Wednesday, February 28, 2018

On choosing compassion.

Photo credit

As a youth, I was very sensitive to others' needs. If I saw someone with a disability or a health issue, or a homeless person, it would bring me to tears. I couldn't bear the thought of people or animals suffering. I cried, a lot, and it didn't take much to get the waterworks going. I shied away from arguments. Simply existing was exhausting for me because I felt EVERYTHING on such a grand scale.

Somewhere along the line, I became convinced I needed to shut that down and toughen up. I believed logic is king and anything else is heresy. I felt ashamed of my emotional vulnerability, and I trained myself to perceive the world logically, tuning out any emotional components. If people were suffering, it was sad, but I believed was ultimately their fault. I would readily engage in civic discussions, but only to defend my positions, not to actually hear what others had to say. I viewed anyone who disagreed with me as an enemy to the cause of freedom.

But, I was born an empath, and living this way was taxing on my tender heart. I hated how I felt when people seemed hurt by my assertions, or when rude comments crossed my path. But in response to my discomfort, I continually chose to close myself off to any sort of emotion. Disregard. Ignore. Unfriend. Block. Don't you dare cry, I admonished myself.

As I married and had children, I found this cold approach contradicted the sensitive compassion the roles of spouse and parent required of me, and it also contradicted my faith. I believed the Savior wanted us to love our neighbor, and I believed charity was God's ultimate commandment. But, my heart was hardened, and I couldn't make it soft again.

And then, my mom died.

Her death changed me in so many ways, but the best way was that it gave me back my empathy. It once again allowed me to "mourn with those that mourn." I've stopped trying to hold back my tears. I've warmed up again to showing and receiving affection. I no longer care about being right.

I care about being compassionate.

Two weeks ago, on Valentine's Day, my nephew Austin was in a regular day of class when a shooter entered his school and ruthlessly took the lives of 17, including four of his close friends and his coach/teacher. It has been absolutely devastating for him, as you can expect. The press is focusing on those who are channeling their grief into revolution -- which is commendable -- but so many students from Stoneman Douglas High are suffering privately in the aftermath of this tragedy, and Austin is one of them.

Every student, teacher, administrator and staff member at that school lost people to whom they were close on February 14. Parents and siblings of the victims didn't get the chance to embrace them or say "I love you" one last time before the ammunition ripped through the victims' bodies and ended their lives.

Yet, if you take a quick glimpse at the comments on various news articles and social media outlets, you'll see many who seem to have forgotten that REAL PEOPLE are in the worst kind of pain imaginable because of this senseless horror. Instead, they are hellbent on defending their positions -- even to the point of insulting those who disagree and callously questioning the credibility of the outspoken victims. It's ugly and heartbreaking.

Politics should act as guiding principles in civil matters. I do believe it's important to know where you stand on the issues and why you stand there. Yet too often, we hide behind our political philosophies, or even wield them as weapons. The become the end and not just a means to it. We insist our way is the smartest way, the only way for our country to be successful. And we completely throw compassion to the wind.

Logic is not king. Love is.

Yes, logic is important to a well-functioning society. We should learn to think rationally and not allow our emotions to totally run the show. But God gave us emotions so that we could connect with one another. As His children, we are all spiritually related, but we forget this. Our anger and determination to best each other extinguishes any inkling of the innate compassion we hold in our hearts. Emotion has a place in reconnecting us to one another; it allows us to truly "see" each other and to put our hard-line stances aside to work together.

As I have allowed kindness to guide my political beliefs, some of my positions on matters have migrated toward the center. For instance, I no longer believe guns should be completely unregulated. I do not support a total ban on guns, but I advocate regulative measures such as the taxation of weapons and ammunition, a higher legal age requirement for the purchase of weapons and ammunition, and proper training and licensing. This shift in my beliefs has come as I have realized the unencumbered right to bear whatever arms and as many arms as you want at whatever age or mental capacity is not as important as the right to life and safety.

As I've softened on my political stances, allowing my empathetic side to appropriately weigh in, I've actually become more confident in my convictions. I no longer feel the need to bend to a specific party's platform or ideals. I have taken a reasonable approach, and it's no longer tiring to engage in discussions about what I believe. Yes, I still support a system of limited government, and I believe in the science of economics. But I acknowledge kindness needs a place at the table, too. Without it, we just aren't human.

I imagine how different the world would be if we could all come together at times like these, put our differences aside and work towards something bigger than all of us. The scriptures tell of how the people of Enoch attained this state: "And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them. (Moses 7:18)" I look around and see how broken we are, and I wonder if achieving Zion is even possible today. I actually believe it is, but it would require us ALL to cast aside our pride and embrace our compassion for one another. We'd need to fully see each other, spirit to spirit.

At the end of my life, I don't want to be known for being RIGHT all the time. I want to be like my mom, who people always remember as kind and giving. Yes, she had her beliefs, and she was strong in them. But she followed the Savior's example and let love lead the way. And though I am still heartbroken to have lost her, I am grateful that her death has reminded me I can, too.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Mom cooks: seashell soup

Well, I told you all I was going to cook more in this the Year of our Lord 2018, and ... I know it's only been 25 days since the 1st, but I'll have you know I've actually done really well with this resolution so far! We've only eaten out maybe three times, and I've even tried some new recipes. 

Please applaud my success.

Thank you.

If you're in the "I want to cook more but I need easy, fool-proof recipes HALP" camp, I'm sharing one of my favorites today -- seashell soup. My mom often made a very similar soup when I was young, especially on cold and dreary days. You call it "seashell soup" to get kids to eat it, and then the name sticks, and you just keep calling it that until you're old and gray. At least, I plan to.

Let's just cut to the chase, shall we?

Seashell Soup
1 lb ground beef or turkey
1/4 c. onion, roughly chopped
3 tsp minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
1 32 oz carton beef broth + 1 c. water
1 can tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can corn, drained (or 1 1/2 c. frozen corn)
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
2 medium potatoes, diced
1 lb small shell pasta
2 tsp dried parsley flakes
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Sautee meat, onions and garlic until well browned. Drain, and set aside.

In a large stockpot, combine all remaining ingredients except for the shells. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Add meat, onions and garlic. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add shells and simmer for an additional 5 - 10 minutes (or until shells are just soft).


I chop my onions real big so my picky eaters can take them out if they want. You could also use onion powder to avoid complaints, but as to how much? Your guess is as good as mine.

I dice the potatoes and carrots fairly small so they cook faster (though this photo is deceiving, cuz that carrot looks GIMONGOUS). Also, I use Yukon gold potatoes so I don't have to peel them.

Could you do this in an Instant Pot? Probably, but I have yet to try. Will report back if I ever do.

The leftovers of this soup tend to soak up all the water and it turns into a (delicious) goulash. If you don't like goulash and want actual soup goshdangit, just add some water back to it before reheating and it's good as new!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


365 days
without you here.
It happened in the winter --
and sad.
The sky was crying
the day we put your body in the ground.
I slowly trudged to spring,
trying to remember
who I was
before we lost you.
(It's all a blur)
Then, summer came --
that reliable, blistering Arizona heat.
You used to say
"It's better than being cold"
(it is)
The warmth seemed to thaw me out
and recollect some parts of me
that froze when you died.
As the days grew shorter again
and the morning air
the days
and weeks
turned into months;
the fear of forgetting loomed.
(it still does)
Fear of forgetting
your voice, your smile, your laugh.
I keep an old kitchen towel
you once bought for me,
stained and worn,
because it reminds me of you.
Now it is winter again,
and on this 365th day without you,
the sky cried again
and so did I.
But just the thought of seeing you again someday
makes tomorrow
more bearable.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

New Year's Resolution: cook more, eat out less!

This post contains affiliate links. All prices subject to change.

When I was first embracing stay-at-home parenthood, I LOVED to cook! I was eager to try all the recipes my mom had made before and enjoyed looking up new ones, too. I was keen on using fresh ingredients and a variety of flavors and textures. I even made my own bread for several months after Carson was born!

Then, the kids got older, and this mom got busier. Still, I would find it within myself to cook at least five nights a week, even if it was something simple. I was bound and determined to save money and keep our family healthy.

Well, the combination of suffering from depression/anxiety related to the death of my mother and getting a new part-time job playing piano for a high school choral program made 2017 the Year of Taco Bell 'round these parts. Every day around 4:00 in the afternoon, I would run into a massive brick wall of fatigue accompanied by a headache and joint pain, and cooking was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. So, take-out was the answer.

At first, I considered eating out as a form of self-care -- I was grieving and needed to be gentle with myself! And yes, that was true, but eating fast food on a regular basis is NOT self-care. In fact, it was making me feel worse. And my family was suffering, too. My kids stopped enjoying fruits and vegetables as much as they had before.

So this year, I am resolving to cook MORE and eat out LESS, and I am inviting you to join me!

Now, I'm not going to assign any specific requirements to this resolution here on the blog, because everyone is different. It's up to you to determine the details of your own cooking goals. But, allow me to offer some suggestions -- things that have encouraged me to cook for my family more often instead of relying on the nearest fast food chain for dinner.

1) Plan your meals. Have you ever decided you'd like to make dinner, only to realize all you have in your pantry is a half-rotten potato and can of soup? Yeah, we've all been there! Success in regular meal-making requires you begin with the end in mind. Write the meals you want to cook on the calendar, make a list of the ingredients you need to purchase for each meal and add it to your weekly shopping list. Or, if you'd rather use the power of technology, there are TONS of apps designed to help with meal planning! Try Yummly, MealPlan or Pepper Plate.

2) Ease into full-time meal preparation with 'hybrid meals.' You don't want to eat out so frequently, but you also aren't quite read to jump into from-scratch Martha Stewart mode just yet. Understandable! Luckily, there are a lot of options to help you prepare a meal so you don't have to do all the work. For example, you can buy a rotisserie chicken from the store, but make your side dishes at home. Or, do the reverse -- make the lasagna yourself, but buy a loaf of sliced French bread and a bag of salad to go with it.

There are also meal kits you can use. My favorites are the Street Kitchen Scratch Kits which you can get at Walmart for under $3! They basically come with all the spices and sauces you need to make various ethnic foods (curry, stir fry, Korean barbeque, etc.) -- you provide the meat and anything that accompanies the dish, such as rice. The package tells you what is included and what you need. It's simple and YUMMY! We are big fans around here.

3). Use a slow cooker or Instant Pot. I recently mentioned I got an Instant Pot on Black Friday, and boy, has it really helped me out! So far, I've made pasta, rice, chicken and a tri-tip roast in my Instant Pot. Because it's a pressure cooker, it cooks food VERY quickly -- the tri-tip went from raw to beautifully cooked in under an hour! It's so efficient and the food turns out wonderfully.

The Instant Pot also has a slow-cooker function, but if you don't already have an Instant Pot, you can use a good ol' Crock Pot instead! Put your meal in the pot in the morning, forget about it, and have it ready to eat by dinnertime. A time-tested cooking method for the busy parent!

4) Enlist the help of your family. Making an entire meal is a daunting task, but many hands make light work.

My friend Tiffany at A Family Team is an amazing example of this. She teaches her children from a very young age how to cut produce, make meatballs and do all sorts of grown-up tasks around the kitchen so she never has to cook alone. And as a wonderful bonus benefit, she gets to spend that time bonding with her kids!

Image via: A Family Team blog

On both her blog and YouTube channel, Tiffany offers tons of suggestions for teaching kids to safely complete various kitchen tasks, and she also has a lot of family-friendly recipes to try. Additionally, she talks a lot about grief because she delivered two stillborn babies during 2017. She has been such an example to me of how to persevere through the sorrow of loss while also being kind and gentle with yourself. I am so grateful to call her my friend!

So, what will your 2018 cooking goal look like? Perhaps it will be to eat out only once a week. Maybe you will resolve to use more fresh ingredients in your cooking, or more whole grains. Or, you could resolve to learn one new recipe every month! Share your ideas in the comments.

Thanks for joining this New Year's Resolution Blog Tour, hosted by Cheryl at GraceFull Parenting! Be sure to follow the link to her blog for more goal ideas from other bloggers. Happy new year!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Last-minute Christmas gifts from Amazon Prime!

This post contains affiliate links. Lots of 'em.

As a musician, the month of December is exceptionally crazy for me every year. Concerts upon concerts, recitals, Messiah sing-alongs, planning for church services ... I'm up to my neck in musical activities! By the time mid-December rolls around, I inevitably realize I haven't finished my Christmas shopping and sometimes have yet to even begin. Whoops.

(Next year, I vow to do less! Next year ... it's always next year.)

If you're in the same woefully unprepared boat as me, here's a quick list of unique and thoughtful gifts you can get right now on Amazon Prime. Procrastination won't be your demise today!

1. Orabrush Tongue Cleaner (4-pack for $19.50)

I've blogged about this one before as a Friday Favorites, but I can't sing its praises enough. The Orabrush is the ONLY answer to bad breath. Just trust me on this one. All other tongue scrapers are inferior, and brushing your tongue with your toothbrush just doesn't cut it. Everyone needs an Orabrush. Make it a family affair and buy a multi-pack. It makes a perfect stocking-stuffer!

2. Instant Pot pressure cooker 6 QT ($99.95)

I didn't think I needed this. I really didn't. I don't forget to thaw my chicken -- oh wait, yes I do. I forget all the time. And dinner is one of those things that takes ages and I dread making it. Dillon picked up one of these bad boys on Black Friday and let me just say ... TOTAL GAME-CHANGER. I've only had mine for a few weeks and I'm excited to use it to its full potential. But yes, the other night when it took four solidly frozen chicken breasts to fully-cooked and deliciously juicy in under 15 minutes, I knew I'd discovered the secret to success ... it's the Instant Pot!

3. 32 Degrees Tech Fleece Jogger Pants (starting at $17.18)

This one, I can't take credit for. My friend Brandilyn (find her on Instagram at @thedailybran) talked these joggers up BIG TIME when they were at Costco (they still might be). When I saw them at Costco a few weeks ago, I remembered her post and checked them out. I knew they would become my go-to pants. So I picked up a pair of black ones (they were only $10 then!!!) and quickly fell in love. They're thick, but not too thick. They're comfy, but the tech material is nice enough to be dressed up or down -- very versatile. POCKETS. Perfect rise. I flipping love these pants, and so will you!

4. Codenames ($14.88)

If game night is a regular occurrence in your family or circle of friends, you need this one! I've played Codenames a few times now, and every time I enjoy it more than the time before. It's a critical thinking game based on words and it's a BLAST. It's both competitive and cooperative, and it can be played with rather large groups of people. They also have a Disney version I'm considering getting for my family so the kids can get in on the fun!

5. UE BOOM 2 portable speaker (starting at $79.99)

This mobile Bluetooth speaker is awesome! The sound is so crisp and lively with a nice, solid bass. I love that I can take it anywhere in my house. It's also waterproof so you can take it poolside or out on the lake. And the best part is, the battery lasts FOREVER. I rarely have to charge mine. I use it during my voice lessons, while I'm making dinner, for impromptu dance parties ... anything that calls for music, the UE BOOM rises to the occasion.

6. Fire TV stick ($34.99)

Can I tell you a secret? We don't have cable. We don't even have an antenna. Whenever we're watching something on TV, it's through this little gadget. It allows you to download apps for streaming services, like Netflix, Sling, ESPN and Hulu. And, if you have Prime, you can access content on Amazon Video for free!

"But, if you don't have TV, how do you watch General Conference?" you smugly ask. Well, there's an app for that -- actually, two! BYUtv or the Mormon Channel, take your pick.

I thought I would miss having cable news, but it turns out I get most of my news from the Internet. And if I really want to watch something, like a political debate or the Olympics, I can stream it through any number of apps. The Fire TV stick and similar devices have revolutionized television. Kiss your cable bill goodbye this Christmas and get yourself one of these!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Gratitude in the face of grief.

Just one year ago, on Thanksgiving Day, my world shattered when I was faced with the truth: my mom had entered hospice care. As the weeks wore on until her eventual death, I began to experience the crippling symptoms of grief even before she passed. Those symptoms -- pain, sadness, emotional detachment, loss of appetite, depression, fatigue -- increased and consumed me in the months following her death.

I honestly don't remember most of what happened between the middle of January until about May. When I think back, I only see small blips: attending a concert with my sisters. Disneyland. My 30th birthday. Clara's 3rd birthday.

Until this year, I had a very impressive memory, even the ability to recall every address and phone number I've ever had. But grief took it from me, maybe as a coping mechanism, because what you can't remember can't hurt you.

When I went to Utah in June, I felt a slight shift to a new part of the grief wheel. It was as if instead of constant clouds and rain, the sky was beginning to part for some occasional sunshine. I felt a desire to be happy again. The whole experience was incredibly healing for me. But before that, I felt spiritually dark, like I could not feel the influence of the Holy Ghost anymore.

I remember attending the temple in early April on my 30th birthday, thanks to a sweet friend who offered to watch Clara so I could go. It had been months or maybe even over a year since I had attended. I struggled to stay composed during the session, feeling very on-edge and anxious. At the end, instead of feeling peace and joy as I passed into the celestial room, I experienced a deep, guttural pain that caused me to sob. I sat in a chair in a corner and let the tears fall, clenching my throat so as not to let any sound escape. A kind temple worker offered me a tissue, looked me in the eyes and said some things that touched me deeply. But I didn't want to hang around for long. I was still so angry.

Around the time of my birthday, I had also started seeing a therapist to deal with my feelings and rein in some unhealthy coping mechanisms I had developed. It was with her help that I was able to feel that light again. And there was an internal change, too. As some of the weight of my grief fell off my shoulders, I started seeing my beautiful blessings again. My husband, who was patient and compassionate towards me despite the fact I was a shell of my former self. My children, who are kind, inquisitive, funny and innocent. My beautiful home. The gift of music. Selfless friends and neighbors. The beauty of the world around me. The truth of the gospel.

As I chose to approach life with gratitude -- embracing those happy moments of recognizing my blessings instead of willing them away in my anger -- the dark clouds started to depart. It was a miracle, one that I hadn't intended. Just by being thankful, my heart could heal. I believe now it was because it was softening my heart, allowing the Savior in to do His work of putting the pieces of my life back together again.

There are still hard moments and even a hard days here and there. I'm not done healing, but I'm on the road to recovery. I still have a long ways to go, but when I look back on how far I've come, I am grateful for the progress I've made and hope it can continue.

I miss my mom so, so much. How is it possible I still want to call her when I run into a family member at the store, or when I have good news? At times, it feels like she is on a long vacation and will be back any day. And then, I realize she's actually gone.

But, I am grateful for the time I did have with her. I am grateful for her example, her legacy. I am grateful for all she taught me about life. And I know she wants me to face my grief with gratitude, not anger. Because despite the tragedy of losing my mom before my 30th birthday, I have much to be thankful for. I have a truly beautiful life. And someday, I think I'll even be grateful for what I've gained through experiencing the death of a parent.

I also want to express my thanks to all who have buoyed me up in some way through this year. You've been instrumental in my healing, too. Thank you for bringing glimmers of joy into my life so I can learn to feel happy again. You are His hands, and your love has not gone unnoticed.

Since my mom died, I have started to appreciate the beautiful sunsets we have in Arizona. I now see them as gifts -- from her, from God, a sign that I survived another day. I like to stop and just drink them in, savoring the hues until they fade to inky blue. It's like a moment of reprieve, a reminder that not all is lost and that life is still beautiful.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Going to paradise.


A week or so before my mom died around New Year's, Dillon and I took the kids to see Moana at the movie theater. I had been told it would make me emotional, and it definitely came through on that front.

There were a few themes within the film that resonated with my situation at the time -- namely, being required by a higher power to do a very hard thing and somehow surviving it all. Plus, the loss of a family member (they portrayed Moana's grief of losing her grandmother so perfectly, by the way).

The timing of that movie's release was impeccable for me. I didn't realize how much I needed it at the time. I thought I was in for a mental break from the depressing reality of my mom's terminal illness, but in reality, seeing Moana caused me to delve even further into my emotions than anything else could. Art has that effect on people, you know. I still can't watch the baby Moana scene at the beginning of the movie without losing it, nor the end when she sings her song to Te Ka. Daaaang.

When Moana was released to Blu-ray a few months later, my then-2-year-old daughter Clara unsurprisingly took a liking to it. Well, it was more of an obsession, in true toddler fashion. She watched it at least 2 - 3 times every day. Morning, noon and night. I would occasionally try to persuade her to engage in a more educational activity or even to just watch something else, but nothing beyond casual encouragement. I was too overwhelmed with grief and depression to care.

But, I didn't really mind that Moana was basically on repeat for a month and a half. The movie is visually stunning, the music is inspiring and heartfelt, and moments of hilarity abound (that Hei Hei is too good). So, having Moana in the background of my life for about six straight weeks was not the worst thing.

Maybe it was the manifestation of Stockholm syndrome, but there was a day about three weeks into Clara's Moana addiction when I suddenly decided I needed to visit Hawaii. I became as obsessed with the idea as Clara was with the movie. I couldn't stop thinking about it and looking up flights online.

Now, I know Moana isn't set in Hawaii specifically, but it's close enough and I've always, always wanted to go to Hawaii. Call me basic or whatever, but I've never been and from what I hear, it's magical. Plus, we have some family ties to Oahu and I've longed to see it for myself for decades.

So when things fell into place around my 30th birthday thanks to a very generous gift, I decided to book the trip. That was back in April, nearly six months ago. And on Monday, Dillon and I are hopping a plane to paradise for an entire week (direct flight, too!).

A student at the school where I work (oh yeah, I work at a school now. More on that later) told me the air in Hawaii is different -- "It's rejuvenating!" he said excitedly. I wanted to cry because that's exactly why I am doing this. I have clung to this upcoming trip for so long for its promise of revitalization. My soul needs it. It needs a week to decompress, unwind, sleep, move slowly and savor its existence in this beautiful world.

I do feel that being alive is a real privilege -- not to say the "other side" isn't wonderful, but mortality offers us experiences that God knew we could only enjoy in a physical state. And yes, traveling can be a huge sacrifice and I recognize we are very fortunate to be able to do it. I know how privileged we are to be able to take the time and resources to go see another part of the wondrous earth God created for us. That fact is not lost on me.

So, it's finally happening! It feels like Christmas. We're going to eat our weight in delicious poke, we're going to lay on the beach, we're going to enjoy some fire dancing and we're going to breathe in as much of that rejuvenating Hawaiian air as we can fit into our lungs. And when we get back, I'll tell you all about it.

In the meantime, you were all so helpful when I went to Utah over the summer that I'm going to ask you again -- tell me where we HAVE to eat and what we HAVE to see and do. We're staying half the time on Waikiki and the other half on the North Shore, and we're renting a car so the sky's the limit. The trip is pretty well-planned already, but we may have missed something. And let's be honest, I don't know that I will get the chance to go back any time soon. So, lay it on me!