Friday, October 21, 2011

From Empty to Joyful in Thirty Minutes

So late this afternoon, I was driving home feeling a little bit empty and sad: daughter was off to a BBQ with friends and then the hometown football game, and doctor / bishop / handsome husband would soon be home from work to gather up his gear and set off for an overnighter with the Venture Scouts. I was going to be home alone with not much on my agenda: I had chosen what I thought was "the best" from a bunch of less-than-interesting movies at the local RedBox, and had brought a can of pumpkin in from the food storage with which to make a couple of loaves of pumpkin bread. Big thrill. Humph, and humph again.

Now it's nearly four hours later, and guess what? I've had the most wonderful evening by myself! And there's still a little more time before I pick up an SUV full of soaked-from-the-rain, excited teenagers ... so here I am, with you, to share what I learned tonight. Here's how I went "from empty to joyful" in thirty minutes flat.

1. Come home to quiet house, greeted by faithful Doodle, look around and see a bit of a mess. This I know about myself: I am not happy in a bit of a mess. I have two options: schlunk down into the mess and stay there for the evening, or take a few minutes to tidy up. Hey, I'm worth it!! Ah, Choice #1, taken by the horns and conquered. Tidiness it is.

2. Turn on all my pretty lamps as dusk closes in, and open the sliding door: cozy light inside, soft rain falling outside, fresh air creeps invigoratingly into my downstairs.

3. Light my incredibly yummy Beanpod (apple cider) soy candle. Instant Fall-in-a-Jar. Feeling better already.

4. Push "play" on my kitchen Bose: Jim Brickman's "Beautiful World" CD fills the room. Song 1 is "Simple Gifts", which always makes me feel at-one with the Shakers and all that is autumnal. Hum along, then sing along heartily: "'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free, 'tis the gift to come down to where we ought to be. And when we find ourselves in the place just riiiiiight ... 'twill be in the valley of love and delight."

5. Give the Doodle an unsolicited tummy rub. Kiss the top of his brown nose. Unless you're a dog lover, you WILL NOT get this. That's okay.

6. Start making a single serving of homemade hot chocolate on the stove. (2 T. cocoa, 2 T. sugar, dash of salt, 1 cup milk. Heat 'til steaming, and add 1/4 t. vanilla) Turn burner off when the call comes to be at the Crossroads for my daughter: grab the car keys, run to shuttle two cute 13 year-olds from making cookies at Kylie's to the BBQ at Mia's. Home again.

7. Finish hot chocolate, pour into my favorite striped mug, and spray a huge puff of whipped cream on top. Because I can.

8. A friend who never fails to inspire me phones. We talk for 16:38 minutes, and she tells me about her extraordinary experiences from last night. I feel as excited for her as if it happened to me. How I love having noble, Christlike women as dear friends.

9. Make a nest in my reading spot in our living room / library: soft blanket, new book, slippers, good reading light, move the candle in close ... start Ron Clark's The End of Molasses Classes -- 101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers. Oh my goodness. Amazing from page 1. If you are a parent, or a teacher in any sense, or a lover of young people (or all three), you will LOVE this book. Worthy of a blog post all its own. I have Brooke to thank for turning me on to this amazing educator who thinks out-of-the-box and accomplishes miracles with youth.

10. Handsome husband is home! Spring from my cozy spot to be at his Crossroads. Perch on the arm of the sofa in his office while he packs his stuff for the overnighter. After a grueling week of doctor and Church responsibilities, he is lighthearted and happy! This is a man who loves to "throw his pack together", grab a sleeping bag, change from work clothes to play clothes, and go make a difference with a bunch of young men. We catch up on the news of the day: an unexpected, sweet phone call from our daughter's History teacher, his report on this week's surgical procedures, update on phone messages from ward members ... all the while either he or I is/am running up and down the stairs, gathering his skull cap or his North Face gloves or his thick socks. Husband has transformed from doctor to outdoorsman, and after a quick smooch and a big smile, he's off to meet up with the priests' quorum. Feeling SO GOOD that I took the time to connect with him before he left. Love this man.

11. Read another chapter in Ron Clark's amazing book. Marking favorite words and phrases and whole paragraphs.

12. Start dinner for myself: one perfect, beautiful tenderloin steak slowly pan-fried in a tad of olive oil and herbs (then sliced thinly), a cup of fresh, steamed broccoli with lemon juice, and a small goblet of fresh-pressed apple cider.

13. Grab my inspiration notebook because suddenly the heavens have parted and phrases of illumination are coming fast and furious. Jot as fast as my hand can move. I have been praying lately about what my life needs to be about right now, where my time needs to be spent. I am brought back to C.S. Lewis' analogy of A LIFE as compared to either a cottage or a palace, and suddenly see exactly how that applies to me. My direction for this next phase of life comes in little snippets of light and whispered promptings. I am writing. I am getting it. I am joyful. I know what my next move must be, and it is exciting.

14. Eat dinner slowly, taking breaks to continue writing in my journal. Feel grateful that I took the time to be quiet tonight, rather than glueing myself to the TV. The Spirit needed to be able to get through. Feel the need to blog RIGHT NOW, after weeks of feeling less-than-inspired and so un-bloggy.

15. Grab my little camera, take an awkward photo of my reading spot (so you can have a visual image as you read), log onto blogspot, and type, type, type. The words pour out, and thirty minutes later, here I am typing this period. That one there.

One lesson from tonight: the emptiness and the poor-me feelings high-tailed themselves out of here the moment I made the CHOICE to set my stage to have a wonderful evening. Another lesson, re-learned: in order to hear the still, small voice of the Spirit, we need to make time to be quiet.

Well, my sweet followers, I have about thirty minutes 'til I'm on carpool duty again. Start that dumb movie? Nope. I have just enough time to get a couple loaves of pumpkin bread in the oven, then I get to hang out with the world's coolest teenager. Be back soon...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Biggest Loser" Magic - Week 30

Here's me at 9:00 this morning: stretched out on the sofa, half-laying/half-sitting, pillow behind my back, blanket covering me, thick "Life is Good" socks on my feet, big, slouchy green cardigan on, glasses perched on my nose, and mug of hot chocolate in hand. Got the picture??

I had recorded the season opener of MY FAVORITE TV SHOW, "The Biggest Loser", and was perfectly settled in to fall in love with this season's new contestants. I was grinning like a fool as the show began, and downing the cocoa as the opening music rolled.

Now here's me 45 minutes later: no blanket, cardigan or socks. Hair back in a headband. Contact lenses slipped in during a commercial. Water bottle alongside me as I stretched on the floor. I was still grinning like a fool, but now I'm doing leg lifts and lifting small hand-weights and getting all inspired. Yep, within two program segments, I was in, hook, line, and sinker. The Magic of the Biggest Loser was working on me in record time.

I finally had to go and get a little box of Kleenex, too, because along with all the grinning, I was also crying like a baby. Unabashedly crying for these strangers who were, before my eyes, grabbing hold of their lives and makin' changes fast and furious-like. I was inspired beyond belief, and took to scribbling little nuggets of inspiration in my notebook between sniffles, leg lifts, and eyes trying to stay glued on the big-screen.

Do you watch this show?? Do you love it like I do?? Does it motivate you to get off your behind and start becoming the person you know you can be?? It sure does for me, and was JUST what I needed, as I am waffling in Week 30 of my Excellent Experiment with nothing impressive to report.

If I had to put my finger on THREE THINGS about Biggest Loser that I absolutely love, they would be:

1. It is riveting to watch (through the magic of television condensing and editing) real people change their lives in front of my eyes, in the 1 hour and 45 minutes it takes to watch the first episode. Every fiber in my chubby being is yelling, "If they can do it, then I CAN TOO!"

2. I love the emotional pieces that emerge as the first weeks progress for the BL contestants. A feeling of family begins to form, as everyone is working together toward challenging personal goals. As people beging to feel that they are not alone, they get more confident and start to become their best selves. As they get emotionally strong, their physical bodies start to change. I love the power that comes from watching the contestants build one another up in love and support.

3. There are little priceless gems that pop out during the show (that you might miss if you're not looking for them). For example, new trainer Darvel (I think this is his name) was working with one guy who just hadn't made the mind-switch yet. Darvel said: "Focus is all you need, and the weight will come off!" The guy soon bought in to the power within himself, and at the week's final weigh-in, the weight had come off, to the tune of something crazy like 20 pounds. (I have to remember: these results are NOT TYPICAL in real life!!)

Well, as soon as I clicked off the TV, I changed my plans for my noontime, threw on my running shoes and socks, leashed up my Sugar Doodle, and was out the door to run for the first time in weeks. It was MUGGY, I was soon drenched, but it felt TERRIFIC to be back at it. And I took a totally new three-mile loop through the country, llamas, goats, cows, dogs, mosquitos and all. Because darn it, my new motto is: "Life begins when you take your first step outside of your comfort zone!!" I've been trying this out the last couple of days, and I'n believing it!!

Thank you, Biggest Loser, for the cleansing 90-minute cry, the motivation I needed to get moving, and the awesome feeling that is mine now that I'm back from that run. Right here, right now, is where the rest of my life begins, and I'm excited!! And did you hear that I'm to be a Grandmommy come March/April??! Even more incentive to get my act completely together ... a sweet little baby to love, and to be an example of good health for!!

As I was running, this thought kept playing over and over in my mind, visual image and all:

"When you feel inspiration start to lift you, PICK UP YOUR FEET and fly with it! Then, behold the miracles!"

How often do we feel little promptings of inspiration, but are afraid or doubting or lazy, and root our feet on the comfortable ground?? As the closing music on BL exulted: "I'm on the edge of glory!!" (Thanks Gaga) We just need to trust inspiration, pick up our feet, and lean into it!

Another thought came to me as my feet were pounding the road: what if we started a private group on facebook for like-minded women who want to get fit and healthy and need some of that feeling of "family" or "team support"?? Whether you know me personally or not, we could meet every day on this group page and encourage one another by posting inspiring things and cheering one another on. What do you think??? Would this be something that could help you? I know it would be a boost for me! If that little prick of inspiration is saying "Ooohhh, I kinda like that idea..." I encourage you to message me on facebook (Macy Wright Sorensen), and let's get it started!!

Love to you all, and let's use this Back-to-School time to get Back-to-Health-and-Fitness!! We're "on the edge of glory"!!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Lessons From Girls' Camp

Fun "Where's Waldo?"-type game: Can you find me in this photo from Skit Night? Bonus points if you can find my daughter! Hint: we're both smiling. :)

If you haven't been to Girls' Camp, then you haven't really lived! (slight exaggeration) If you HAVE been to Girls' Camp, then you know exactly what I mean: 250 young women, ages 12 to 18. 50 uber-talented adult women leaders filling a variety of positions. A Church ranch dedicated by an apostle. Four days of 85 degree weather. A perfectly-cool lake with a big dock. Cabins where campers sleep by ward. Outdoor survival skills classes. Wild and crazy Skit Night. Trail of Truth presentation in the woods after dark, with flashlights only. 16-18 year-old girls capably serving as Youth Camp Leaders. Oh-so-delicious food. Crack-of-dawn classes. Really loud morning and evening roll-call cheers. ("Hey E2?" "Hey what?") Tutus and Harry Potter glasses and stick horses and colorful bandannas and braided hair and bulky camp necklaces and sherbet-colored camp T-shirts everywhere you look. New friendships. Old friendships. And the highlight: Testimony Meeting around our ward campfires with our bishops, where the girls begin to connect their camp experiences with profound spiritual lessons that they can take home.

Transporting the young women away from civilization, cell phones, ipods, computers, TV, popular music, fashionable clothes, and all the "comforts of home" may seem like a recipe for disaster. Actually just the opposite is true. For these four days, in this beautiful setting - in the middle of a forest on a hill next to a lake - lives can change and miracles can happen. God is present everywhere you look: the stars shine brighter, the air is fresher, the sky bluer, and the trees that surround you become like comfortable friends. We quickly forget to care about mascara or cute shoes or boys or the carpool, and become enveloped in all that is Girls' Camp.

I wanted to share a few of my favorite camp memories with you, while they are still fresh in my mind. I HOPE that you'll find some little glimmer of goodness here that will apply in your own life. Following each memory, I've included a "lesson learned" from it. Come with me for a few minutes as we go back to Zions Camp in Belfair, WA...

1. Our ward had the wonderful opportunity to bring three new Beehives (age 12-13) with us to camp this year. One was a newly-baptized member of the Church, and the other two were not members. As adult leaders, we were concerned that our "longtime" girls would invite "the newbies" into their friend circles during the week at camp, so we spoke with a few of our YCLs and encouraged them to look for ways to befriend these sweet new girls. The rest, as they say, was history ...

ALL of our young women enveloped the new girls in love, and a buddy magically appeared for each of them at every turn during the week. The following questions became our girls' modus operandi: "Wanna come swimming with us?" "I need a buddy to walk to the showers with ... will you come with me?" "Can I braid your hair?" "Let's go to the archery class together!" "Come sit by me at dinner!" "Have you checked your Secret Sister pouch this afternoon?" "Hey, sleep in the bunk next to mine!" The love in our little campsite, from the beginning to the end of the week, was so thick that you could FEEL it. Our new girls' countenances radiated with acceptance and confidence, and they were soon giggling, hugging, blossoming, and joining in with the best of them. I wouldn't be surprised if lives on both the giving and receiving ends were changed.

Now, six weeks later as we're home again in our regular routine of school and Church classes and activities, the closeness of real friendship remains amongst all our girls. What is the lesson for me? When we "get out of ourselves" and focus on others, we experience incredible, almost tangible, joy. When it becomes "How can I help make this situation better?" rather than "What's in it for me?", we can change lives. Others' and our own. Thank you, young women of the E2 Crew, for teaching by your actions.

2. In the middle of free time one hot afternoon, we four ward leaders were standing outside our cabin chit-chatting. All of our young women were off swimming, crafting, throwing knives, shooting arrows, on the R.O.P.E.S. course, or enjoying time with friends in their cabins. Suddenly, we looked up, and there were three stake leaders sauntering into our camp with sly smiles on their faces and something in their hands.

Was it a prank?? Oh, no it was not ... they were delivering icebox-cold, homemade CHOCOLATE / SALTED CARAMEL CUPCAKES to us leaders, just because!! One beautiful, perfect cupcake with a drizzle of caramel on the swirled frosting, all nestled in its own little white box, for each of us! Let's just say amidst yelps, and "OH. MY.", we devoured those delectible little cakes of yumminess right there on the spot, still standing. I think I even nibbled (rodent-like) off the left-behind chocolate crumbs on my cupcake paper after I turned it inside-out.

What's the lesson here?? Any ideas??! Well, for me it is this: never underestimate the power in delivering surprise goodies to people. Seriously! And there is something to be said for delivering one perfect little serving, too. It says: you are special and you are WORTH IT and I took the time to make this just for you. Thank you, stake, for spoiling us hot, sweaty, dirty leaders with a little bit of loveliness. It made a difference.

3. This year I was asked to be the First-Year Certification Leader. This means that it was my job -- with my able assistant and friend Holly -- to oversee 15 YCLs (16-18 year-olds) in their teaching 60 First-Years (12 year-olds) such skills as how to extinguish a fire, how to tie three kinds of knots, how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver, how to tie a cravat bandage, among other things.

We had a couple of pre-camp meetings with these older girls where they chose their topics to teach, and they assured us that they would be prepared at camp to fulfill their assignments. Our counsel: teach the information in the Camp Manual in a fun way, and let the girls demonstrate their knowledge back to you. What actually happened at camp was a tad different from what we'd expected.

A few YCLs came prepared to teach excellent demonstrations with visual aids and games and handouts. Some YCLs were not as prepared, but were able to pinch-hit on the spot ably because of their own personal experiences with the skills that they chose to teach. Other pairs of YCLs with no preparation presented their topics ... well, interestingly. But hey! Just because I had never thought of teaching the principles of outdoor sanitation in a Harry Potter-like English accent doesn't mean it's not effective, right? And just because my idea of showing the contents of a (very) basic (6-item) First Aid Kit didn't include using an aged relative's EXTENSIVE three-tier kit from the 1960s (outdated??) doesn't mean it wasn't another good way of doing it, right??! And reading STRAIGHT OUT OF THE MANUAL paragraph after paragraph, well, at least all of the material is being covered, right?!

What did I learn? You know, it just takes all kinds. I think that in that big group of 60 first-years, there really was a teaching style for everyone. (I, for one, will never forget "Hermione's" steps for disposing of trash in the campsite! And I totally remember the contents of a Basic First Aid Kit!) I also re-learned (sigh) that it is far better to gently offer "constructive suggestions" in patience and love, with an arm around the shoulders, than in clipped, abrupt sentences that show my frustration. I tried both and proved this, for sure. And ended up having such a love in my heart for ALL of these YCLs.

4. One of the coolest blessings of camp this year, for me, was being there with my 13 year-old daughter. We camped in the same site, but I gave her a wide berth as far as parental hovering went, as she's still figuring out that I'm as awesome as I tell her I am. Nevertheless, I LOVED watching her do her thing and experience Girls' Camp.

On the last night, my daughter and I were in a big group of girls that were rotating through the dark, wooded, outdoor stations of Trail of Truth with the aid of a few flashlights. She got separated from the girls that she was with, and as she turned around with a frightened look on her face, I happened to be right there. She grabbed on to my arm and linked hers through mine, and we walked through the rest of the activity together. We quietly shared our observations, and at the end of the trail she hugged me and told me that she was glad I was there for her. Then, she saw her friends, and was off into the darkness.

If you are a mom of a teenaged girl, you probably get the significance of this moment. Let's just say, it was the highlight of my week. Lesson learned: just BE THERE FOR YOUR CHILDREN. You never know - when they'll know - that they need you.

5. Every morning at 6:45am, our Ward Camp Director ( my dear friend Beth) would have the fixings for hot chocolate on the camp stove for us as we sleepily headed off to our Early Morning classes. I loved this little luxury, and felt cozy inside as I settled onto a log bench down the trail in the little amphitheater Wednesday morning for Dawn's "spiritual" class.

For the next hour Dawn taught, and we girls and leaders discussed, the idea that "all things bear witness of Christ". It was a beautiful experience, sitting there amongst the towering pine trees, with the sunshine peeking through, girls wrapped in quilts from their cabins, birds singing, scripture pages shuffling and being read from, and the distant strain of the young women Instant Choir preparing "Walk Tall, You're a Daughter of God" for that night's fireside.

That morning, I really GOT the concept that Dawn shared with us. Evidence of Christ is everywhere around us, particularly in His divinely-created beauties of nature, and in the God-given talents of others who so freely share them. I made a little promise to myself that morning on the bench, with camp mug in hand, that I would try to continue to look for Christ more purposefully when I returned to "normal life". And guess what? I have. When I open my spiritual eyes and really SEE, it is true. He is all around me.

6. Every night at camp, I would lay on top of my sleeping bag in my bunk and in those few minutes before I was "out like a log", I would have this repeated thought: "Okay, tomorrow I will try to be a little more like Beth / Lorri / Holly..." Let me tell you why:

First of all, we were privileged to camp under the leadership of Beth, our Ward Camp Director. Not only is Beth my dear friend, but this woman runs a TIGHT SHIP at Girls' Camp. She can unload and set up camp (with the help of our young women) in what seems like ten minutes flat. She breezes about with an air of authority while at the same time has such a love for all of the girls. In her non-nonsense way, she can address squabbles (usually between sisters) quickly and directly and have everyone leave happier and like they feel they've been heard. She is, in a word, amazing. The rest of us adult leaders pity the woman who, some year, will replace Beth as the WCD ... she is an institution.

And then there's Lorri. Lorri is a RESOURCE FOR ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING. You want to know about natural remedies for female problems? You want to know how to make a flowered headband? You want to know how to make bread, start-to-finish in an hour, or how to set up a blog? Lorri's your gal. She has such a command of the Internet, and through her years of research there, has become pretty much a walking source of Knowing How to Do Stuff. Couple this with the fact that she shares her knowledge so freely and happily ... Lorri doesn't know the meaning of the word selfish. She loves to help you figure something out. Plus she's super laid-back and has a wickedly-dry sense of humor, and is happiest quietly contributing behind the scenes. Yep, she's a Girls' Camp Keeper.

And Holly. Holly and I ended up doing many of the same things together this summer: Ragnar Relay with our husbands, all the pre-camp preparation for Camp then camp itself, a week at Lake Coeur d'Alene together with our families, then helping our young women train for their Walk to the Temple. With anyone else, it might have gotten to be a tad much, but we kept looking at each other toward the end of the summer and laughing, "Hey, and I'm not even sick of you yet!!" Holly is, in a word delightful. And lovely. Girls of all ages are drawn to her because of her gentleness, her constant smile and laugh, and her love of jumping in and participating in everything. And, there's this other thing about her ... she has this uncanny ability to always look clean and fresh as a daisy ALL WEEK LONG at camp. I don't know how she does it!! What a talent!

All in all, an intense study of female greatness for me that week.

Other things that really touched me: seeing my bishop-husband in action with the young women (he always prepares something "out-of-the-box" that leads to something spiritual), serendipitous talks on the path / picnic table / dock with fabulous women from around the stake, pushing myself to earn the Mile Swim bead, quiet conversations one-on-one with young women that just sort of "happened", the raising of the American flag so touchingly each morning, singing and more singing ... and the best part, seeing our ward young women try new things and blossom and make spiritual connections and grow.

Ahhh, the miracles of Girls' Camp. My three camp necklaces are re-hung in the back of my closet, my hoodie is folded on the top shelf, and my mess kit has found its place back in the garage, until (hopefully) next year...

"What's for Dinner Tonight? And Tomorrow Night?" - A Weekly Template

(Turn your head 90 degrees to view photo. So sorry. Can't get the image to rotate!)

Hey girls! Look what I found that is already making my life a little easier! It's a simple, no-frills Weekly Menu Plan template. If you like the one you see here, you can go to and print a bunch off. Estimated time it will take you to do so: 30 seconds. If you like the idea, but aren't sold on the style I've chosen, Google "Weekly Menu Template" and behold the possibilities.

What are the benefits of posting a Weekly Menu Plan on your fridge or bulletin board? After nearly 25 years of married life, and trying all different ways to stay organized in the "family meal department", I would submit the following:

1. Knowing in advance WHAT IS FOR DINNER TONIGHT (and tomorrow night) is hugely freeing! Forget about those panicked moments that occur between 4:00 and 5:00pm when you realize that you forgot to buy the main ingredient for the meal that you were planning in your head. Forget about the frantic trip to the grocery store to get "something, anything" for dinner. Imagine answering calmly, when your child yells -- while peeling off soccer socks and shin guards two rooms away -- "Mom, what's for dinner?": "Why, BBQ salmon, rice pilaf, and cold watermelon chunks, dear!" Freedom indeed.

2. Having a lower total grocery bill, week to week. If I don't have a weekly meal plan, I am making a run to the store every other day, just picking up enough food to get us through a few meals. Without a list to consult, I am buying on a whim. Gee, that ($7.99 lb.) specialty pasta salad in the deli looks good and fast. (Toss it in the cart) I didn't have time to make a dessert for the missionaries' visit tonight ... I'll just grab this box of ice cream bars. ($5.99) In my experience, if I'm shopping without any point of reference, I'm spending way too much at the store.

3. My family likes to be able to look at the posted Menu Plan and anticipate the good dinner that will be prepared that night. "Oh, yum. I love Spaghetti Pomodoro!" I might even get an irresistible offer like "Can I help you chop the tomatoes?"

4. It is a joy -- yes, that's precicely the word I'd use, joy -- to prepare dinner when I know that I've got everything I need to make a delicious, balanced meal. Chicken taken out of the freezer this morning to defrost in the sink? Check? Yummy (and cheap) homemade salad dressing made between carpool shifts? Check. Apple Crisp cooling on the rack for our at-home family movie night? Check. It is on these days that I remember how much I really do love to cook.

5. It's so much easier to write out a grocery list when the menus have already been planned. I'll know exactly what I need and what I don't. Because I know my neighborhood grocery store so well, I can be up and down the aisles in a breeze, gathering needed items. If I'm creating menus as I'm shopping, I'm doubling back to get forgotten items, and constantly organizing in my head to see if I have what I need.

What do you think?? What are your secrets for preparing delicious dinners for your families, in the easiest manner possible? How do you keep your cooking interesting and tasty and as stress-free as possible??

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bringin' Back Succotash - Three Recipes and Week 26

(BLOG POST ALERT: Be aware that there are THREE delicious summer recipes posted below, and --finally-- an update on my Excellent Experiment, even further below!)

Yep, I'm bringin' back succotash. Which begs the question, "Was succotash ever really here?", or perhaps the more pressing, "What in the Sam Hill IS succotash?" When I grandly introduced it to the fam tonight at the dinner table, my husband couldn't hold himself back from channeling his inner Sylvester the Cat: "Thufferin' Thuccotash!" he spontaneously erupted, surprising even himself, I think. My thirteen year-old just looked confused.

Turned out, though, this fresh and minimally-prepared side dish was a big hit. Succotash by definition is: "a simmered dish, primarily consisting of fresh corn kernels, together with lima beans (I didn't use these but substituted diced fresh zucchini)and tomatoes." And so, I happily offer up my EASY version of this southern favorite. It was unanimously delish. This is a perfect solution if you've got a couple of cooked ears of corn left over and/or if a friend has bequeathed you a fabulous zucchini from her garden. Each bite just bursts of fresh-fresh summer flavors.

Fresh Succotash

2 large ears of raw corn, kernels cut off (if using cooked corn, see note below**)
2 medium zucchini, large-diced
2 medium tomatoes, large-diced
2 T. extra-light olive oil
1/2 cup purple onion, diced
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

In large frying pan, heat oil on medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute for 2-3minutes, or until onion just begins to soften. Add raw corn and zucchini chunks, and continue to saute for four minutes or so, until just al dente. Add tomatoes and salt and pepper and cook another minute. If possible, serve in a white serving bowl on the table because the colors are so beautiful!

**If using pre-cooked corn, add at the end with the tomatoes.

Let's move on to Summer Recipe #2! My friend Holly introduced us all to this heavenly fresh peach pie a couple weeks ago while our families were vacationing together at Lake Coeur d'Alene in Idaho.

As is tradition, we always stop in Thorpe, WA on our way eastward to buy some local produce for our week at the lake. A must: a big box of fresh peaches. Halfway through the week, we started to panic because we needed to use the last third of the box quickly ... Holly saved the day and effortlessly whipped up this dessert. We cooks clamored for paper and pens to take down the recipe before we'd even swallowed our last bites. It's THAT good.

FREE BONUS: You need to know that Holly is pretty much the sweetest, nicest, kindest girl I've ever met. I'd like to think that when I make this "sweet" pie, a little bit of Holly-ness rubs off on me, and therefore you, too.


1 - deep-dish (frozen) pie crust, baked
6-7 large, ripe, juicy peaches (or 9 medium - you want them heaped up in the middle)
3/4 cup sugar
1 T. lemon juice (this is the magical ingredient that prevents browning of cut fruit)
3 T. corn starch
2 T. butter
dash salt
few drops pure almond extract (this is the secret to the pie ... don't omit)
Fresh, sweetened whipped cream

Peel and slice peaches in large bowl. Pour sugar and lemon juice over fruit. Stir gently, cover, and let set at room temperature for 1-2 hours. (This is called macerating, when the fruit + sugar + room temp = release of delicious juices)

Pour contents of bowl into colander over a large glass measuring cup. Add enough water to the peach juice to make one cup. (I haven't had to do this, as the peaches have produced exactly the right amount of juice) Pour cup of juice into small saucepan, add corn starch, and cook slowly over medium heat, stirring constantly, allowing to slowly thicken. Cook until shiny and clear.

Remove from heat and whisk in butter, salt, and almond extract. Fold into peaches and heap into baked pie crust. Cover with plastic wrap, and chill thoroughly. (My advice: make this pie early in the day so it can refrigerate for a good 5-6 hours. The pie will really SET, and the pieces will serve much more nicely this way.) Serve with healthy dollops of fresh whipped cream.

SUMMER RECIPE #3. You may already be a master at BBQing ribs. I wasn't, but I am now thanks to my friend Jeri. Just a couple of her simple tips will help earn you rave reviews when you serve these to a hungry crowd. Try pairing these ribs with succotash (above), your favorite homemade potato salad, and pitchers of fresh strawberry lemonade. And Peach Pie for dessert, of course. The perfect summer feast!


4-5 lbs. country-style (bone-in or bone-out) pork ribs, defrosted
2 bottles of your favorite BBQ sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a disposable, deep, heavy-duty aluminum baking pan, pour a good amount of BBQ sauce into the bottom and spread around. Line up ribs next to each other in a single layer. Pour the rest of one bottle of BBQ sauce over ribs and distribute evenly with brush. Cover tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil, and bake for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Preheat grill. Remove cooked ribs from pan and arrange on a serving platter. Open your second bottle of sauce and generously douse them once again. Transfer ribs to grill and cook just long enough to "finish" them: they are already cooked thoroughly, now you're just giving them slightly charred edges and that wonderful grilled flavor. While grilling, thoroughly wash and dry your serving platter, then transfer finished ribs back and serve with extra BBQ sauce on the side and lots of napkins. They will fly outta there, guaranteed.

And now, faithful friends, do any of you even remember my Excellent Experiment that I've been testing since February??! I had such great success those first few months by incorporating a new healthy way of eating and moving, and had (have) thirty less pounds to show for it. Now, as I come to the end of a summer full of exciting adventures and all of the good foods that go along with them, I have had a solid course in MAINTAINING the weight loss. (My Experiment is only half complete, though, and I'm glad I gave myself the target date of December 25 as my long-range weight-loss date. I will need these fall and early winter months to lose the next thirty pounds.) But back to MAINTENANCE ... here are a couple things I've learned this summer:

1. If I am looking for exercise opportunities during my week, and taking them, I have found that I can eat just about anything I want if I am careful about portions. That is key. In between training for and running the Ragnar Relay, preparing for the Young Women 20-mile walk to the Seattle Temple (next Saturday!), swimming and earning the "mile bead" at Young Women Camp, and climbing Mt. Peak with varied groups of friends including my daughter, I have also indulged in my share of ice cream cones, chocolate chip cookies, BBQ ribs (above), and peach pie (also above), It is so good to know that, when I get to my target weight, I have the skills I need to maintain it while still enjoying, in reasonable portions, lots of delicious foods with my family. Once again, PORTION CONTROL IS A KEY.

2. You know, I guess there really is no #2 or #3. Good, regular exercise and portion control are the answers. There's not much more to say on this subject of maintenance. Big surprise??! Healthy diet and regular exercise (and prayer!) are, after all, the magic answers we women search for. Figuring out how to tweak these things so that they fit into our individual lives, and then DOING THEM, is the challenge.

When my daughters go "Back to School" in a couple of weeks, I will be going "Back to My Own Early Posts" on beginning a weight loss effort. (February, March, April) I will jump in with the things that worked before, and keep my spiritual eyes open for new avenues to experiment with, and I will expect success!

So girls, almost time to get-er-goin' again ... hope you'll stay tuned and, better yet, join me in the months to come! Let's feel fit and healthy (and look great) by Christmas, what do ya say? How about THAT for a Christmas gift to ourselves??!

(I'm not above offering a good bribe, either, if you'll stick with me. Look for another chance at winning something cool in a give-away -- in exchange for one of your happy comments -- in my next post!)

Love to you all, and be back soon. :)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"I'll Be Seeing You" - A Tribute to My Dad

My earliest memory of my dad is of him breezing in at the end of a day's work from Traveler's Insurance Company, dressed in a dark suit and tie and smelling of Old Spice After Shave Lotion. I also vividly remember sitting sideways on his lap while he talked to me in Mandarin Chinese or sang a few bars (in his tenor voice) of "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" or "Danny Boy". Dad was a soft-hearted, soft-spoken, intelligent, funny, 6'1/2" wonderful man who was proud of his English/Irish heritage, his Pittsburgh, PA roots, and his "legs like a racehorse".

I was fascinated at an early age by my dad's name: Henry Franklin Dannals Nelson Wright. What a name! He was named after a maternal uncle, Henry (Harry) Franklin Dannals, then his mother threw in the third middle name, Nelson, for good measure, and to ensure that posterity remembered the most-likely claim that they were direct descendants of Lord Horatio Nelson, the 18th-century English Admiral. Dad signed his name "Henry F. Wright" (with his signature curly "F"), but everyone knew him throughout his life as Harry, or "Big Hare".

Some of my random, snapshot-like memories of my dad include:

*He usually wore golf pants and shirts when he was dressed casually. His pants, especially, were in loud colors: firetruck red, grass green, turquoise, or bright yellow, with an occasional shade of khaki out of deference. His closet was a literal rainbow of golf pants. I don't think he ever owned a pair of jeans. Plaid Bermuda shorts, most definitely, but never jeans. He loved to buy his suits at Silverwoods For Men, or later, at Nordstrom, and carefully chose ties that would complement the patterns in his suit fabrics. Dad loved clothes and was careful about his appearance.

*I never remember Dad cooking anything in the kitchen, except for on a rare Saturday when he would "fry hot dogs" by splitting them down the middle and frying them open-faced. He would put the open hot dog bun alongside in the pan, and grill it, then top his dogs with sauerkraut and mustard. I ate mine this way, too, even at age seven, just to be like my dad. Dad was a competent bread-winner for our little family, but I don't believe he ever did any physical work, or chores, around our home. My organized, strong, and particular mom took care of everything inside and outside of the house. Looking back, that's hard to believe, but somehow it worked for them.

*Dad worked hard all week long, and then enjoyed his TV time in the evenings and on the weekends. I remember watching many episodes of "The Big Valley" or "Murder She Wrote" together, and Saturday afternoons were usually dedicated to Pittsburgh Steelers / Los Angeles Dodgers games or PGA Golf tournaments, after he himself had been "on the links" early that morning with his foursome. Mom and Dad loved to watch "anything English" on PBS, too. Dad enjoyed sitting on the back patio with a glass of iced coffee, listening to the birds sing, and "communing with nature". And, lucky for us, he was always game to go out for breakfast or a nice dinner.

*As a little girl, I remember running to Dad's bedroom closet to get his navy corduroy slippers for him when he got home from work. He would stretch his long legs out in front of him, and I would do the honors of changing his footwear from day to evening. He really loved this, and I loved it that he loved it.

*I always was HUNGRY to know details about the Wright / Dannals side of my family. I never met any of his relatives in person (until my wedding weekend), and desperately wanted to know about the "other half of me". Because of a somewhat sad and neglectful childhood, Dad kept most of his early memories to himself, but every now and then he'd divulge a little pearl of a story. I filed these away in my memory, though many blank spots remained.

*As an older teenager, I worked at my dad's company in Burbank, CA in the summers as one of the switchboard operators. I loved this job, mainly because the elevator opened all day long right in front of our long desk, and I would catch glimpses of Dad emerging from the elevator with a variety of people. I soon realized that Dad was JUST THE SAME with Sam the company janitor as he was with Joe the in-house CEO. This became a model for me to try to live up to, one I still think about and try to honor.

*When I brought my handsome tennis date (later to be husband) home to meet my parents, I remember Dad giving me an exaggerated "two-thumbs-up!" behind my date's back. This began a warm ten-year relationship between my dad and my husband, up until Dad had his debilitating stroke on September 11, (our own 9/11) 1996. After that, visits were a bit one-sided, but my husband continued to have a soft spot in his heart for my father.

*On the morning of my wedding, I came out into the family room to find Dad in his terry-cloth robe standing in the middle of the room, staring pensively off into space while Anne Murray crooned "I'll Be Seeing You", and then "Can I Have This Dance?" Dad LOVED Anne Murray. He told me that day that it was one of the happiest days of his life.

*Our oldest daughter had a special relationship with Dad. They would snuggle up next to each other on the couch to read or watch TV together, and Dad would gently tease Claire. She would giggle and always answer, "Oh, Papa!" Dad was more affectionate with our daughter than he ever was with me, but that was okay. I loved it that they enjoyed their own special bond.

*My mother was the best thing that ever happened to my dad. Having grown up in a difficult home environment, Mom gave Dad a real fighting chance at having a healthy family life. She stuck with him through his years of alcoholism and his several-pack-a-day cigarette habit, both of which he quit "cold turkey" when I was a young teenager. She kept a beautiful, clean home, kept Dad's clothes clean and pressed, cooked healthy meals for him, and just generally supported him from the home front so that he could enjoy the successes that he did in the surety bond business and elsewhere. I think Dad would've agreed that his secret weapon was most certainly his wife.

And then, when his years of physical addictions caught up with him, Dad had a major stroke while at the office, and instantaneously went from bidding jobs and meeting with contractors to laying in a bed, paralyzed on one side and without the ability to speak. He remained there for the next 15 years of his life. My mom selflessly cared for him at home with the help of nurses, dedicating her whole life to keeping him as happy and comfortable and clean as possible. She left nothing undone for Dad all of those years, and has said that she actually grew to love him even more deeply than she did before. I am positive that they will have a joyful reunion on the other side some day, when Dad will be able to finally vocalize his thanks and devotion to Mom for all of her years of service to him, from the beginnings of their 50-year marriage until Dad's final hours.

"Legacy" has been defined as: "anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or a predecessor". I have contemplated what my father's legacy to me, and to his granddaughters, might be. Three facets come to mind:

1. LOVE OF WORDS: Dad was a very literate man. He was educated in History and Far-Eastern Affairs at University of Pittsburgh, was very well-read, devoured the morning newspaper and worked crossword puzzles for fun. He had neat and precise cursive handwriting, and to him, words were interesting and funny. He relished in finding just the right words to describe something. When he did, he'd often repeat his clever phrases over and over for days, just to get a laugh out of "his girls". Dad was a gifted conversationalist, especially in a one-on-one setting. He had a wide vocabulary, and expressed himself well. He also excelled at learning Mandarin Chinese at the Army Language School in the 1950s during the Korean War.

2. LOVE OF PEOPLE: As evidenced by the little story of Sam the janitor (above), Dad enjoyed all people no matter what their station in life. I remember when Garth Brooks' song "Friends in Low Places" was released, Dad used to chuckle about that being "his song". (Mom would roll her eyes.) This was interesting to me because I would have described Dad as an "elegant, cultured" man, but he really didn't see himself that way. Which, I guess, was part of his charm. Dad would "work the room" at parties (per my mother), slowly moving from group to group, patting people on the back, shaking hands, asking them about themselves, and quickly connecting with them. In larger conversation groups, Dad would tend to sit back quietly with a grin on his face, and just absorb all of the goings-on, then throw in an occasional, perfectly-worded, funny or insightful comment. No matter what my age, my friends, both girls and boys, loved my dad. After his stroke, people "came out of the woodwork" to let my mother know what a difference he had made in their lives, most often as a GOOD LISTENER and DEVOTED FRIEND.

3. LOVE FOR ME: Though Dad wasn't particularly demonstrative with me (in word or action), I always knew he loved me. He was rarely critical of me, and I can't really ever remember him disciplining me. He would take me out on Saturday morning "secrets" as a little girl, which usually meant sitting together at the counter at Howard-Johnson's and ordering Cokes in a cow-shaped mugs. Sometimes, on special days, we'd go to my school playground where I would demonstrate my latest acrobatics on the bars or basketball moves or hopscotch tricks. Sometimes I would be his "ball girl" on the school field behind our house, and would chase down his golf balls for him. It didn't really matter what we did ... just being together was the point.

The biggest evidences of Dad's love for me came especially on two days in my near-adulthood life. On the afternoon I was baptised into the LDS Church (at age 19), Dad was there leaning against the back wall and through eye contact and a big smile and little nods of his head, let me know that he supported me in my decision. Then, on the day my husband and I were married in the Los Angeles LDS Temple, he uncomplainingly waited outside with my mom while his only child was married inside. As my new husband and I emerged from the temple, I burst into tears (see photo above) when I saw my dad, the only time I cried on our wedding day. In Dad's quiet and supportive way, he allowed and even encouraged me to choose and follow my own path. All that he required was that I give everything to whatever I embraced. I will be forever grateful for that, and have tried to live my life as a tribute to his confidence in me.

As my larger-than-life father slowly withered away over the last decade-and-a-half, I have grown increasingly grateful for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and my sure knowledge that Dad's impaired physical body would soon be shed for good, and that his spirit (with all its optimum capacities) will move joyfully forward, awaiting resurrection, into his next phase of existence. Dad finally gave up the fight on July 20, 2011, and the world and I will never be the same.

I often picture my dad moving, dancing, talking, laughing, and singing where he is now, and this thrills me. My own challenges become overseeing Dad's temple work so that he will have the opportunity to accept the fullness of the Gospel, and living the best life I can so that I can rejoin him in heaven someday.

I read the following little analogy at my Grandpa Doc's funeral years ago, and I still love it and am comforted by the sentiment, even the veiled doctrine, that it expresses:

"We are standing on a shore. A large sailing ship is about to pull out. Friends and relatives of ours are standing on the deck above, waving goodbye, throwing streamers, calling to us, calling our names. And we call to them and to each other: "Look, there's Grandpa...there's Uncle Joe...there's Dad!" A bell sounds. The ship begins to move away.

"We stand silently, even sadly, for a very long time and watch as the ship sails further and further away until, finally, the mast is just a vertical pencil line on the horizon. Then it, too, goes down, until we can no longer see it. And we gasp and cry, "Oh...he's gone."

"But gone from where? Gone from our sight, that's all.

"For at the very moment we gasp, "Oh, he's gone!", another on another shore is jumping up and down, laughing and yelling and pointing excitedly out to sea crying, 'Look! There's Grandpa! There's Uncle Joe! There's Dad!'

"Their ships have truly gone home. There is another shore, another dimension in which they have already begun to live."

Dad, I miss you. I miss our Monday evening (while Mom was at work) phone calls, where you would ask all the right questions about my life. I miss your smile and your chuckle and your compliments. I am grateful that you are my dad, that we have the chance to be a family forever, and I can't wait to see you again. Imagine, you will be able to run to me, and to call me "Mace", and sing to me again! This time, though, I will ask YOU all the questions: "What were you thinking about during those long years when you couldn't walk or speak??" - "What do you think of your beautiful granddaughters?" - "Can you believe the depth of love and service that Mom happily gave to you all those years?" - "What do you think the purpose was for your long physical struggle?" - "Isn't it great to be together again???" - "Dad, are you proud of me?"

I love you, Dad. And I'll be seeing you.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Whole Wheat Chocolate-Chip Cookies with Pecans

For Ellen, Eileen, and Crystal, especially.

Are chocolate-chip cookies not the most perfect little bite of pure Americana? Right up there next to hamburgers straight-off-the grill and homemade cinnamon rolls, in my opinion. Pair a couple of these cookies hot-from-the-oven with a glass of cold milk, and you've got perfection.

After years of searching for the "perfect" chocolate-chip cookie recipe, I have come to this earth-shattering conclusion: the version on the back of Nestle Semi-Sweet Morsels bag (introduced in 1939) is the best.

However, of late I have been called back to Ina Garten's (of Barefoot Contessa fame) opinion that with a simple, basic recipe it becomes important to choose the very best-quality ingredients available. Now don't get me wrong: I am not a chocolate-chip cookie snob ... I'm not above eating raw Pillsbury dough - with or without a spoon - right from the soft plastic tube ... but after upping the quality of ingredients in the following recipe, I think it's the very best I've had in my 30-plus years of making them. My husband and daughter agree. Try it out and see what you think!

Whole-Wheat Chocolate-Chip Cookies with Pecans

2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour (I use 2 1/2 cups of King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour)
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt (I use Kosher salt)
1 c. (2 sticks) real butter, softened (no Crisco, no margarine, no "spread"!)
3/4 c. granulated sugar (I use organic)
3/4 c. packed brown sugar (I use organic)
1 t. pure vanilla extract (I use Nielsen-Massey brand from Williams-Sonoma)
2 large eggs (I use large brown organic eggs)
2 c. Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 c. chopped nuts (I use finely-chopped pecans)

Put on a cute apron. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat butter, sugars, and vanilla in large bowl. Add eggs. Gradually add flour, baking soda, and salt, and beat. Stir in chocolate-chips and nuts.

Use a tiny spring release ice-cream scoop (thanks, DeAnn!) to drop twelve blobs of dough, evenly-spaced, on a cookie sheet. Based on your oven, figure out exactly how many minutes to bake your cookies so that the edges are just starting to brown. (The centers will still appear uncooked...that's how you want 'em!) For my oven, it's eight minutes exactly. Cool on the cookie sheet two minutes, then remove to wire rack.

The next day, if you want your cookies ALMOST as melty-good as when they were just taken from the oven, put a couple on a napkin and microwave for ten seconds.

Friend-making (or keeping) Tip: Consider wrapping some of your just-baked cookies up in a cute way, and making a surprise delivery to a neighbor! The above-pictured container was left on my friend Eileen's doorstep the other night, and she soon returned home with visiting children and grandchildren to find them still warm.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Joy of Sitting - Week 20

So this is what's for dinner at our house tonight: fresh and locally-grown white corn-on-the-cob, Spooner Farms strawberries, green beans, sliced tomatoes and (California) avocado. I'll add a touch of real butter to the steamed green beans and corn, and grinders of salt and pepper will be on the table. No meat, no potatoes or rice or bread, just in-season deliciousness. I can't wait! I hope my husband will be as excited as I am. :)

I'm here today to report on my Excellent Experiment, as I'm now into Week 20. I feel kind of sheepish. I have nothing new to report as far as the scale goes ... I have been holding strong at a -30 pounds, but haven't lost a fraction of a pound since early last month. It's kind of weird, actually. I've been exercising regularly (still running and have added climbing our local Mt. Peak for cross-training, as well as a little yoga), I'm carefully watching what I'm eating at mealtimes, but if I'm being totally honest here, I guess I've had my share of the following things lately: warm and gooey and right-out-of-the-oven Texas sheet cake, dipped ice cream cones, and (my favorite) homemade, whole-wheat dark chocolate chip cookies with pecans. I give full credit to the exercise and the eating well at mealtimes for maintaining my weight, and I give full credit to the Sugar Booger for my lack o' loss.

The neat thing (and the different thing) this time around is that I still feel full of hope and motivation to continue on down the weight-loss road. I know, with the Lord's help, that I am completely capable of reaching my goals. It is just a matter of combining what I've learned through my Experiment so far with the other lessons that wait for me around the bend.

Someone asked me the other day what my best tips are for losing weight. I have thought a lot about this, and have narrowed it down to five tried-and-true basics that served as the backbone of my efforts:

1. Elimination of as many refined sugars (and other foods) from diet as possible;
2. Drink 64 ounces of water, or more, per day;
3. Exercise at least four days per week, at whatever level is a bit of a stretch;
4. Weigh every morning -- "knowledge is power";
5. (MOST IMPORTANT BY FAR) Daily spiritual preparation: following morning prayer, planning on paper what meals and exercise will look like for the day. Pray for and then expect the guidance of the Holy Ghost at each difficult moment that arises. Report back to Heavenly Father at evening prayer, and express gratitude for His help. Repeat the next morning.

Even though my total weight loss goal is only half-achieved so far, there are these wonderful little moments of pure joy that continue to catch me by surprise. They are moments where it is made very clear to my mind and my heart how truly far I have come. Let me share my two most recent little bursts of happiness with you ... they both have to do with sitting. Yep, sitting. Who knew there was any big deal about sitting??!

#1 Moment of Pure Joy: Last week, while my daughter was practicing with her soccer team on the turf, I spontaneously took a couple of mile-laps around the park. I hadn't gotten my run in that morning, and because I had thrown on my running shoes on my way out the door, the opportunity presented itself and I was ready.

As I took a cool-down walk around my daughter's field, I ended up on the shady hill behind the far goal. As I sat my sweaty self down on that hill, my mind was instantly and vividly taken back to the memory of myself attempting to sit down on that same hill two summers ago. I was in the clutches of the beginnings of rheumatoid arthritis, and I could barely get my body down to the ground. I became very aware of others around me, the fact that I had a skirt on, and the obvious difficulty my large, arthritic body was having lowering itself to simply sit on the grass. I remember wanting to cry, and feeling like a woman old far before her time.

But this time! After that great, unplanned run, there I was again on the same hill, plopping down gingerly like an normal person. I saw in that moment how very far I had come, and how much healthier all-around I am now. Happy, happy, joy, joy!

#2 Moment of Pure Joy: On Monday at noon, my husband and I found a little coveted spot on Cole Street, in the crowds of red/white/blue-dressed folks, from which to watch the hometown Fourth of July parade. My husband had slung some old beach chairs over his shoulder, and as he set them up for us on the sidewalk, I thought, "I hate those chairs". You see, they sit just about six inches from the ground, and they were always awkward for a bigger person like me to maneuver down into.

Well, that was my FORMER SELF hating on the chairs, 'cause my NEW AND IMPROVED SELF gracefully settled in to that baby. No biggie! When my mind made the connection between that smile-inducing moment and the one on the soccer hill, I just chuckled and shook my head: hard to believe that sitting down easily can make one feel so darn good.

I have learned so much lately in this journey, this Experiment of mine. Here are a few random thoughts offered up in the hopes that something here will help someone out there (maybe you?) in blog-land:

**I recently decided to get rid of all the clothes I own that are now too big. I have heard of people keeping a closet of clothes in various sizes, so just in case the weight-loss doesn't stick, they'll have their old things to wear. I have been guilty of this, too, but realized that this sends a powerful subliminal message to my brain, which doubts my resolve and my changed life. So, as clothes have become too big, I've donated them to Goodwill. Outta here, just like that. This has made for a very sparse wardrobe: right now I just have one pair of jeans, one pair of shorts, and a couple pair of capris. I do have plenty of exercise clothes, though, and I'm finding that I mainly live in these during the day.

**The exception to the above point is my small collection of nice summer skirts that I wear to church. I decided to have them altered to fit my new self, because I loved them: the beautiful floral prints make me happy, they are lined and good quality, and I decided to wait to buy new Sunday clothes until I am closer to my final weight goal. I bought some inexpensive colored T-shirts at Target and a couple of good white shirts ... combined with a few great necklaces and some new flats and wedges, I'm good to go for summer Sundays.

**I have a list of "clothes to look for" when I'm out shopping, but being that I live so far out in the boonies, real shopping trips are few and far between. I have found that some of my clothes actually fit me properly now, rather than bursting at the seams or at the buttons like they used to. It almost feels like a new outfit when the jeans actually now look somewhat flattering or the shirt no longer pulls across the bosomous area!

**May I just confess right here that it is wonderful knowing that I can wear things in the regular-sized women's department now. Years of slumping over to the plus-sized section reeked havoc on my self-esteem. It's a mini-party in the dressing room each time I try on a size large that fits, rather than the old go-tos, XL or 2X. I'm all about simple pleasures ...

**If you are feeling dowdy like I was, may I suggest going to get a good haircut, and maybe even some highlights for summer?? I had been trying to grown my hair out (I forgot why), and was so proud of the fact that my hair had been its natural color for the last couple of years. But, I finally couldn't handle the total lack of style topping my head, and one day nearly flew into Janice's hair chair for a pick-me-up. She didn't disappoint ... having a good haircut and (for me) a little color has made me feel terrific.

**We have a new motto in our kitchen: "Bake and Give". Because we really do love to bake an occasional treat, we will do so on the agreement that we'll each have a serving of cake or cookies, then we'll divide the rest onto pretty plates with ribbon and deliver them to whomever comes to mind. Quickly. It has become really fun to surprise our neighbors with plates of warm goodies, because after all, who doesn't just love to be on the receiving end of that?? Then, we've gotten our "sweet fix" in an appropriate serving size, the balance has disappeared from our kitchen, and we're provided with an easy way to be friendly to our neighbors. Win-win!

I hope that your first week of July is as gorgeous as ours is here in the Seattle area. We PNWers know that we need to "seize the day" when it is presented so beautifully ... rain always seems to be around the next corner! But for now, sunshine is ours. We are climbing Mt. Peak with the youth from our ward tonight, so I'll prepare our simple, fresh dinner now, change into climbin' clothes, and go enjoy being with some of the most fabulous young people I know.

Happy week, all! I'll be back soon with the promised thoughts on homemaking.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Sixth Sense

When I was young, my mom and I used to take evening drives around pretty neighborhoods to "look at houses". My mom, though not a professional decorator, had such an eye for beauty, and taught me from an early age to notice details and to zero in on things that spoke to me aesthetically. From these "educational drive-bys", I learned quickly that I loved colored front doors, (even more if a wreath was hung on it!), the soft, welcoming glow that came from a lamp in a front window, flowers bursting forth from pots on the front porch, and front yards that were neat and tidy. I liked the homes that seemed to say, "Welcome, I'm so glad you're here. Come inside!"

Nowadays my 13 year-old would call this "creeping" or "stalking", but back then Mom and I liked to take our drives at dusk, or a little later, because then you could actually catch glimpses inside homes! I remember seeing lovely bookshelves loaded with books, mantles decorated for Christmas, and pretty wallpapers. I'd imagine what kind of lives the people must live inside of these homes ... my dreams for my own future home had begun in my little-girl mind. A few years later, before I was even married, I was clipping and saving magazine pictures of homes that I loved, and kept long lists (of course) of things that I wanted to include someday, like a Swedish pine grandfather clock, overstuffed sofas, beautiful curtains at the windows, and a wind chime on the back porch.

My tastes have naturally evolved over the years, but I am still in absolute love with the idea of creating a warm, inviting, beautiful home ... not full of expensive antiques or art, necessarily, but full of love and of the Spirit, so that my family and others feel enveloped when they step inside the front door. And guess what? I have that Swedish clock that chimes on the quarter-hour, my husband built me beautiful bookshelves that line a whole wall in our living room, and I wouldn't think of NOT having a lamp in my front window! Above, you see our front porch with the black door and (of course!) a wreath (eucalyptus). Our home will forever be a work in progress, and I'm still, with my husband, planning, improving, organizing, changing, creating, designing, and remodeling. Our goal has always been to make our living space more inviting and cozy for those we love.

In our ward Relief Society last year, we spent lots of time discussing the idea that our homes can be "refuges from the world". I began to think of improving our home by concentrating on one "sense" at a time. This is what I'm working on right now ... here are some beginning thoughts ... feel free to chime in with YOUR ideas!!

Look around your home as you consider the five senses that we're all familiar with. What stands out as you view your surroundings through your sight? (Be honest - right now, I'm looking squarely at a jar of drippy raspberry jam on the counter and leftover lunch dishes!) What do you hear? What can you touch that is soft and comforting? What do you smell? (Dinner in the oven? Your laundry detergent? The flowers outside your window?) What tastes have you experienced in your kitchen today? I am beginning to believe that when we pay close attention to creating a home based on the senses, we can really personalize our living spaces for the total comfort of our family members. I want my family to love coming home, to almost utter an audible "aaahhh" when they walk through the door. If friends and neighbors can feel a measure of this, too, then I will feel like I'm doing my homemaking job well.

I'm going to take the liberty of adding one more "sense" to the other five: the feel of the Spirit. Though this is not something that can usually be concretely identified, it is (in my mind) absolutely the most important thing a home can have. Here's how I learned about this:

I grew up in a beautifully-decorated, immaculate, loving home. However, when I was a young teenager, I started visiting a new friend's house after school and immediately noticed something different and unfamiliar and downright wonderful there. My friend Lori's mom would always greet us at the door, and her home was lovely and clean like mine was. But there was also THIS FEELING. As I looked around, I didn't notice any real differences, but the more I thought about it, well, here, you take a look...

*Lori's mom was usually in the kitchen and there were usually wonderful smells wafting from in there. She was often making homemade cinnamon rolls or bread, and seemed to pulling something out of the oven just as we walked in. We'd pull up a bar stool, she'd pour us a glass of cold milk, and as we'd bite into that warm goodness, Lori's mom would stand there and talk to us. It was as if there was nothing else she'd rather be doing ... she was SO INTERESTED in our teenaged lives.

*Lori had four younger brothers and there was lots of activity in her home. I was an only child and I watched the interactions between all of the kids with great interest. There was certainly the occasional skirmish, but overall, a happy, even joyful, feeling prevailed. Homework was spread out on the dining room table, a baseball game was happening in the front yard, newspapers were being folded in the garage for the route that Lori and her brothers threw. Through all of this, there was a feeling of working together, of "being on the same team", that fun was happening here, and it felt great.

*Where my mom decorated with beautiful, bold colors and patterns, Lori's mom favored more neutral tones. But it wasn't really that that affected me ... it was the what was on the walls. I had never seen a picture of Jesus in a home before, or framed mottos/quotes, or paintings of temples, or so many family photos. The focus in this home wasn't about a perfect decorating style, but about the people who lived there and what they believed in. After spending an afternoon in this home, you knew what was important to them.

*The central feature of Lori's downstairs family room was the big piano. Oftentimes, our friends - and possibly a brother or two - would end up standing around it singing while someone played. Who in the world did THIS kind of thing after school? Well, when we were at Lori's, we did. It was a blast! I began to see the impact that music can have in a home environment.

*Finally, when I visited Lori's house, everyone seemed so happy that I was there. Her mom's face lit up when she saw me, her brothers would run past with repeated "Hi, Macy!"s, and her dad would put an arm around me when he came in from work. I felt so instantly included, even loved, there. Like part of the family.

I came to realize in later years that this "thing" that I felt in Lori's home was the Spirit of the Lord. It transcended a clean home, or a lovely home, or an organized home ... it was an almost tangible feeling that kept me coming back for more. Lori's family had this Spirit there because of they way they lived their religion within the walls of that home. They had kneeling family prayer every night, they studied the scriptures together, they offered blessings on the food at mealtimes, they held family home evening one night a week, and they continually taught one another about living Christlike lives. This religious, Christ-centered lifestyle filled their home, so that those not familiar with it (like me) could actually FEEL IT when they entered. Their home was a sacred space. And I wanted to have THAT in my home someday. You'd better believe that became #1 on my eventual list.

So this is my focus for the next few blog posts: making our homes refuges from the world by focusing on each of the SIX senses. Tomorrow, I'll share some ideas about how what we "see" when we walk through our doors can make an immediate difference in the feeling within our homes. Come on back and check it out, and as always, please feel welcome, even invited, to share some of your thoughts.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thinkin' On Lovely Things

I don't think it's any coincidence that, in this age of Justin Bieber-mania and (insert your favorite sports icon)-worship, the Mutual Theme for our youth for 2011 is the Thirteenth Article of Faith:

"We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul -- We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things." (Joseph Smith)

The footnote to this Article of Faith references Philippians 4:8, which has been my FAVORITE SCRIPTURE for years and years. You will see how similar they are, but pay special attention to the word "any" (used twice) toward the end of the following verse:

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

I love this perspective on how to view life. It is so easy to feel frustrated, even sickened, with all of the filth and crudeness that assault us on every front. But we don't have to wallow in all that -- the Lord has asked that we stand on a higher plane, that we not only "think on" but "seek after" that which is virtuous and lovely. Even when it is darn hard to find, if there is ANYTHING PRAISEWORTHY in ANY SITUATION we find ourselves in, we are to hold fast to that.

And guess what? Seeing the good in things, and seeking out the lovely, can be an acquired habit. I know because I'm testing it out. It seems that the more I look for wonderful things that are of good report, the more there are that show themselves. When I choose to focus my virtue-lenses, I see good stuff nearly everywhere!

Examples of what I mean? Well, here's a list from my desk that I've been adding to for the past few days ... as Maria would say, "these are a few of my favorite things" right now, that are making my life a little more beautiful:

1. The photo above is of a fabulous poster on my 13 year-old daughter's bedroom wall. She may have initially preferred a poster of Justin with his new haircut or Taylor with her guitar and amazing eye make-up, but her mother prevailed.

In the back of a recent LDS Living magazine, I found a link to a website that sells posters created by artist Steve Nethercott. The poster you see above depicts this year's Mutual Theme, and I love it because not only does it present the words so beautifully, but the young woman is modest, happy, and her body looks like that of a real girl. The subliminal message to me (and I hope my daughter) is: real joy comes in living a virtuous life and in seeking after the best of things.

On the website, there is also an extensive series of "Who is Your Hero?" posters, with Nethercott's rendition of heroes from American History, the scriptures, and Church history. They are terrific and might be a welcome addition to any child's bedroom wall. ( Check it out! Bonus: Nethercott's products are hugely affordable.

2. Let's be honest, what is our main criteria when we are choosing a shampoo?? Isn't it all about the SMELL?? I am loving my new Organix shampoo and conditioner in "Moroccan Argan Oil" formula. I have absolutely no idea what that means, or why this oil from the "southwest region of Morocco" is so special. And, I can't even testify that it does, in fact, create hair that is "soft, seductive, and of silky perfection". But it does smell so divine that I want to bathe in it. Purchased at Walgreen's for $7 each (light blue bottles with gold caps). Mmmm!!!

3. My husband and I have a new favorite ice cream: Haagen Dazs Five. The "five" refers to its short-list ingredients: milk, cream, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. What, no guar gum or dextrose-anything?? No, ma'am, it's ice cream straight up, just like it was intended to be.

However, the "pint" isn't even a true pint, but rather just 14 ounces at the same price as the other HD pints, and that really fries me! We try to really just eat a "serving" each (1/2 cup) and it lasts for a couple of evenings between the two of us.

My husband loves macerated strawberries (smooshed with the back of a small glass with a tad of sugar) on his ice cream, and I have been eating the opposite: ice cream on my strawberries: lots of strawberries with just a half-scoop (really!) of ice cream. This way I get the delicious taste of the five yummy ingredients melting down into the strawberry goodness, but I'm not eating the entire pint myself (in one sitting) like I did in the "good (?) ol' days"!

4. I have rediscovered my shelf of nineteen books by my favorite-author-of-all-time, Alexandra Stoddard. I've realized that I am who I am today because of three main influences: the Gospel of Jesus Christ, my mother, and Alexandra. She is a lifestyle expert / author / speaker, and her perspectives and insights would be just about perfect if she had the influence of the Gospel weaving through her brilliant writings on living beautifully. But despite that, she is still so incredibly inspiring! I have absorbed many of her philosophies over my years of studying her books.

If you're interested in checking out a book by Alexandra, I would especially recommend two: one I just finished last night in bed, "Choosing Happiness", and then her first book from the 1980s called "Living a Beautiful Life", which literally changed my life. If you hunger after things of beauty, and strive to make your home and life a reflection of this, I don't think you'll be disappointed. Alexandra has a way of putting into words what my spirit longs for and seeks after.

5. Oh! Before I go any further, CONGRATULATIONS TO THE WINNER OF THE DRAWING from two blog posts ago: (drumroll...) Amber from Maple Valley!!! Amber dear, I know where you live, and I will be sending you your very own Jonathan Adler "Inspire" journal with one of my favorite writing pens. Thank you for your wonderful comments on how you create productive mornings for yourself. I especially love that you completely shower and dress before your children leave for school so that you can hit the ground running right when you kiss them good-bye.

Thank you to the other fabulous women who posted comments both on the blog and in my facebook inbox. You inspire me! I am going to offer some sort of giveaway on a regular basis here on the blog, so keep coming back!

6. If you love to cook OR love to create, have I got the magazines for you!! I was just perusing the QFC racks, minding my own business, when the cover of "Where Women Cook -- The Heart & Soul of Cooking" jumped out at me. I grabbed it, started leafing through, and felt my heart start to race. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!! YES, YES, YES!! Inside were gorgeous photos of women food bloggers' real kitchens, a favorite recipe or two from each, lush photos of women's restaurants, packaging ideas for sharing homemade food with friends, an article about food fresh from the farm, and text written blog-style by these women themselves. And a Blackberry Coffee Cake recipe that my older daughter has already made and served to her friends. There were so many ideas packed into that magazine that it will take me months to process it all. Serious goldmine.

Also, there was a sister magazine perched right there beside it called "Where Women Create", which is the same idea only portraying the crafting areas of highly-creative women bloggers. I'm not much of a craftser, but if you are, you might really love this one.

Drawback: the magazines are $15 apiece, but the quality is top-notch and I will not be tossing it in the recycle bin anytime soon.

7. I'm really trying to purchase fresh, seasonal, and local produce these days. My greatest find today at Tracy's stand: Yakima cherries, which are half yellow / half red, and absolutely delicious. Far and away better than standard red cherries, I think. I lined a rustic bowl with ice cubes and put the cherries on top (to keep them cool), put a tiny bowl next to it for discarded pits, and set it on the kitchen counter ... my daughter and I keep finding ourselves there reaching for another couple of sweet jewels. (The other bounties I came home from Tracy's with: local asparagus, Romaine lettuce, and a half-flat of ruby-red-to-the-center strawberries)

8. My family loves to watch movies, and it is always a challenge to find good ones to rent that are appropriate for us all. I noticed recently on the covers of two terrific videos ("Invictis" and "Flipped") that they had both been awarded something called the Heartland Truly Moving Picture Award. I Googled that and found a site that recognizes especially inspiring movies with positive values. My kind of movies!!

If you visit their site, click on "Find a Film" and there are pages of movies (in order of release year) that have received the HTMP "inspiring" recognition. Many of my favorites are there, along with lots and lots of others I haven't seen ... a great reference when ordering Netflix or when searching for a "good movie" at the local rental store.

9. Here's a cute idea that I swiped from the latest Martha Stewart Living magazine. I had been asked to bring a salad to a potluck dinner recently, and wanted to do something different and healthy.

In clear, plastic, disposable cups (not tumblers, but a little taller with a more narrow base) spoon in 1" of your favorite healthy dip. Peel and cut a variety of colored vegetables into 6" spears: carrots, celery, cucumber, red/yellow/orange peppers. Into each cup's puddle of dip, press one spear of each different veggie. Toss in half a large radish for good measure. Finely chop fresh parsley and put a little sprinkle into each cup. Add a twist of freshly-ground pepper and a scant pinch of Kosher salt. Serve cups gathered together on a large basket tray.

Bonus: no worries of "double dipping" as each person has her own dip-in-a-cup! These were a hit at last week's BBQ. Thanks, Martha.

10. I was driving home from my mom's today and was looking in my console for something inspirational to listen to. I found a lone Disc 3 from an Audio Book called "The Broken Heart -- Applying the Atonement to Life's Experiences" by Bruce C. Hafen. Even though it had chocolate sauce stuck to it, and crumbs stuck to that, I cleaned it off and popped it into the CD player. Oh my goodness! Have you read / listened to this book?? I felt like this chapter, read by Elder Hafen himself, just SPOKE TO ME ... you know how that happens sometimes?

I would highly recommend "The Broken Heart", particularly Chapter Ten, ("Hope") where Elder Hafen discussed what he calls "The Gap", or the distance between the Real (what is) and the Ideal (what ought to be). It is for everyone who, like me, is trying to better line up those two things in their own lives. Good stuff!! Can't wait to give it another listen.

11. (Excuse me while I go grab a few more cherries...okay I'm back) Have you ever used a counter top cleaner spray in your kitchen? I have been lately, and I'm hooked. My favorite is the Cucina brand, in the Coriander and Olive Tree fragrance. I love using this as a last step in cleaning up the kitchen after each meal. Just a little "ta-da" as I finish up that not-very-fun task.

12. Do you have Chipotle Grill "fast-food" restaurants in your area? If so, you are lucky! This is our hands-down favorite place to stop as a family when we're out and about ... Chipotle has won the award repeatedly for freshest, healthiest fast food, and all of their tortillas, beans, etc. are made on-site daily. My favorite thing to order right now is the steak salad, which is a bed of chopped Romaine, black beans, pico de gallo, grilled chopped steak, a sprinkle of Jack cheese, and if I'm feeling a little wild and crazy, a scoop of their INCREDIBLE fresh guacamole. Then, they give you a little container of chili-lime dressing that is practically drinkable. My mouth is salivating just thinking about the dressing.

13. The last "lovely" thing for today: through a favorite blog, I discovered some yummy summer lotion and ordered tubes for myself and for my older daughter. We both love it! It is the energizing body butter by Illume, and the fragrance is a peppermint/grapefruit combination called "Yuzu Mint". It goes on smelling citrus-y, then morphs into a cool mint. Don't know how it does that, but it is fresh and clean and, as promised, energizing. Google Illume if you're interested in learning more.

I hope something in this list made you say "Oooohhh, I want to try that!" Don't you love it when things come highly-recommended from a friend? Many of my favorite lovely things life have been found this way.

What things are you adoring right now? Have you made any terrific discoveries lately? What things add beauty to your life? Share, share, share!!!

I hope you are enjoying your summer week ... stay busy with fun things as well as responsibilities, and don't forget to make time to soak up a few precious moments of sunshine with a glass of fresh lemonade in hand. I'll be back VERY soon with some thoughts on creating a home that is a refuge by focusing on the six (yes, six) senses.

And an update on my Excellent Experiment.

And if you're not an official follower of this blog, but check in regularly, would you leave me a comment here or on facebook and tell me what keeps you coming back? I'd love to know who's reading and why.

As always, loads of love to you.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Know This Woman #2: Julie

I am thrilled to be able to introduce you to another phenomenal person, who I am blessed to call my friend. This lovely woman is also probably the most credentialed gal I know: she attended the University of Washington before joining the LDS Church at age 20 (she grew up RLDS), then transferred to BYU where she earned her undergraduate and law degrees. Julie was a practicing attorney for years, and just recently took down her shingle to focus her complete efforts on her husband, four lovely daughters, and her home. She is a published author of both articles and books, has been our ward Gospel Doctrine teacher extraordinaire, and is now our Primary president. She is the PTA president at her girls' elementary school, and in all her spare time, (whew!) she's an accomplished artist and athlete. Julie has a phenomenal mind, which I lovingly call her "steel trap" ... nothing gets by this girl, and she remembers everything.

But we're not going to focus on any of that. The thing that I love the very most about Julie is her talent in being a devoted friend. Some of the most uplifting, Spirit-charged conversations I've ever had have been with her. We say that we are kindred spirits because we share such similar love for all things spiritual. Many a Sunday evening you will find us on the phone together, talking over the events from Church that day. Julie is one of those rare people who easily sees the good in all people and situations. We give each other synopses of the lessons we heard / taught that day, and marvel over the way the Gospel is working in our, and our ward family members', lives.

For years Julie has gently nudged me toward a more healthy lifestyle. She hooked me up with my first pedometer years ago and has been my walking buddy, usually with one or more of her daughters in tow. Rarely do I leave her home where she isn't coaxing me to try some new dish that she has created, or plucking a home grown veggie of some sort from her garden for me to sample. In my eyes, Julie is a Word of Wisdom EXPERT (and a self-described "foodie"), who is on a constant quest to create foods for her family that are both healthy and delicious.

I thought it would be fun to do a real "interview" with her, so that you might glean from her insights and passion, too. Following are five questions that I emailed to her, and in italics are her responses. I have taken the liberty of bolding key points that particularly struck me.

If you aren't familiar with the Word of Wisdom, it is a revelation received by the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1833, in response to his inquiring of the Lord about the use of tobacco by the brethren in early Church meetings. This Word of Wisdom is found in the Doctrine & Covenants, Section 89. There are 21 verses, and you can go HERE to read it in its entirety.

Following the interview, stick around at the bottom of the blog post for a list of ten yummy things that Julie has shared with me.


(Julie) For me, the critical question was one we all have to ask ourselves when we move away from home and start trying out our own wings: "What is this going to look like in my life?" At some point after leaving the nest, we all have to make those critical decisions about how we are going to live our individual lives.

Tossed into a system where sleepless nights, high stress levels, and nutritional apathy were the norm, it took me a little while to figure out what choices I was going to make on the eating spectrum. I had decided early in my life that most of the "abstinence" list (contained in the Word of Wisdom) were things I had no desire to touch. I found the biggest transition involved learning to put 'what I was going to eat' on the radar far enough in advance to ensure that there were Word of Wisdom-friendly foods in my apartment. This made it possible for me, in the time crunch, hectic, grab-and-go collegiate life, to grab things friendly to my body. When I didn't do this (which happened more frequently than I'd like to admit), I could feel a difference in my energy levels.


(Julie) The blessings for me that come from living the Word of Wisdom mirror blessings I have experienced from following any principle or law Heavenly Father gives us. I came from a family where I saw early-on the devastating effects that addiction can wage on individuals and families. I had a relative who struggled unsuccessfully to battle an alcohol addiction his entire life. Though our contacts with him were infrequent, they were enough to vividly impress the freedom that comes from avoiding the addictive substances outlined in the Word of Wisdom. As I have grown, every experience I have had has reinforced that truth to me. We are blessed with freedom to choose. Following the Word of Wisdom helps us to retain that freedom.

As an adult, as I read, ponder, and try to implement the Word of Wisdom, I find that many of the blessings promised in the revelation have come to me as a result of those efforts. I will read a section, and find specific thoughts and promptings come to me through the week, as I try to follow what I have read. The "wisdom" and "treasures of knowledge" have come frequently. I also find that when I am closely trying to follow ALL of the Word of Wisdom, my energy levels, attitude, and ability to accomplish my busy schedule are all significantly helped.


(Julie) Unlike the agrarian generations in the past, where the Word of Wisdom diet (lots of grains, seasonal fruits and vegetables, supplemented by a bit of available meat) mirrored the available resources, following the Word of Wisdom today requires effort. We live in a "non-friendly" Word of Wisdom culture. The scope of available food offerings and plethora of prepared and fast foods makes following the Word of Wisdom diet impossible without effort. We have to read labels just to figure out what we are eating. (Is this product that looks like a grain-based product actually grain, or is it mostly additives??)

Couple the effort required with the fast-paced life we live, where the whole concept of preparing dinner is becoming antiquated, and it becomes another item on the "to do list". I think many Latter-day Saint women are struggling just to get the 'check list' of things we must do each day done. It becomes easy to fall into the "comparative righteousness state": "At least I'm preparing dinner ... which is better than what she's doing."

I think that sometimes LDS women also feel like in their hectic lives, it's hard enough even to get the scriptures open. If given a choice, many aren't going to delve into the Word of Wisdom with that precious spiritual time. The interesting thing, however, is it is one of the principles in the scriptures that has the greatest promised return for one's effort! The blessings promised for obeying the Word of Wisdom are huge and miraculous: the Passover blessing (preservation of life) given to the Jews of ancient Egypt are promised, spiritual blessings are promised, and physical blessings are promised. These blessings are promised to ALL who follow the Word of Wisdom. As LDS women, if we establish a household which serves Word of Wisdom-compliant meals, those blessings apply not only to us individually, but to our spouses, our children, our grandchildren, and any who eat at our table. It is not hard, and the blessings are immense.


(Julie) I'm really focusing on the part about eating meat sparingly right now. Many of our modern meals are planned around "meat as the main dish". Part of that is tied to our economic prosperity. Interestingly enough, in a lot of other cultures, meat is used as more of a condiment or flavoring, augmenting the grain and vegetables which is the main offering. I am enjoying exploring some of the recipes of other cultures to see how well I can implement some of their dishes.

I think men, especially, sometimes wonder if a meal where meat is not the center star can be "satisfying". I am enjoying experimenting to create dishes that are "great" and not just "a great dish without a lot of meat".


(Julie) I think it has to start with a careful, prayerful reading of Section 89. Like any other rightous desire, if we want to follow the Lord's commandments, He will help us. The initial read might prompt a small change, followed by progressive changes.

We cannot apply the Word of Wisdom without knowing what we are eating. Label reading is a must! I also think thoughtful grocery shopping is crucial. Having fresh (or freshly frozen) fruits and vegetables on-hand is important
. Having whole grains available in your pantry is also critical. When we need a last-minute supper (which, for many of us, is all we have time for), we will use what we have on hand.

Hooking up with friends for great, quick recipes (or even surveying your own recipes for Word of Wisdom-friendly choices) will increase the chance you will use them when you need a quick "go-to" meal, and will decrease the likelihood of an all-out rebellion in your home if this is a big departure from what you have been serving.

Thank you, Julie!! Isn't she terrific?? This is one woman who truly practices what she preaches. Below are a few of the many food combinations or preparations that Julie has taught me about:

1. Roasted vegetables, in nearly any combination (in the oven or on the grill);
2. Couscous with fresh veggies, feta, toasted almonds, lemon juice and olive oil;
3. Using a little orange juice as a sweetener, or flavor enhancer in savory dishes;
4. Buffalo burgers (very low-fat, had my first one at their cabin on the lake);
5. Home-grilled fish tacos with the appropriate garnishes (chopped cabbages, tomato salsa, and homemade yogurt white sauce), brought to our family last month after my husband's emergency appendectomy;
6. Whole wheat pita pockets spread with soft herbed cheese, filled with greens tossed with balsamic vinaigrette;
7. Angel food cake spread with a thin layer of lemon curd, topped with fresh berries;
8. Slow-cooked oatmeal with nuts/seeds/dried fruit bits (also at the lake);
9. Pureed sweet potato added to homemade chicken noodle soup to thicken and add richness;
10. Shaved Parmesano-Reggiano as a secret ingredient to salad of field greens and balsamic vinaigrette.

Finally, at Julie's recommendation, I have been following AND LOVING Skip Hellewell's fabulous blog called "Word of Wisdom Living". Check it out!