Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving!  My recipe seems to evolve a little every year but I think I'm finally done changing it.  Marshmallows, pecan, sweet potatoes...what's not to like!

Sweet Potato Casserole
4 large sweet potatoes
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar (plus a little to sprinkle on top)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup pecans (coarsely chopped)
1 cup mini marshmallows

Peel and chop sweet potatoes into 1 in. cubes.  Boil cubed sweet potatoes until softened.  Mash sweet potatoes with butter.  Add brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

Place mashed sweet potatoes into a large baking dish.  Top with mini marshmallows and pecans. Sprinkle with a little more brown sugar for good measure.  Bake @350 for 15-20 minutes or until heated through and marshmallows are slightly toasted!  Dig in!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sweet Cream Cheese Dip (And my favorite Pumpkin Chips)

 Before I get to the recipe I've got to tell you about the awesome chips my Mom introduced me to last year. They are pumpkin chips from the Food Should Taste Good brand. Last year she brought them from Washington but I was excited to find them in our Smith's this year! And if they sell them in my little town then you're sure to find them in yours. I found them in the Natural Food section at Smith's. They are a seasonal item so don't forget to stock up too ;) Here's a picture so you can find them for yourself:

While they are delicious by themselves, a sweet dip takes them to the next level of Fall treat perfection! Luckily my mom gave me a recipe for that too.  It's super quick and easy and my kids can eat a whole bag of chips and dip in one sitting if I don't keep my eye on them.

This is a great recipe to make for parties or just because.  It can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge too. I usually serve it with pumpkin chips but it's also great with apples, pears, or cinnamon sugar pita chips. Give it a try!

Sweet Cream Cheese Dip
4 oz. cream cheese (softened)
16 oz. Cool whip*
2 tsp. Cinnamon
Nutmeg (to taste)

Place softened cream cheese in a stand mixer.  Using the wire whisk attachment, whip the cream cheese until smooth.  Add the cool whip and cinnamon.  Keep mixing until smooth and creamy.  Place in serving bowl and garnish with nutmeg.  Serve with pumpkin chips, apples, pears, and/or cinnamon sugar pita chips.

*I really recommend making this with Cool whip or with homemade topping so that it stays thick! I made it with a generic brand the other day and it was way too thin even after adding extra cream cheese.  I don't always buy the name brand but this is one of those recipes where it really does make a difference!

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Thirty Minute Throw Pillow

Guests coming over in a half an hour and you need some new pillows to throw out fast? I've got you covered! ;) Okay, so probably no one is having throw pillow emergencies but I decided to call these 30 minute throw pillows because they are incredibly fast to make! I'm not the greatest seamstress so I have to do most of my sewing after my kids go to bed so they don't hear my colorful language. I'm kidding of course (kind of) but I do like to know if I can finish a project in one night and with these pillows the answer is yes!  It's a great way to spend an evening, especially if you're a baseball playoffs widow like I am.

A few weeks ago we got new couches and I needed some new pillows to go with them.  After looking for awhile and not finding what I wanted I decided to try making some!  I bought this fabric and several others from Hobby Lobby and got to work.  I was so excited with the results I decided to up my game for this blog post.  First I took step by step photos and second I added a cool font to my picture.  Both Neighbor Julia firsts! I'm finally catching up with the rest of you bloggers out there...so watch out! My readership is ready to shoot right up to 15 or 16!

But seriously, give these pillows a try! The possibilities are endless.  Different Fabrics, differenct sizes, different holidays, etc.  It's all straight lines and you flip right side out at the end so none of the seams are even visible. If I can do it, so can you! Have fun!

Thirty-Minute Throw Pillows
What you need (makes two 18" pillows):
1 yrd. thick durable fabric (I used patterned duck fabric from the home decor section)
1 large bag of pillow stuffing (I used ultra plush polyester fiber...pictured below)
thread to match your fabric (you'll use it in your machine but also to hand stitch the end closed)
fabric cutting mat and roller

How to do it:

Fold your fabric in half length wise with the printed side facing in.  Using a rotary cutter, cut a square that is 18 1/2 in. by 18 1/2 in. (So now you'll have two squares facing each other...a front and back of a pillow that are already perfectly lined up)

Pin fabric in place so that your corners all stay lined up.  

Begin sewing fabric together making sure to back stitch about one inch at the beginning to make sure the corners will hold together.  I actually back stitch two or three times at each corner just because I know my kids are going to be making forts out of these things and throwing them at each other. I made my seam about 1/4 in. from the edge of the fabric (so you'll end up with an 18 in. square pillow at the end). I tried to capture this in the photo...but when you come to a corner I usually stop while the needle is still through the fabric.  Then just lift the guider foot up and rotate your fabric to the next side while the needle holds it in place. Now you're ready to sew the next side.

Continue sewing until you get to the last side.  Finish sewing the last side leaving a 2 inch gap at the end of the pillow.  Make sure to back stitch to prevent the thread from pulling out in the next step.

Using the 2 inch hole that you left in the pillow turn the fabric right side out.  Gently push the fabric through the hole until it's totally right side out. Right now you may be cursing yourself for leaving such a small opening.  But trust me...when it comes time to hand stitch it closed you'll be thanking me. 

Lay the fabric out flat, making sure to fully extend the corners. Look it almost looks like a pillow now! You're so close!

Find your two inch gap again. and open it as wide as it will go.

Now it's time for stuffing the pillow! It's really easy but takes the most time of this whole process. This step can be best done while watching Call the Midwife or Gilmore Girls...just FYI. Above is a pic of what I used to fill my pillows. I highly recommend it!

Fill the pillow with the polyester fiber.  You'll want to fill it more than you think it needs because over time it will lose some of its plushness. I used half of the bag for each pillow.

Now just hand stitch the corner up really well and you've got yourself a pillow! Congratulations! You did it! Now use the rest of your fabric and repeat the steps to make a matching set.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pumpkin Bread Pudding w/ Caramel Pecan Sauce

After trying and trying to get a good picture of this recipe, I've decided bread pudding is one of those things that tastes better than it looks!  We had this recipe while we watched conference this year and it was delicious.  We usually have monkey bread and my kids were pretty nervous about the change but they all loved it (because both recipes are basically bread soaked in sugar).  It would be great for a party or brunch.  It served a lot of people because you can eat about two bites before you're full. It would also make a nice tradition for Christmas morning or another holiday because once you see how much butter goes in it you probably won't want to eat it more than once a year! 

I found the recipe at Flavor Mosaic. Her pictures look amazing too. So if you're not already sold on making this, go give it a look and you'll be craving it. I basically left the recipe as is except to add more cinnamon and to decrease the sauce ingredients a little...to let the pumpkin flavor shine through! I love pumpkin season!

Pumpkin Bread Pudding w/ Caramel Pecan Sauce
1 loaf french bread (day old works well)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup half and half
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin (not pie mix)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 T. butter (melted)
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 T. cinnamon
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

3/4 cup butter (unsalted)
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Breakfast Burritos

One of my favorite things about living in New Mexico is the green chile! Many of you might have only tried chilies in their canned variety but that's hardly living! ;) Here you can get them canned, frozen or fresh!  In the fall you can buy a giant 20 lb. box and have it roasted outside...which I think smells amazing!

The breakfast burrito is one of the most common recipes made here featuring green chile.  You can make these with canned but seriously double check your store for frozen chilies! They are much better. If you can't find them, come visit me and I'll make you one.  If you love food...put fresh green chilies on you bucket list of things to try! The recipe below calls for 1 cup green chilies for 8 burritos but honestly Alex and I probably eat about that much green chili just between the two of us. You can't have too much ;)

Breakfast burritos are seriously one of my family's favorite breakfasts. Fast, handheld,  great for a large crowd, kids like them.  Their list of attributes goes on and on.  We make these at girls camp every year, we make them when company comes to town, we buy them if we go out for breakfast. They have all your favorites wrapped up in one yummy recipe.  Hashbrowns, eggs, cheese, bacon, and of course green chili.  Some people also add onion or salsa. Although bacon is most common you can add any meat you want.  Some favorites are ham, sausage, and chorizo. Try your own combos and see what your favorite is!

Breakfast Burritos (serves 8)
1 bag of shredded hashbrowns
2 T. butter
10 large eggs, scrambled
16 pieces of cooked bacon
2 cups cheddar cheese
1 cup green chile
salt and pepper to taste
8 large flour tortillas

In a large frying pan melt half the butter.  Place hashbrowns in pan and top with the rest of the butter.  Cover and cook until browned.  Meanwhile cook bacon and eggs.  Heat green chile.  Fill each tortilla with hashbrowns, eggs, bacon, cheese and chile. Add salt and pepper if desired. Enjoy!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Cheesy Potato, Sausage and Veggie Bake

I inherited some potatoes from someone going out of town this week and needed something to do with them! So I pulled out some different ingredients I had and started cooking and this recipe was born.  It came together fast and has all your comfort food favorites...potatoes, cheese, turkey sausage.  Okay, so turkey sausage isn't really a comfort food but you know what I'm saying :) I can see this being perfect for a really cold day this winter.

It's also made from scratch, so no cream of anything in it.  You probably have a lot of the ingredients on hand already!  Give it a try.

Cheesy Sausage, Potato and Veggie Bake
4 large baking potatoes
1 turkey smoked sausage ring
1/2 cup salted butter
1 orange bell pepper chopped (any color is fine)
1/2 med. onion, chopped
1 cup chopped broccoli
1/4 cup chopped green chilies (I used frozen, but canned would work)
2 cups milk
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp onion powder
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup shredded monterey jack cheese (plus some for sprinkling on top)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (plus some for sprinkling on top)

Chop baking potatoes into inch sized pieces.  In a large pot, parboil potatoes for about 30 min.  Meanwhile in large saucepan, melt butter.  Saute bell pepper, onion, and broccoli in butter until tender.  Add green chilies and cook for 1 min. more.  Whisk milk and flour together in a small bowl and add to veggies. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened (about 5min) Add onion powder, salt and pepper, and both cheeses.  Stir until cheese is completely melted.  Place potatoes and sausages in a 9x13 baking dish.  Pour cheese and veggie sauce over top.  (I mixed mine around just a little to make sure everything got covered).  Top with extra shredded cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 min. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Cheesy Ranch Chicken (Freezer Meal Friendly!)

My sister Christina used to make this all the time growing up.  It was one of our favorites!  I don't think I'd made it since college and then one day whilst planning my menu I remembered it and that it was pretty easy and that the kids would like it.  And they did! True story...the end.

Cheesy Ranch Chicken
6 chicken breasts (cut into large strips)
1 cup ranch dressing
2 T. flour
1/2 cup shredded parmesan
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Cut up chicken into strips (this helps it cook faster and gets more cheesy goodness on each piece of chicken!).  In a medium bowl combine ranch and flour.  Dredge each piece of chicken in ranch mixture and place in a 9x13 baking dish.  Cover with cheeses.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 min. or until chicken is cooked through.

For a crispier topping I like to broil on high for 5 minutes at the end.  Give it a try!

Freezer Meal Method:
Cut chicken into strips (or at least in half).  In a small bowl combine ranch and flour.  Dredge each piece of chicken in ranch mixture and place in 9x13 freezer pan.  Spread any extra sauce over the top of the chicken.  Top with both cheeses.  Cover with two pieces of aluminum foil and label.  Freeze flat.

Keep frozen until ready to use. Tent foil over pan.  Cook at 350 degrees for 45 min.  Remove foil, gently separate chicken strips so that they cook more evenly and continue cooking for another 50-60 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.  (Use a thermometer for best indication-larger pieces may take more time) Turn oven to broil and broil on high for 5 minutes to help the cheese crisp up on top.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Crock Pot Teriyaki Chicken (Freezer friendly!)

So as the school year picks up I've been trying out some new recipes in my crock pot.  For this recipe I kind of combined a couple other recipes I had and adapted it for a slow cooker.  It turned out super yummy and my kids even ate it.  It only took about 5 min. to throw together too.  I broiled it at the end just to make it a little crispy.

Teriyaki Chicken (In the crockpot)
1 large package boneless/skinless chicken thighs (about 8-10 thighs)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil (regular sesame oil or even canola oil would work too)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (red wine vinegar works well too)
2 T. water
2 T. cornstarch
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 T. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
2 T. sesame seeds (optional)

Place chicken in the bottom of a large crockpot.  Combine all other ingredients and pour over chicken.  Cook on low for 5-6 hours (I did 6).  Drain chicken (reserving 1 cup of sauce)

Shred chicken with fork and place in 9x13 in. baking dish.  Cover with reserved sauce from the crockpot.  Broil on high for about 5 minutes.  Serve over rice.

Freezer Meal Instructions
Combine all the ingredients the day before, place in a large ziploc bag and freeze it at this point. When you are ready to cook it just dump it in your crockpot and off you go!  The only change would be to add 2 hours to cook time if you cook it from a frozen state. Then shred and broil as indicated above.

 *This is a great freezer meal to take to someone. It transports perfectly in a bag and lets them use it anytime. Double it, keep some for your family and take a busy neighbor a batch just because! What a fun way to make a new friend :)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Cheesy Zucchini and Rice

My friend Juli gave us some of her extra zucchini a little bit ago and they were huge!! I used some of it to make her zucchini soup recipe which is already on my blog and also fantastic. View it here. Then I put the rest in my food processor and split the rest up between some zucchini bread and this yummy rice!

You can't tell from the picture but there is over 3 cups of zucchini in there.  My kids didn't even notice.  Just gobbled it up with no questions.  It took about 5 minutes to throw together once the rice was cooked and it's totally from scratch. No cream soups or anything like that!  Yum :)

Cheesy Zucchini and Rice
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups rice (uncooked)
3 cups grated zucchini (I used a food processor)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar (grated)
1 tsp. garlic powder (or more...I like garlic!)
salt and pepper (to taste)

In a large saucepan add rice to chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce to simmer and cook rice until most of the liquid is dissolved.  (Check the rice packaging for approximate cook time).

Turn heat to low. Add zucchini, butter and milk. Stir until butter is dissolved.  Slowly stir in cheese. Add garlic, salt and pepper.  Serve warm.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Coconut Banana Upside Down Cake

Yes, this tastes as good as it looks! So delicious.  I made it for a potluck and after trying a piece I was a little sad that I had to share the rest.  The caramel like topping melts down into the cake making it super moist and delicious.  You wont even be able to tell it's a boxed mix. If you like coconut, or cake, or sugar in general, you'll love this recipe.

I found it on the Girl Who Ate Everything Blog! You can click the blog title to view her recipe. I've also copied it below with a few minor changes I made.  Give it a try :)

It was so easy to make and looks pretty fancy.  Full disclosure though, when I turned it out of the pans only about 5 bananas stayed on the cake.  The rest were easy enough to pull out of the pan though and place back on the cake.  The caramel like topping is still creamy enough that the bananas sink back into place and look fab.  So give it a try!

Banana Coconut Upside Down Cake
1 yellow cake mix (I used Duncan Hines)
3 eggs
1/3 cup oil
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 water
small box of instant vanilla pudding mix
6-7 bananas (sliced 1/4 in. thick)
2 cups shredded coconut
1/2 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 T. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large stand mixer, combine cake mix, eggs, oil, sour cream, water and instant pudding mix.

Grease two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans. (She suggests 8 in. but I used 9 and it turned out fine. If you have 8 in. pans it would probably make the topping thicker)  Layer bottom of both pans with sliced bananas. 

In a small saucepan, melt butter and add brown sugar and lemon juice.  Stir until completely melted and combined.  Pour sauce over bananas.  Top each pan with 1 cup of the shredded coconut.

Divide cake batter in half and pour into each pan.  Spread evenly.  Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.  Let rest 5-10 minutes and invert on serving plate.  As I said above, many of the bananas might stay in the pan simply pull them out and arrange on cake.  Enjoy!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Make Your Own Pizza Night and BBQ Chicken Pizza

Homemade pizza is one of my kiddos favorite dinners, but I don't always have time to make the crust and sauce and everything that goes into it. Plus everyone has their own favorite toppings and such.  So this is my fast and easy personal sized pizza recipe!

A few years ago my friend, Melissa, gave me the tip to use Rhodes rolls dough for the crust and I've never looked back.  If you haven't used their dough before it comes pre-portioned, frozen, and delicious.  You just let it rise and bake it.  The texas sized rolls also happen to be the perfect size to make a personal pizza! I just let the dough rise in a 9x13 pans according to the package instructions and then roll it out into a pizza crust and let my kids top it however they want.  When they are in charge of making their own food they seem to eat it a lot better. Plus we've done this for several birthday parties, late nighters, etc.  Everyone gets exactly what they want and it provides both an activity and a meal for all your guests :)  Below are a few of our favorite toppings to mix and match.  As well as a recipe for my favorite...BBQ chicken pizza!
Hawaiian Pizza
Personal Pizzas (makes 12 personal pizzas)

1 dozen texas size Rhodes Rolls dough
nonstick spray
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 cups pizza sauce (you can buy it at the store or make your own)
4 cups mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan
Toppings of your choice (our favorites are listed below)

Let dough thaw and rise according to package directions. Spray two large baking sheets with non-stick spray and dust with cornmeal. Roll and flatten dough into small pizza crusts (apx. 1/2 in. thick and 6-8 inches in diameter) and place on prepared baking sheets.

 Top with sauce and a handful of cheese.  Choose your toppings and pile those on too.  Sprinkle with a little more mozzarella and a bit of the grated parmesan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden brown.  I like to broil mine on high for an additional 3-4 minutes to make the cheese nice and toasty! Enjoy!

Topping Ideas:
bell pepper

BBQ Chicken
BBQ Chicken Pizza (Makes 12 personal pizzas)
1 dozen Rhodes Texas dinner rolls dough
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 cups Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce
1/4 cup red onion (sliced paper thin)
4 cups mozzarella cheese
1 can pineapple tidbits
2 cups shredded chicken (I use a rotisserie chicken)
4 slices cooked bacon (crumbled)
1/2 cup grated parmesan

Let dough thaw and rise according to package directions. Spray two large baking sheets with non-stick spray and dust with cornmeal. Roll and flatten dough into small pizza crusts (apx. 1/2 in. thick and 6-8 inches in diameter) and place on prepared baking sheets.

Top with BBQ sauce and red onion.  Cover completely with mozzarella cheese.  Top with pineapple, chicken and bacon.  Sprinkle with a little more mozzarella and a bit of the grated parmesan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden brown.  I like to broil mine on high for an additional 3-4 minutes to make the cheese nice and toasty! Enjoy!

Note: This recipe would work with any pizza crust you choose to  make.  The instructions above are for personal sized pizzas but the proportions of toppings would also work to make a large pizza as well.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


So this recipe settled a big debate between my husband and I! A few weeks ago my husband had a hankering for some blondie bars.  I told him I'd make some chocolate chip cookie bars since they were pretty much the same. "Not so" declared my husband and from there the debate began.  Finally we decided there was no to truly settle it without doing a taste test. And, the result was conclusive that blondies and chocolate cookie bars are not at all the same! I was wrong...I was so wrong! I guess there is a first time for everything.  But at least as a consolation prize I got to partake of these delicious, chewy, buttery blondies before they were devoured by my kiddos and husband. You can see my 5 year old couldn't even wait for me to finish taking the picture before she grabbed one above!

I tweaked an old recipe I had a little and also doubled it because, trust me, you're going to want a big pan of these! Give them a try :)

Blondie Bars (9x13 in. pan)
1 cup butter (melted)
2 cup brown sugar (lightly packed)
2 eggs
3-4 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
2 cups flour
1 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Mix melted butter and brown sugar together until completely dissolved.  Add egg, vanilla and salt.  Slowly add flour, stirring constantly.  Mix in chocolate chips. Spread in 9x13 in. baking dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-22 minutes. Inserted toothpick should come out clean.  Let cool 15-20 minutes and enjoy!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Asian Chicken Salad (with a plug for the best store bought salad dressing I've ever tried!)

Salads are the best! I especially love them during summer because they keep me cool and feeling light. They can also be super easy to make with a little planning...which is great when you're on the go!  In order to be more consistent in my meal times I've been prepping a lot of food on Mondays.  Each week I buy a rotisserie chicken, a big container of mixed field greens and all the toppings I will need for the week. Then on Monday I chop them all up and put them in small containers in the fridge.  Then when I get ready for lunch I can just throw whatever toppings I want on top and I'm ready to go.

Lately, I've been using the Marzetti Simply dressed salad dressings and loving them.  The one I use for this salad is Ginger Sesame. Yum! At the store I found it in a small refrigerated section by all of the bagged salad mixes and such.  All of their dressing I've tried so far are really good. I love ginger anything and this salad really delivers.  Avocado and chicken make it really feeling too without feeling too heavy.  The cucumber makes it really refreshing even on a hot day :) Give this salad a try with this dressing or with your own favorite!

Asian Chicken Salad
2 1/2 cups mixed greens
shredded chicken (I use a rotisserie)
cucumber (chopped)
avocado (chopped)
carrots (chopped)
snow peas (snap peas or edamame are good too)
mandarin oranges
sunflower seeds
Marzetti Simply Dressed Sesame Ginger dressing

Chop all your veggies and mix together. Top with chicken, mandarin oranges, sunflower seeds and dressing. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

10K Running for Beginners (and a playlist!)

So I want to post my 10K music recommendations for beginners but first I want to give a little pep talk!

Recently I went to dinner after running my first ever 10K. During dinner two of the waitresses found out I had run a race and talked to me about it.  After we talked for a few minutes one of the ladies then said she would never be able to run a race. This was a feeling I understood well.  I am not small and I am not fast and a year ago I would have said the same thing.  I told her that I had been running for 9 months and still had to take walking breaks frequently. After 9 months I have only worked my way up to a 13 min/mile pace (which most others could do walking). She seemed pretty surprised to find out that I hadn't actually "run" the entire time. She then shared that she feels embarrassed to start exercising because of what other people will think and genuinely asked if I had ever felt that way in front of others.  And in the beginning I had. I told her I would try and find places that no one would see me -which is hard in a small town. I tried doing a lot of my runs early in the morning so I could avoid other people -which doesn't work, by the way, because that is when the really die hard runners are out :) I tried wearing baggy clothes so that you couldn't really see my body shape but they made exercising even harder. And talking with a complete stranger about it really made me stop and think about how many people out there probably feel the same way when they don't need to.

In college I was never thin but I was sporty.  I felt confident to join in sporting events or just play around.  After I had my youngest (who are twins) I was up from a size 10 to a size 18. It is really hard to be the largest person at the gym, trust me I know, but it's better than not being at the gym. And it might feel embarrassing to train for months and be passed up by people who just barely started running but the great part about running is competing with yourself.  You can stop worrying about size and pounds and other people and just work toward going faster or farther or just feeling better. And I totally know how embarrassing it can feel the first time you try a new exercise (seriously you should see me doing Insanity...you would burn 1,000 calories just laughing)but think of how good it will feel when you master it! Just get out there and try it and don't worry if you are slow, or uncoordinated, or overweight!  When I first started running I was embarrassed to post my times on Runkeeper but after talking to a couple of my friends I decided to post it.  Not to get attention or brag but just to say "look, I'm short and plus sized and slow but I'm out there trying and you can do it too!" To most people running a 10K in 1:19 might not be a huge accomplishment but the first time I tried it it took me almost 2 hours.  That's progress that anyone could make it and it feels so great! So if you are thinking about getting in shape but are worried about what others will think, stop worrying! Just think about how you will feel! I feel so excited and happy when I hear about a new friend picking up running or trying a new workout class. And it's was so fun to talk with real runners about my training.  They get so excited and will welcome you with open arms no matter how slow you are. Because exercising makes people happy and they want you to be happy too! So now I'm paying it forward...if you need a cheerleader let me know! I'm there for you!

Also, my last little thought is to just be happy where you are.  That doesn't mean stop trying to improve but just take time to celebrate little victories!  My husband and I laughed recently when we found one of my old journals. I signed out of almost every teenage journal entry with some discouraging comment about my weight followed by a commitment of "tomorrow I'm cabbage soupin' it".  Anyone else remember the cabbage soup diet? It was one of many that my teenage friends and I tried to lose weight.  Basically you eat nothing but cabbage soaked in tomato juice for a week and then every Wednesday you get to eat a banana. Healthy! Oh how I wish I could go back and tell my cute little teenage self to stop being so crazy about my weight and just enjoy size 8 while it lasted!  But who knows what the future holds.  Right now seems like the hardest time in my life so far.  But I'm sure in a few years I'll be wishing I could come back and tell my 30 something self to just enjoy it while it lasts. My point is this, don't keep waiting until tomorrow to make a change and don't think your change has to be all encompassing.  Start with something little you can do a little better and do it.  And celebrate it! Then when you reach your goal set a new one right away! Then celebrate some more. Then share what you are doing because it motivates me and I love to hear it! You don't have to be a fitness instructor or lose 100 lbs. in order to motivate and encourage other people.  There will always be people who are running further and faster but guess what, at the end of the race everyone got a medal and a massage and a free Jamba juice no matter how far they ran! And it was a big awesome party. And a year ago I missed it because I was too embarrassed to try.  Next year I want to go with a big group of friends! Free Jamba juice! Who is with me?

10K Song List for beginners (About 1 hr. 30 min.)
Pump It -The Black Eyed Peas
Set Fire to the Rain- Adele
Behind These Hazel Eyes- Kelly Clarkson
Magic -B.o.B (featuring Rivers Cuomo)
My Song Know What You Did in the Dark- Fall out Boy
The Anthem (clean)- good Charlotte
Girls Chase Boys- Ingrid Michaelson
Good Time- Owl City
Stronger- Kelly Clarkson
Dance, Dance- Fallout Boy
This is How a Heart Breaks- Rob Thomas
Roar- Katy Perry
The Monster (clean)- Eminem
I Knew You Were Trouble- Taylor Swift
Fighter- Christina Aguilera
People Like Us- Kelly Clarkson
On Top of the World- Imagine Dragons
We Used to be Friends- The Dandy Warhols (Veronica Mars, anyone?)
Best Day Of My Life- American Authors
Hall of Fame- The Script (featuring will.i.am)
50 Ways to Say Goodbye- Train
Holding Out for A Hero-Bonnie Tyler

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Charity Meets the Internet

I've debated writing this blog post because it is very personal to me. Its also a little out of the norm for a recipe/homemaking blog. However, I feel like it's time for me to say something. I have two main intentions with this post. 1) to explain some of my beliefs and 2) to do so in a loving way that invites open discussion.

For the last several months during my personal study I've been trying to narrow down some thoughts about avoiding contention and self righteousness. I am a person who likes to debate. Avoiding contention and being slow to anger are two things I struggle with on pretty much a daily basis. Studying out HOW contention and anger can have less of an influence in my life is the inspiration for this post. Because I am still learning, I would really appreciate your comments or feedback after reading.

In today's internet connected world you don't have to go very far to find contention. You can access the inner thinkings of many self righteous bloggers, journalists, and politicians at the click of a button. Contention is something that has existed, in my belief, since before the world began. But I also believe it will not always exist. Most who know me and/or read this blog know that I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As such, I believe that Jesus Christ has been to this earth before, has atoned for our sins and will return one day to judge and bless our eternal futures. While he was not recognized as the Savior by everyone during his first mortal ministry, he will be during his second. The Book of Mormon is comprised of several smaller books (much like the composition of the Bible). In the book of Mosiah, Chapter 27,verse 31 it reads "Yea, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess before him. Yea, even at the last day, when all men shall stand to be judged of him, then shall they confess that he is God". The knowledge of what is to come helps me in my personal life: 1) It tells me that at some point the arguing and contending over doctrines, and religions, and beliefs will be over. 2) It reminds me that only God has the ability to righteously judge anyone and 3) It reminds me that I must do my part NOW in avoiding contention and unjustly judging those around me.

If you are LDS like me, or maybe even if you aren't, your news feed has probably been full or articles about women and the priesthood or Mormons' opinions about gay marriage or defending traditional families, etc. And it's honestly getting to the point that if I weren't LDS then I would think that the only things Mormons talked about were gender equality and gay marriage. Not that these topics aren't important things to discuss, but there are so many of our fundamental beliefs that we should be focused on first. Things like we believe in Christ, we believe in doing good to all men, families can be forever, we believe in modern day revelation and prophets, etc. (See LDS Articles ofFaith 1-13) Why aren't we talking about these things? If people were to ask me to explain my religion these are things I would start with...not my opinions about if I should have the priesthood or not. Yet on blog after blog about "Mormon beliefs" these are the only things being talked about. When we argue about these issues, no matter what side we are on, we are not focusing on the core truths that we need to be focused on. The Gospel is not just about priesthood or marriage. The Gospel is about returning to live with our father in heaven. Yes priesthood and marriage are important parts of the Gospel but our focus should be on the Savior and our path home.

Many defend their focus on these things by claiming they are threats to the family and to our path home. However, when we stop to think about the people who have the most ability to harm our families we realize it is ourselves! Our time would be much better spent trying to eliminate our own behaviors that pose a threat to our family. Am I being unloving? Am I being contentious? Am I spending more time talking about what I believe on social media than I am living what I believe? Am I angry? Am I letting feelings of betrayal effect how I treat my family? Being an unbalanced or unloving parent can cause much more harm to my family than gay marriage or gender inequality can. In Matthew we read about some symptoms leading up to the last days. Chapter 24 verse 12 says “And iniquity shall abound and the love of men will wax cold”. One of the ways that we can allow our love to wax cold is by giving into worry, fear and anger. Many people, in the pursuit of defending the truth have allowed themselves to become angry with their brothers and sisters who have different opinions. In the beginning of Alma (another book from The Book of Mormon) similar disagreements begin to arise within the church. At first members of the church ignore the persecution coming from others. When that doesn't seem to work some begin to take a stand. Sadly however, in verse 22 we read that some of the members feel proud in their righteousness and begin to “contend warmly” with those who oppose them. And that is how our love waxes cold. As we warm out heart to contention we place aside our charity. As anger grows, love decreases.

So how do we take a stand without "contending warmly" with those around us. And the answer is humility. What is our intent? Do we want to spread anger or love? Do we want to shame or to inspire? Marvin J. Ashton, in speaking about contention, offers up some other justifications we might make for engaging in a fight. “When one considers the bad feeling and the unpleasantness caused by contention, it is well to ask, 'Why do I participate?' If we are really honest with ourselves, our answers may be something like: 'When I argue and am disagreeable, I do not have to change myself. It gives me a chance to get even.' 'I am unhappy and I want others to be miserable too.' 'I can feel self-righteous. In this way I get my ego built up.' 'I don’t want others to forget how much I know!' Whatever the real reason, it is important to recognize that we choose our behavior. At the root of this issue is the age-old problem of pride. 'Only by pride cometh contention.'”

Christ discusses self righteousness in the parable of the pharisee and the publican. Luke 18:9-14 says, “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Have we seen others use social media in order to exalt themselves? Blogs dedicated to thanking God that they are not as bad as other men? Elder Oaks says “Those who engage in self-congratulation over a supposed strength have lost the protection of humility and are vulnerable to Satan’s using that strength to produce their downfall. In contrast, if we are humble and teachable, hearkening to the commandments of God, the counsel of his leaders, and the promptings of his Spirit, we can be guided in how to use our spiritual gifts, our accomplishments, and all of our other strengths for righteousness. And we can be guided in how to avoid Satan’s efforts to use our strengths to cause our downfall.”

Many times the way we say something is just as important as what we say. This is why Christ was such an effective teacher. There are just as many lessons to be learned from HOW Christ says things as there are from WHAT he says. And the reason Christ knew how to do things is because he had a perfect knowledge of WHY he was doing what he did. I feel like bloggers today spend so much time deciding what they are going to say they spend very little time on how to say it and even less time on why they are saying it. This goes back to intentions. Christ's intentions were clear. He taught the people because he loved them. In Matthew 22 he teaches that the first and second commandments are about love. The first and great commandment to love our Father in Heaven and the second to love our neighbor as ourselves. So, if as members of the church our goal is to become more like the Savior, then it seems that our intent should be to love those with whom we associate. That includes being loving in our blog posts. Christ didn't use shame, guilt, or sarcasm to convert those around him and when we use those things in our everyday speaking we are not being like Christ. So are we writing about the priesthood and gay marriage because we have a true belief that we want to share with others or are we writing to put people in their place? Is our intent to build and help or is to tear down? Are we trying to put ourselves on a pedestal by only discussing the things we think we are doing right while ignoring our own shortcomings? Can you imagine a world where everyone is worried more about their own shortcomings than about each others? The truth really is that you can only change yourself. So the beginning of any significant change in the world starts with people loving and changing themselves, not with ranting and raving against others on the internet.

Matthew 7: 3-5 says "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye. Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” President Monson told a great story about a woman who judges her neighbor for having dirty laundry on the line until one day she realizes that she's viewing the laundry through her own dirty window. I have been guilty of this in my own life so many times. However, being judgmental and self righteous doesn't just hurt the other person, it hurts ourselves. Being overly preoccupied with the mote in someone else's eye makes us suffer because we are allowing the beam to remain in our eye for longer than it needs to.

One of the stories that we read about in the Book of Mormon is the vision of the Tree of Life. For those unfamiliar with this story you can read it on LDS.org by clicking here. There are two main groups in this vision: a large group in the great and spacious building and a smaller group making their way to the tree of life. The large group represents the world while the small group represents the followers of Christ trying to make their way to God. Most of us identify ourselves as being in the small group making our way toward the tree. So when someone disagrees with us about something we tend to get self righteous and assume that they are in the great and spacious building pointing and mocking us for being different. And we use this analogy to justify ourselves in getting upset with them or defensive. But there is a big problem with that. In the vision of the tree of life, those who make it to the tree are the ones who don't get upset or defensive. They instead love those around them and are desirous that all will come and partake of the fruit with them. They don't point, or shame, or write scathing blog posts about the people in the great and spacious building. They enjoy the fruit for themselves and then lovingly offer to share it. Their focus is always on the fruit. So my point is that no matter what side of an issue you are on, if you find yourself spending a lot of your day pointing at others or feeling upset inside, it could be that you have put yourself in the great and spacious building by your actions. Don't let yourself get angry because of what other people do. Don't let yourself get so preoccupied fighting every fight that is thrown your way that you stop focusing on the fruit of the Gospel. Don't let your life get so clogged up with articles and opinion columns about “what makes a good Christian” that you forget to read the Bible, or pray, or act like a Christian. Focus on the source, the fruit, the good. In order to share the fruit you have to stay close to the tree.

We cannot fight others into salvation. Each of us has been given the power to choose for ourselves. When we require others to choose the same things as we do in order to participate in our lives we are not allowing them the free agency they have a right to. Obviously, if there is abuse or dangerous behavior involved we must protect and distance ourselves. But in matters of differing opinions I truly feel we must forgive and we must love everyone. I've had family members leave the church. I still love them. I've had friends who hate the church. I still love them. I've had times where I doubted and almost gave up. Luckily I had others who loved me enough to lift me up. Yes, There are times in our lives when we have to stand up for our beliefs. There are times when as a parent, or a church leader, or a friend we will have to correct someone who has gone astray. As a member of the church we believe our leaders are called of God and with His help can lovingly do this. Doctrine and Covenants 121:43 tells us how this is done. “Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy”. We are commanded to love our enemy as well as our friend. The easiest way to do this is not to allow people to become our enemy in the first place. Often times we allow ourselves to believe that because someone disagrees with us they are our enemy, which is not the case. Christ had true enemies. People who betrayed him to death. People who actively sought out and succeeded in killing him. In comparison our “enemies” are usually born out of miscommunication, differing backgrounds, ignorance, or extremism. When compared with the trials of our Savior, the argument of “they were meaner to me on the internet” hardly seems a valid excuse for withholding forgiveness or perpetuating contention. If Christ can forgive others for killing him, surely I can love someone who is in a different political party than I am, or has a different sexual orientation than I do, or someone who disagreed with me in Sunday School.

In a class I am taking on the atonement, the teacher recently pointed out that when we try to facilitate someone else's salvation we can actually be putting ourselves between them and the Savior. We try so hard to connect them with the savior that we actually stand between the two trying to get them to meet. But when we put ourselves in between our loved ones and the Savior it can have unintended consequences. Instead of being a bridge, we become a wall. When we argue with our neighbor we become a wall. When we use derogatory names we become a wall. When we turn our backs on our family or friends because they choose a different lifestyle than us we become a wall. When we invite people to leave the church, such as saying “why don't you just go find a different religion” or “why do you even stay” we become a wall. In the end, not only will we have to account for the positions we took, we will also have to account for how we treated those who disagreed with us. I wonder will Heavenly Father care more about our views on homosexuality or will he care more about how we treated our gay child, sibling, or friend. Probably both. We can disagree and still love, because of Christ.

Having faith in Christ means having faith that he will be judge and savior for the world (including our loved ones). Having faith that Christ will do these things means having faith that we don't have to. And if we free ourselves from needing to judge and save others, that leaves plenty of time to love them. As we allow ourselves to feel more love for others, we will allow ourselves to feel more love for ourselves, which will allow us to feel more joy. And as we feel more joy and love, guess what, others will naturally be more open to hear what we have to share! The Gospel message!

Because Christ has atoned for our sins he is also our advocate to the Father. He is allowed to judge us because he knows us perfectly. He knows our background, our baggage, our heart and mind. He knows our fears, and pains, and desires. He knows all of the intricacies that make us individuals and influence our choices. While others see only our actions he can see our intentions. And because of this he has asked us not to judge one another. The parable of the wheat and the tares demonstrates this well. Only God knows which are wheat and which are tares. And he allows them the entire season before he reaps them. To the untrained eye a small wheat may appear to be a tare and could be weeded out before it was given a chance to grow. Some tares might appear strong and hearty but when consumed will disappoint. When we judge others with our untrained eyes we run the risk of damaging the entire crop. When we begin to think we can distinguish between the wheat and the tares we place our faith in ourselves more than in our Heavenly Father. Consider the conversion of Paul or Alma the Younger. They antagonized the church for many years before becoming two of the greatest missionaries in the scriptures. What if instead of loving his sons, Mosiah had just told them to go join another church? I'm sure many believed them to be tares in the beginning but look at the fruits they eventually brought forth. The only righteous judgments are those we make for ourselves. The only person we can judge as a wheat or tare is ourselves. Do our words and actions nourish like wheat or do they spread the weeds of contention?

Satan will try to use our pride to lift us out of a moderate life and into the extremes. For some it may be to the extreme that nothing matters and that a loving Heavenly Father wouldn't require any action from his children. For others it may be to the extreme of thinking everything matters and that Heavenly Father would require complete conformity in all things (such as the Pharisees). My belief is that God's plan for us is a plan of moderation (there are a few ordinances and practices that he requires exactness in and many other practices that are more flexible and moving and changing). Each of us will have to decide for ourselves what Heavenly Father requires of us. As a member of the church I believe in Prophets and leaders that can help us navigate these questions. I also believe in continuing personal revelation which is the light that can lead each of us out of the darkness. I believe in scriptures, where we can read about those who have gone through similar trials that we now face. When we know what God expects from us and actively strive to do those things, we will have peace in our lives. As we strive for peace in our lives the Spirit can be with us and more peace can be added to us. As we turn away from extreme anger we can begin to feel the ultimate power of love and healing in our life.

Let me finally end by quoting the 13th chapter of Paul. Yes the entire thing. It is that good. For me it is the summation of the Gospel.

1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

We are all of us imperfect. We all know only in part. We don't need to criticize and demean others because they are imperfect. We don't need to speak childishly about one another. It doesn't matter our credentials, our callings, how many followers our blog has. If we have not charity we have nothing. Paul reminds us that even though the day will come when “every knee shall bow” we still live in the now. And even though contention may abound, we also know that faith, hope and charity live in the now. Do our actions and words promote faith? Do they give others hope? As a member of the church I am ever trying to live by this council. I know that I have hurt others. I know that I've written snarky blog posts. I know that I have overlooked needs, miscommunicated, and fallen short of being charitable. But it is something that I'm working on. I hope that others on the internet will join me in first seeking to have charity. It is the only thing that will never fail. It is the only thing that will convert. Before you write that blog post, before you copy that link, before you leave that comment, ask yourself, am I showing charity? Because no matter how smart, or funny, or true, or well written it is, if it has not charity, it is nothing.