evening’s festivities. His laughter and smile were so genuine and real. He was in his element.

And I was NOT in mine.

I loved the people who had filled our home even though I could not understand them. I wanted to share Christmas with them and I was grateful they were with us. It wasn’t that I was feeling sorry for myself. It was that awkward feeling of knowing that everyone else knew what was going on and what was being said and I did not. For a few minutes I felt a little lonelier than ever.

And then I thought about Christmas.

The point of celebrating the Christmas season is to celebrate Christ. His life and His example were the common thread that I shared with the people I loved but did not understand. And somehow in a moment my feelings of loneliness could turn to feelings of gratitude. And once I was grateful I felt peaceful too. And then I could have fun!

We played funny games like making a molded ‘cake’ out of white flour with a penny on the top and taking ‘slices’ out of the cake until the penny fell into the flour. Whoever made the penny fall had to retrieve it with their teeth. Yours truly, of course, was the one with flour all over her face. Along with our ham and potato dinner we enjoyed tamales and tamales and tamales. We passed out candy canes to the kids and sang Christmas songs. We sang them in Spanish. I sounded awful.

And then our friends cleared out. It was still pretty early and all of a sudden they were putting coats on and sending themselves away. I was confused as to why we were ending so abruptly but there were hugs and smiles so I figured I hadn’t offended anyone and they were just conscientious of our little ones needing to have their bedtime. Once the house was empty of all but us we hung our stockings, set out Santa’s cookies and tucked our little ones in bed.

And then our friends were back.

Only now they were dressed in Nativity clothes and bringing to us the first gift of Christmas.. Its common in Latin countries for families to act out the processional of Mary and Joseph going from inn to inn asking for a place to stay…the night is ended when they are let in to the final home and sometimes they break a piñata to celebrate. The whole community helps with this procession from house to house, and they sing traditional songs as they go.

Our friends were all in one procession, with some of the children dressed as Mary and Joseph. They brought with them reverent and beautiful music, smiling faces and shining eyes, small inexpensive gifts for us and each of our children, and the sweetest feeling of belonging I have ever felt at Christmas.

I may never speak fluent Spanish, as much as I intend to. But I believe that for one night on buenanoche I belonged with my Spanish-speaking friends as we reverently and sweetly celebrated the coming of the Savior, whose love we shared with one another freely and whose love sustains our friendships even now. When Christmas comes each year, even though our time in Dallas has long since past, I think of these dear friends and the way the love of Christ helped me be welcomed in to their hearts as I welcomed them into our home on buenanoche.

Some of the Hard Parts…

Aren’t they beautiful? Each so different from the other, and each so incredible and amazing. My mothering of teenage daughters is certainly not as beautiful as the daughters are, sigh!


Parenting is hard. It is the toughest job you will ever love. And I do love it.

And it is hard.

This past week we have faced a few real challenges in parenting our teens. The girls are so full of potential. So hard working in school. Such capable young women. Really amazing people.

And they are teenage girls.

We are dealing with lots of emotion, issues of wanting to push back against family rules like curfews and technology standards (this issue of technology and our family is one we face and contemplate again and again! ugh!). We have one who is kind of trying on different personalities and seeing if she likes how they fit her (should she be the sassy girl? the hipster girl? the depressed recluse? the star of the musical or the girl in the corner?). Honesty has been an issue lately, with one of the kids embellishing the truth with her friends and another embellishing the truth about where she was going to or coming from in the car we provide for her.

It has been an emotional, painful, fearful week.

These are the hard parts of parenting.You know that very important and mostly true proverb of ‘train up a child in the way she should go: and when he is old he will not depart from it’ ? I used to think that meant that if you nurture and teach your little little children about prayer, and faith, and integrity and obedience, then when they become teenagers they will do what you taught.

but the proverb reminds us that our children won’t depart ‘when they are old.’ And 16? That’s not old.

The hard part is to know how to train up a 16 year old child. Or 14. the HOW is the tough stuff. I know the WHAT. And most of the WHAT is stuff so personal and so deeply connected to God and heaven that its not for me to present it, but for me to enable it within them. Its time for me to get more and more out of the way and for my girls to have more and more time to try out the ways that they should go. To foster their own connection with God. To seek and to experience the Love of His son in their own hearts. Because its THAT love, not my love, that will save them from the choices that will bring harsh real sadness into their teenage (or middle age) experience. They need more chances to try and succeed when it comes to spiritual effort. They need for me-their perpetual spiritual middle man-to step aside so they can grab hold of their own spiritual lifeline.

They need time to feel God’s love

The need a desire to try out His teachings

They need the affirmation from Him that He knows them. That they are His daughters. That He loves them and has confidence in them.

This knowledge will be the backbone of their ability to chart a course in their lives that will bring them the most peace.

This knowledge will be the strength they need to turn away from habits, or relationships that bring them sadness instead of satisfaction. This knowledge is every thing.

But it competes with the phone, and the friends, and the tweets and the vines. Its quiet truth is not as interesting as the loud distraction of the in home stereo system or the latest downloaded episode of that one show that all their friends are watching.

So while the world competes for my daughter’s attention I jump and wave my arms to remind them to hold on to the lifeline of faith we have taught them they will need. John and I have been that lifeline for them. And we still are the models that they can look to, even though it seems they are always looking away.

Its never been a more critical time for me to walk the walk of the talk I have talked since they were little toddlers and I was their worshiped goddess. Once they adored me. Now they tolerate me. But while before in their adoration I was modeling and teaching, now in their tolerance they are picking and critiquing. I feel I can’t misstep. Its never an o.k. day to have a bad day, because that might be the very day they are watching to see if what I’ve said about asking God for greater patience or a deeper and more profound sense of peace amidst disappointment or the ability to believe that all will be well when we look around and it seems that all is definitely and surely not well at all. My over-reaction, my human response may be the very thing that turns their hearts away from the chance to ‘experiment upon my words’ ; those words I have preached to them all of their lives and the words I still preach (because words are my easiest and my strongest ability. I always start with words).

These frustrated feelings of the messy parts of parenting are one of the reasons I stopped blogging a while back. Even I became distracted from the way families appear to me ‘online’. I don’t see other mothers whose daughters are rolling their eyes. I see families living abroad, hugging and holding each other. I see the achievements of teenagers that their parents display to the world. But I don’t see the tears on the pillow or the pleadings of the mothers of these blogged about teens as they pray (if they pray) each day.

And that is so o.k. with me. ITs just not MY teenage parenting reality. And maybe it won’t be the reality of my children. And I promised myself I was writing all of this for their sake and for their future selves. So I’m writing the hard parts here.

I have so much hope for my teenage girls. They are so FULL of goodness and ability and promise and talent. I know they have had spiritual experiences and that they are having spiritual thoughts and impressions more regularly than they let on. I am not writing out of desperation. I’m writing out of reality. And the desire to expose and express the truth that our parenting isn’t always pretty or easy or even obvious. Sometimes its hard. And one of those hard times, is now.

Sunday Dinner

For several years now John has taken the job of Sunday dinner.

John is an amazing cook. It seems like everyone knows that. There was a time in our marriage when this fact was so well known that the truth that I am a pretty decent cook myself went unnoticed and unverified because whenever a ‘real meal’ needed to be made it was John’s joy and pleasure to make it. I have grown out of this little jealousy. I am comfortable in my own cooking skin and I know that while John posts his beautiful and incredibly delicious food on instagram each week, I am the ‘mess cook’ the every day chef who takes what we have to create our every day dinners. I am so happy my husband enjoys the creativity and chemistry and the artistry that is cooking. In the kitchen he is a craftsmen, a scientist, a designer and a coordinator. His Thanksgiving day checklist is a thing of beauty; with each part of the meal timed perfectly into the day’s schedule and the grocery list completely synced with where different grocery items are located in the store. It is really something impressive to observe. And we all enjoy the fruits of his culinary labor.

And now you can too, sort of.

So many people have asked for the recipes that John has made that we’ve decided to post Sunday dinner recipes here on the blog. Then others can try the same dishes John has mastered, and in the future, when our kids might actually care about reading this blog, they will also have the weekly recipes their dad served to them and maybe make them for their own children some day many days from now.

John doesn’t often create new recipes; he is a resourceful man and uses the work of good cooks and master chefs and then executes their sometimes very challenging instructions in our kitchen. So we take no credit for the recipes, only credit for being able to create them with such precision and perfection that their creators would enjoy sitting down to the meal with John and discussing the finer points of the flavors and the technique.

One little note: we have no problem using liquor in our cooking. We don’t drench or douse our food with it, nor do we drink it with our meals, as we follow the Word of Wisdom as a part of our religious practice. But the flavor, texture and richness of the stuff when incorporated into the recipes is something we feel is not outside the practice of our faith and is definitely inside the value of our end result when cooking.

This Sunday’s dinner: Coq Au Vin by Ina Garten (found in barefoot contessa: Back to Basics)

John’s notes on this recipe (always written right in the cook book) “Very good. I’d add more roux”

Good Olive Oil

8 Oz. good bacon or pancetta, diced

2 (3-4 lb.) chickens, each cut into 8 serving pieces (a good butcher will cut it for you)

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lb. carrots, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces

2 yellow onions, sliced

2 teaspoons chopped garlic (2 cloves)

1/4 cup Cognac or good brandy

1 bottle good dry red wine such as burgundy

2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade

1 bunch fresh thyme sprigs

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 lb. frozen small whole onions

1 lb. porcini or cremini mushrooms, stems removed and thickly sliced.

Preheat the oven to 275*

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook for 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove the bacon to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Meanwhile, pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Liberally sprinkle the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. After the bacon is removed, add a few of the chicken pieces in a single layer and brown for about 5 minutes, turning to brown evenly. remove the chicken pieces to the plate with the bacon and continue to add the chicken in batches until all the chicken is browned. Set aside.

Add the carrots, onion, 1 tablespoon salt, and 2 teaspoons pepper to the pot and cook over medium heat for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the Cognac, STAND BACK!, and carefully ignite with a match to burn off the alcohol. Put the bacon, chicken, and any juices that collect on the plate into the pot. Add the wine, chicken stock, and thyme sprigs and bring to a boil. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the chicken is just no longer pink. Remove from the oven and place on top of the stove.

Mash 2 tablespoons of the butter and the flour together in a small bowl and stir the paste into the stew. Add the frozen onions. In a medium sauté pan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and cook the mushrooms over medium low heat for 5-10 minutes. Season to taste. Serve hot.


Throw Back Thursday: A memory from Christmas Past

I Hope I can post a memory or story every Thursday for my kids to either know me better or know themselves better because they read these stories. This is one that dates way back  to the early 1980’s. Its long. But the memory is too rich and important to condense any more than necessary.

I wrote down this memory and sent it to my 2 brothers and 3 sisters…this is what I shared with them…

Seating 320006
I’m the one holding the baby; that’s a cousin. My brother Aaron is to my right. My sister Jessica is in front and to my right. Amanda is in the purple, in the center, and Tyler is seated in the green to her left. I don’t see baby sister Jenny, who probably is due to arrive in just a month or two. This experience probably took place about a year before this photo was taken, but I’m not sure, so this might be the year…Probably about 1982.

In all my childhood Christmas memories one of my favorites is the story of the Newspaper tips. I know several of us were tiny ‘way back when’ so I wanted to share this story and hope it brings for you a feeling of love and appreciation for the Savior and our parents who taught us about Him as we all grew up in their home.

These are my memories. I have not checked with anyone for accuracy. I could have lots of this information wrong, but its how I remember it, and I think that might be what counts. Please add your memories to mine, add to my story and make it your own. Share it with your children and all of your posterity as a witness that you know that ‘When ye are in the service of your fellow men ye are only in the service of your God.” Not all of my memory is intact…there are some holes here and I’d love to have them filled in, so if you remember the holes please help me ‘mind the gap’.

For years we had a paper route, in fact we had a couple of them. We threw all the papers from 15th east to 13th east and from Westminster Ave. to 2100 south. We threw papers for the Salt Lake Tribune, and it was an early morning route. My memory is 6:30. That we were up, at Dad’s prodding, every day at 6:30. I would roll out of bed, sometimes it took more than one attempt, and make my way upstairs to hear the sound of dad dropping the bundled newspapers on the old flowered table cloth he spread out on the kitchen table. Then it was the sound of the rubber bands, mom would be wrapping the papers in thirds and carefully pushing or pulling the band down to the middle of the paper. I remember the cupboard under the phone where the table cloth, the newspaper route maps that mom so carefully constructed, the boxes and boxes of rubber bands and the orange plastic sleeves that we put the papers in on rainy or snowy days. The newspaper bags were slung over two chairs and as we folded we counted, mostly quietly and to ourselves, the number of papers we needed to finish our part of the route. We put our papers in our bags, with special attention paid to how many went in each of the sides of the bag. Then we lifted the bag over our head, the sides falling to the front and back of us, and headed out the door to start throwing the news.

Dad’s bag was heaviest. He walked fastest and farthest, making his way all the way down 13th east thumping the papers against the door of the insurance agency office and the through the apartment complex…while I sludged up and down Ramona avenue and along 14th east. I remember now that my route was smallest and I was surely the slowest. I slept my way through those morning walks, my eyes full of sleep and my body moving like the undead. I’m not sure how I actually ever got the papers on the right porches. This was back in a time when the snow came early and fell heavily. We were in boots from October through April, coats hats and gloves covered in dark paper ink, our hands tattooed with the day’s news from the sliding rubber bands down each length of news.

In the early years of the route we actually had to collect each customer’s bill from them at their home. Once a month, at the start of the month, we walked the route on a Saturday with invoices that were given us from the Newspaper agency. These were handed to the customer who then would go to their checkbook, write the amount owed to the Newspaper agency and sometimes, mostly at Christmas, leave a litte extra for the paper carrier. We HATED collecting the paper money. After schlepping other people’s news around 7 days a week we then had to show up on their door and ask to be paid for the labor. It was humiliating for me, even as a young girl who hardly knew the menial-ness of the daily work I did. I only knew I felt like I was asking for a hand out. I had earned the money (or at least had earned a portion) and yet I felt like I was a beggar looking for her next meal in someone else’s kitchen.

The one month of the year this job became bearable was December. During December we knew that the tips would come. And because we had been taught to work with integrity, we knew we were handsomely rewarded for our efforts made 12 months a year, 7 days a week, rain or shine. No newspaper on our route was to land anywhere but the customer’s front porch. No paper was to get wet. If a customer asked that the paper be left between the front door and the screen it was done for them every morning. No matter how heavy, how early, how hot, how wet, we delivered the papers on time and with dignity. We did a good job. And in December our customers remembered. And we inwardly rejoiced.

This December I had big plans for my tips. I was getting a little older. I was already buying my own clothes and I knew that the gifts of Christmas would not include a couple of things I wanted for myself. Though mom and dad were very strict about Aaron saving for his mission they usually gave in to my pleadings that my needs were greater now than any savings would be later on, and I could skimp on my savings and spend more in the moment. I’m not proud of this but let the record show that this was the state of my selfish mind on the morning that I went collecting that very special December.

Our hometeacher for many years was Jack Powell. Brother Powell was kind of a quirky fellow as I recall him. A kind and dedicated home teacher, he came every month and I remember him remembering us each Christmas with these special gold commemorative coins. Each year the coin would come, gold and beautiful and engraved with a new image of Christmas for us to wonder about and marvel at. And then this year the reason for the gold and the coin became clear. A story in a little red booklet was given as a companion to graven image of Christmas; “The Fifty Dollar Gold Piece”. This three page story sat in the house and went unread when it was first given. It waited until the morning after we had collected that December’s newspaper earnings.

We came home and pooled the money on the table. Checks mostly, but back then people still sometimes paid in cash and they often gave the tips in cash and wrote their invoice total in the check. So the cash was all for us, and it was piled on the table. We stood around the table. All of us as I remember (were all of you even born then? Was Tyler in diapers?) . I’m sure Aaron and I were going on about whatever star wars figure or cute pair of knickers (yes, knickers that buttoned just below the knee were ALL the rage and I wanted a pair to wear with the wooden clogs I was begging for that Christmas). Mom heard us talking. She pulled out the story.

Dad was there. He read the story with mom. Feelings of shock and awe worked their way through me as I realized what was happening. I knew as the story progressed and as the gold piece was passed, literally in the story, from one character to another, that the figurative knickers I’d been dreaming of were not going to be hanging in my closet the day after (or several days before) Christmas. I was inwardly angry and heartbroken. I had never seen myself as one who didn’t deserve. Instead I saw myself as I had been that morning; a newspaper girl who had to ask for a handout from the neighbors she worked for. As the story continued and each character presented was living in a circumstance more difficult than my own my little heart remained hard and my plans felt just frustrated. I held on to who I thought I was until dad began to read the last page.

There, at the end of the booklet, the poorest of families, deserving and humble, who would spread the gold piece among many and share with all they loved were confronted by a man who needed it more.

As dad read this part his voice began to tremble. His eyes grew wet, and my own heart melted.

My desire for the things I wanted was still present in my mind, but my heart opened and the grip I had on my selfishness was loosened enough to let the spirit come in and fill me to overflowing. The experience remains with me enough that as I write this I am sitting there in the kitchen, the aspen wallpaper walls witnessing the sacredness of the moment as our family was enveloped with the love that comes when we see that we are not the small things we think we are, but instead we are majestic sons and daughters of a God who loves us. And we could do His work and be His help at the season of the year when we remember His son best.

The story ended. We were quiet, but only for a few minutes. In my memory it was kind of spontaneous how we decided to give away our tips. The little brown radio that mom tuned from atop the white refrigerator had been blaring on and on about ‘coats for Christmas’ sponsored by KSL. This was a coat drive, but donations were needed too. And children who were cold would be warm, and our hearts would be warm if we gave to the coat drive and listened to ksl…

this had been playing again and again for days and maybe even weeks before we sat in sacred silence around the kitchen table.

And now it was clear that our tips were to become warm coats for those who, like in the story, were in more need than we.

I don’t remember all that happened next, if we hopped right in the car or if we went about chores and Saturday work before we drove downtown with all our newspaper loot. I recall an urgency as we ran to the donation drop, as if there was a deadline we had to make before the end of the day. Maybe it was the end of the coat drive, maybe mom and dad just had a place to be and had to be back home by a certain time. Whatever the case we all ran to that donation drop (was it a mailbox, was it at the radio station? Why were we running? What was the hurry?). I can remember the sound of the coins and the heaviness of the envelope as it dropped to its destination. And the lightness of our steps as we went back to the car.

We have had many wonderful Christmases, with many nice traditions and lovely sweet memories. But this stands out, far above most others, as the best Christmas experience of my life so far. This was the time I actually, truly, freely, with real intent, made a sacrifice of what I wanted for myself in order to show the Savior that I love Him. It was a gift freely given. It was a feeling that testified to me that Heavenly Father is real, that His plan of happiness is centered around the coming of Jesus Christ. And that because He came we have hope and can feel joy by following His example.

I am so grateful to mom and dad, who through all their imperfections, taught us that these things are true. And who teach us even now. For their example of willing sacrifice. Their daily walk of giving up things for themselves to provide things for us; whether those things are Christmas clogs, or hours spent loving and tending our children, or years spent nurturing and raising a son they didn’t bear. Their Abraham like parenting and their Sarah like faith are for us and for our children to look to and to follow when we aren’t sure of things or have struggles or doubts. I am so grateful that they endure in their faith and that because of their efforts I have faith of my own and a testimony that Jesus Christ knows me and that He trusts me to help Him with His work among men.

I’m thankful to you, my brothers and sisters, who are woven so deeply into the fabric of this memory that I can’t tell how old I was or how old you were when this happened in our home. You are all such a part of me and who I am that I have no memories without you, and all the best and hardest of times include the ways you have carried me through them. You are my dearest friends, you are my ‘reality check’ and my beacons of hope and example. I am watching how you live, and I am so grateful it is in a way that my children can see and learn from. Thank you for being mine. And for holding and loving me and mine and being willing to tolerate and love us forever.