Monday, February 27, 2012

Setting Your Standards

I remember it as if it were yesterday... okay, not really, but it sounded good in my head... but, I do remember it with more vividness than I should given the amount of time that has passed since that day. My phone - probably one with an actual cord on it - rang and my young little heart skipped a beat when my brother announced that the very mature, much older than me, 17 year old first counselor of the Priest Quorum wanted to talk to me. He was cute; like a solid 10 in my young mind, and he was calling for me! Whoo hoo! What little Beehive wouldn't be thrilled?

And then he laid it on me.

Twelve shades of red filled my cheeks - one for each degree of humiliation I felt at his question. Twelve shades of innocence, naivety, shock, embarrassment, inadequacy, and fear all weighed on me. "The Bishop has asked that you speak on Sunday," he started. "And, your topic is sexual purity."

Copies of the newly revised For the Strength of Youth Pamphlet were recently distributed to the young men and young women (12-18 year olds) in our ward. As I thumbed through one, I began to wax a bit nostalgic. I'm not going to tell you how old I am, but I will tell you that the first version of this inspired little pamphlet came out when I was a young woman. Perhaps I only remember this because our Bishop decided to dedicate a whole Sacrament Meeting to the introduction of it. Namely, to have a youth briefly share each of the twelve standards outlined. 

It's funny how time changes things. I don't know how I did it, but somehow I talked that "cute, older boy" into trading me topics. Perhaps he just felt sorry for me. Maybe he just possessed the maturity to cover it that I didn't. Whatever the case, I was uber-grateful then and I think I've more than made up for it by now.

Don't worry, I'm not about to hop on my soapbox and promote sexual purity - although, if you want me to I'm more than happy to do it. What I am going to say, however, is this:

Thank you to The First Presidency of the LDS Church for being in-tune enough with our youth to provide them with more guidance. Our world is different than it was all those years ago when I wiggled my way out of talking about a "sensitive" subject, and our kids need honest facts and guidelines to help them navigate. I was excited to compare all three versions of the pamphlet next to each other and to find that each revision has merely been an upgrade. Truths that were taught when I was young continue to be taught, but now with more detail. Sexual purity has grown from a five paragraph guideline (1990 edition), then nine (2001 edition), and ultimately to an eleven paragraph one (copyright 2011). Not only that, but those initial 12 guidelines have grown to 18!

What a blessing this little book can be to our youth. I'm grateful for the opportunity to review it again and to use it as a guide as I teach my children to be steadfast and valiant in their preparations to meet God.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Daddies and Daughters

The giggling started almost the second the car pulled out of the garage. Two girls in the back seat, talking and laughing and driving their dad crazy with their silliness. There was nothing for me to do but grin.... from ear to cheek-cracking ear. Their banter was hilarious - sarcastic even (haha, don't know where they learn that stuff!) - and their poor daddy wasn't sure how to process it all. 

"Girls," he said, navigating the SUV through traffic, "that's enough of the arguing." 

"But, we're not arguing, dad," spouted an extra smart 14 year old. "We are merely having a discussion." 

"Sounds like arguing to me," he rolled an accusatory eye my way, as if he thought I was to blame for her smartness. 

"Well, then," an exuberant 11 year old smiled back, "you just aren't listening right. Maybe your hear-ers are broken." 

He peeled his eyes off the road again, this time trying to hide the laughter he was about to unfurl, as he looked at me. "Do you see what you've created?" His hardened face softened. Then, to the delight of his girls, he joined their banter. 

I had the chance earlier this week to have a rare date-night out with my hubby and our two daughters. I'm going to admit, though I missed the boys, it was so good to share some time with a sweet daddy and his girls! Even as I reflect on it, the relationship my husband has with our daughters brings a tear to my eye. There is no doubt in my mind where his devotion is. He treats his girls with such love and tenderness it makes my heart flutter.

If it's true that girls marry boys who are like their daddies, then I am happy for the future of my daughters. They have an amazing dad who laughs and giggles and jokes with the best of them, but when emotions get high and tears start to fall, he's the first to offer a warm embrace and a caring shoulder. 

The influence a good daddy has on his daughters is unmatched. Many girls share bonds with their moms, but how many fathers take the time to nurture their daughters? I am grateful to have married one who does.

Friday, February 17, 2012

125 Calorie Cream Cheese Brownies

Yes, they do exist. And, yes, they are delish! 
I wouldn't call them HEALTHY, but they are definitely HEALTHIER than normal brownies. 
To boast just a few of their benefits, they: 
  • Taste deliciously fudgy! No flavor compromises here. 
  • Have 100 calories LESS per serving than their non-modified counterparts.                                ONLY 125 CALORIES! You won't believe it, but its true. 
  • 1/3 less fat and 1/2 the carbs compared to your typical cream cheese brownies. 
  • Umm, cream cheese... need I say more? 
(And, yes, I did eat one for breakfast - as if you even had to ask! *grin*) 

"Healthier" Cream Cheese Brownies 

3/4 cup sugar
6 Tbs reduced-calorie stick margarine (don't use tub margarine, it contains too much water)
1 egg
1 egg white
1 Tbs vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 (8oz.) block of 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
1/4 cup Stevia or other "measures-like-sugar" no calorie sweetener
3 Tbs 1% milk

Preheat oven to 350*
Spray bottom only of an 8x8 glass baking pan

Beat sugar and margarine with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg, egg white, and vanilla. Beat well. 
Gradually add flour and cocoa, mix thoroughly. 
Pour into baking pan.

Beat cream cheese and sweetener until smooth. Add milk. Beat on high until smooth. 
Pour over fudge mix in pan (will be thick!). Using a knife, swirl together to create a marbled effect. 

Bake for 30 -32 minutes. 
Makes 16 servings. 

                       "Healthier Brownies"   vs . "Normal Brownies"
Servings per batch          16                            16
Calories per serving      125                          220
Fat per serving             6.7g                            9g
Protein                           2.9g                            2g
Carbs                           14.1g                          32g
Sodium                      107mg                     135mg

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"I Almost Divorced My Husband But I Went ON STRIKE INSTEAD"

A few weeks ago I was honored to meet author Sherri Mills at a signing we were doing together. I was impressed by her wisdom, her kindness, and her wit. And, after a couple of hours laughing with her, I was intrigued about the contents of her book. The title alone had me chuckling and as I opened the pages, I was thrilled to hear Sherri's voice narrating.

From the very first page I was hooked. And, even though my marriage is abundantly happy "I Almost Divorced My Husband But I Went On Strike Instead" had tidbits of information that even I could use. On page 76 I found an amazing nugget of wisdom that hit home for me as Sherri discusses: BEING RIGHT VS. BEING HAPPY. Because this concept resonated so deeply with me, I asked Sherri to expand upon it for us. Here's what she had to say:

"My ultimate goal in writing my book ‘I Almost Divorced my Husband but I Went on Strike Instead’ was to do whatever it took to stop the skyrocketing divorce rate.

"In my vast research, I discovered that one of the most difficult things to tackle in a marriage is when couples always have to be right.

"You have to make sure that being right doesn’t get in the way of getting results. Reflect on how tiring it is for you to always have to be right and how that halts progress. If you both have to be right, then the bickering and fighting will be never ending. Yes, you can both feel powerful and beat your chests in victory over the other one, but is that what marriage is about? Have you solved anything by dealing with your problems that way?

"If you always have to be right, the memories of ugly arguments and disappointments are so vivid that those memories can crowd out all of the happy, loving and delightful memories.
If you have to be right all the time, you will find yourself digging up and reviewing, memories of each and every wrong thing your husband does. That way, in the midst of an argument, you can go to your memory bank, point to just the right wrong doing, and win. You do it even if that wrong doing happened weeks, months, or years ago. It never works!

"You will be happier if you can reach that higher level where being right isn’t all that important. Then you can toss out the negative garbage in your brain and clear neural pathways to your treasures—the loving memories---so they are near the surface and the first to be remembered.
Isn’t that what a long lasting loving marriage is all about?"

Well said, Sherri. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and wisdom with us.

Whether your marriage is struggling or not, I recommend you take a peak at "I Almost Divorced My Husband But I Went On Strike Instead." I believe there is a little bit of something for every marriage within the pages, including a taste of Sherri's wit and an abundance of her 40+ years of marriage wisdom.

To learn more about Sherri and the background to her book, visit Sherri's website.
To read a sample, check out the reviews, or order your own copy, visit Amazon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

2011 YA Fiction BEST COVER - Winner!

I know they say, "don't judge a book by it's cover," but I'll admit, I am guilty of doing just that. As an artist - and a very visual person - one of the hardest parts about turning my manuscript over to my publisher was trusting them to capture the story with the cover art. I waited on pins and needles for months, praying they'd catch my vision. Then the day came; the day of reckoning... Nervously, I sat down and with my heart racing, opened the file:

Tears! Yes, literal tears! Tears of pure joy! Not only had my manuscript come to full fruition in the form of a book, it was a beautiful book with an amazing cover. 

Thanks to Angela D. Olsen and Cedar Fort Publishing for capturing the beauty within Hope's Journey's pages.

Hope's Journey was recently nominated in the LDS Publisher BEST COVER CONTEST... and it WON 2011 YA General Fiction BEST COVER! The competition was steep, but we walked away with 38.6% of the votes. It is now in the running for 2011 BEST COVER OF THE YEAR AWARD. Voting ends today, and the competition is fierce, so I don't know where we'll land, but, honestly, just making the list is an honor.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A "LOVE"ly Valentines Tradition

To most, Valentine's Day is a chance for couples to celebrate each other and their love. I find it funny how this innocent little holiday frequently evokes lamentation from men and hope-filled excitement from women.  From an early age, girls get giddy as they wish and hope and pray for some fabulous expression of their sweethearts dying devotion (ie: flowers, candy, jewelry...) For some those hopes are fulfilled, but for others the anticipation can be somewhat of a let down.

The day of LOVE has essentially become just another over marketed holiday. It's almost as if we've decided to believe that the key to someones heart is through our wallet.

However, it doesn't have to be that way.

I am fundamentally opposed to buying any item just because tradition and culture dictate that we should. I don't think my sweetheart needs a box of chocolates (which by the way, would go stale before he ate them) to know that I love him. Likewise, I'd rather him not run into the jewelry store to frantically purchase a necklace that I probably will never wear. The same holds true for overpriced flowers. Instead of throwing money into the laps of distributors once a year, we choose to express our love to each other daily - in the big things, but also in the little things.

And, what greater manifestation of our love is there than our children? The very breath they breath is a witness of the love my sweetheart and I share. The laughter, the joy, and even the occasional heartache they bring into our lives is the pinnacle of our family existence. We love them more fully than we could ever love ourselves. This is why Valentines is a family affair at out home.

(Disclaimer: my husband and I celebrate our wedding anniversary in the days leading up to Valentines, so by the time the 14th rolls around, we've already spent many days devoted to each other! Disclaimer #2: I believe the secret to keeping your marriage strong is to run away together at least once a year. Disclaimer #3: Aforementioned "runaway" should only involve the two of you, which means you will need to plan ahead for a multi-day, responsible babysitter... aka Grandma.)

Our family Valentines tradition started about a dozen years ago when my two oldest were still toddlers. Because our family situation at the time didn't lend for an expensive night on the town as a couple, I decided to treat my sweetie to a candle light dinner at home. And, if I was going to do it for him, I thought it would be fun (and more functional) to include the children. With little preschool scissors, my two toddlers and I cut out dozens of little hearts from sheets of construction paper. We blanketed the table clothe and even made a little heart-mobile to fancy-up the light fixture. We set the table with our best dishes (ceramic, which was a big step up from the kids typical plastic settings). We even including crystal champagne flutes at every place setting.

In probably one of the purest expressions of love I've ever felt, I made dinner for my little family. The menu was simple, yet exquisite to the little ones. Chicken Cordon Bleu, mashed potatoes and gravy (both died pink, of course), broccoli (our family favorite!), handmade rolls (also pink), and flutes full of sparkling cider. Dessert was heart shaped brownies topped with french vanilla ice cream, homemade hot fudge, and ample portions of whip cream.

Hands down, that little dinner ranks among the best evenings of my life. In those candle-lit moments, I saw my children in a whole new light. They were not the little rascals I spent my days chasing, they were angelic little offshoots of my husband and me. They were the purest manifestation of the love my husband and I share. They were my little valentines.

I can't claim that I was intending to start a tradition (lets face it, I'm just not that genius), but my kids grabbed onto the memories and began anticipating them year after year. Our Valentine's dinner has become one of their annual highlights. And, as the kids grow and mature (haha, that's such an interesting concept, isn't it?), the decorations have matured too. Gone may be the days of our construction paper hearts (though they still exist in a Rubbermaid tote in the basement), but one thing has remained constant: the menu. It just wouldn't be Valentine's without pink potatoes and gravy and chicken cordon bleu.

I'm so happy we stumbled upon such a lovely tradition all those years ago. I'm so grateful to have a day to celebrate the LOVE that we share as a FAMILY. I'm such a believer in the binding power of traditions - a believer that the little consistent repetitions are what will hold us together as the kids continue to grow. I hope the memories will continue to burn in their minds and their hearts long after the candles are blown out. I hope they will remember the love their parents have, not just for each other, but for them too. And, I hope that we have taught them how to love as well as how to be loved.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Interview with Karey White, Author of "Gifted"

Have you ever read a book that keeps you guessing right up to the end? Have you ever finished a book yet thought about it for days afterword? 

It's no secret,  I read a lot of books. I love to read, yet I'm a pretty critical reader. Rarely do I give out a five star rating, because, honestly, my criteria for five stars is pretty high. And, in my opinion, not many books can hit the mark... 

"Gifted," by Karey White, is a rare find and an absolute five star read!  

About the book: 
Susan and Brent Weller have been married for several years and have been unable to have children. They adopt Anna, a beautiful baby girl orphaned in a terrible car accident. As Anna grows, Susan and Brent discover that she’s blessed with unusual gifts that both bless and complicate their lives.

I was so riveted by this book, I read it from cover to cover in one sitting. I was so enamored by not just Anna, but by Susan as well. The connection and genuine love between mother and daughter radiates through every page. Anna is truly "gifted" both on a physical level and a spiritual one. And, because I want you to read it, that's all I'm going to tell you about it. I will warn you though, you may want to have a box of tissue near as you approach the end! 

Because I loved this book so much, I invited the author, Karey White, to answer a few questions for me. Obviously, she obliged my curiosity, or I wouldn't be writing this.  :) 

Steph: Where did you get the idea for Gifted? 

Karey: Our neighbors, an older couple, were the guardians for their grand-daughter, a wild teenage girl who was pregnant. Just before her baby was due, she was drinking and driving with friends and was killed in a terrible car accident. They were able to save the baby. I went to bed one night, worried about my neighbors and the difficult situation they were now faced with--finding a home for this baby. That night I had a dream about the baby. It's actually the dream that Susan has in the book. When I woke up the next morning, I couldn't stop thinking about the dream and how that baby would affect those around her. 

Steph: Is any of the story based on real-life experiences or is it complete imagination?

KareyWhile most of the book is completely fiction, there are a few things that were based in my reality--my children had a piano teacher just like Mildred, the house Kelsey lived in was just like the house of a girl my daughter knew, and I love Enstrom's toffee. There are probably a few other little tidbits but I can't think of them at the moment.

StephAuthors typically write characters they are familiar with, either basing them on people they know or by giving them some of their own characteristics. Was Anna's character based on anyone in particular? Is there a character you relate most to? Who and why?  

Karey:While most of Anna isn't real, there are parts of her personality and talents that are similar to my two daughters. I probably related most to Susan, her desire to be a mother, her mama-bear instincts, and her frustration with Stan. I could really relate to those feelings.

Steph: They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but in this case, the cover is as wonderful as the story. What was your reaction when you saw the beautiful cover art? 

Karey:Incredibly relieved and thrilled. I had paid a lot of attention to covers in the months leading up to seeing mine and I'd seen some I thought were truly awful. I was so worried I wouldn't like mine. I couldn't have been happier with it. Dani, at Cedar Fort, did an amazing job.

Steph: Is "Gifted" the first book you've written? What are you working on now?  

KareyGifted is my first published book. I have one coming out later this year. It's a romance, very different from Gifted. I called it For What It's Worth, but I'm not positive they're keeping that title. I'm working on a third book, another romance, called The Husbandmaker. A lot of my time right now is being spent getting class plans together for the creative writing classes I'm going to teach this summer. I'm going to offer some writing classes/camps for 5th grade up to high school. Helping kids get inspired to write has me really excited.

 Steph: If there was one thing you wanted us to know about you, what would it be? 

KareyWow, that's hard. I hope the things I'd want you to know about me would be obvious when you get to know me so I wouldn't even have to say them, but since many of your readers won't know me, I'd want people to know that I love my family, I try to be a good friend and I'm so grateful for my blessed life.

Steph: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? 

KareyRead, read, read and write, write, write. And don't give up.

Thank you so much Karey. You are such a talented story teller, I can't wait to read more from you. 

To learn more about Karey, visit her blog at HERE. For reviews of "Gifted" or to purchase a copy, visit Amazon. Also available on Kindle

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Tonight we made homemade pizza
Not completely healthy, I know, but oh so delicious! (Unless of course, you use the federal government's nutritional standards, in which case, pizza is a vegetable.) 
 Talia hand tossed tossed the dough! She cut fresh pineapple, onions, and peppers. Loaded it up with turkey pepperoni, low fat cheese, and tomato sauce with pureed carrots.... Beat that!
The crust was so thick, one slice filled you right up! Plus, she made twisted bread sticks too. 
Stuffed bellies for us tonight. 

Good job Talia. Keep cooking! 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tips for Talking with Teens

It's kind of a funny microcosm of life, this struggle many adults experience when it comes to talking with their children. At one point every adult was a teenager, yet somewhere along the road to maturity they somehow forget what its like to be a kid. I've seen and heard both sides of the communication coin: kids who would "never!" talk to their parents and kids who talk freely with their parents about everything. The common thread is this, whether they recognize and admit it or not, teens crave open communication with their parents.

So, what's the problem then? If teens want to talk, why do they grumble and shrug and avoid all contact? The simple answer is not an easy one to swallow, but here it is: PARENTS BUILD WALLS.

Now, take a deep breath and don't get all defensive. You probably didn't even realize you were building, but over the course of years, brick by little brick has been stacked. You swore you'd never be like your parents. You promised yourself you'd be the "cool" ones. Yet, somewhere you lost hold on that precious little baby and before you knew it he/she was almost grown. The time went so fast and now you're staring in the face - eye to eye in some cases - a child who is no longer a child... a young, independent teen that seems to want nothing to do with you. But, it's not too late. You don't simply have to cower in the corner and wait out the storm. Just because you built that wall, brick by brick, doesn't mean you can't knock it down. It's never too late to establish a pattern of effective communication with your teens.

5 little tips to help break down the parent/teen communication barrier: 
(These apply equally to all youth that cross your path, not just those who share your blood-line.)  

1. Talk to kids like they are people, um, because they are! And, not only are they people, they are intelligent, thinking individuals, with thoughts and worries just like you. KIDS ARE SMART - don't dehumanize them by talking to them like they are idiots. Don't pretend to be their intellectual superiors. There's nothing that will open communication quicker than leveling the playing field. This doesn't negate the need for respect, just remember, it goes both ways.

2. Talk to your kids every day, not just when an issue arises. And, not just about "important" stuff. Laugh and joke and have a good time with each other. Think about it for a minute: you would never want to share your important thoughts with a stranger, would you? Well, then why would your kids? Create an atmosphere of familiarity and comfort, and if or when a big issue arises, your kids will feel comfortable coming to you because THEY KNOW YOU!

3. Listen. Respect. The counterpart to talking is listening. And, honestly, these two activities don't always equally balance the scale. Human nature - or at least "parent nature" - is to get the last word. This isn't necessarily the best approach. We don't have to fix everything, and as a matter of fact, we shouldn't. Sometimes the job of a parent is to simply LISTEN. Don't try to correct the action or solve the problem, just listen. Often the mere verbalizing of a concern and the opportunity to think through it out loud allows kids the ability to see the magnitude of their situation and recognize solutions on their own. When we listen and offer only needful, appropriate advice, we allow our children to (1) feel accepted and (2) to learn how to find solutions on their own.We also allow room for natural consequences to play out.

4. Be slow to judge or condemn. Remember, you were a kid once too, and likely, stupidity blurred your path at least once. If you lead a kid to believe that they are a bad person or at least incapable of making good decisions, you've set the stage for them to throw in the towel and prove you right! Avoid phrases like, "Well that was dumb," or "Wow, you're stupid." Instead use constructive conversation and thought provoking questions like, "What do you think of that decision?", or "How did that make you feel?" or even, "Knowing what you know now, do you recognize where you went wrong? And, the next time something like this comes up, what can you do to ensure a more positive outcome?"  

5. Be Comfortable talking about the difficult stuff. Seriously, if you can't talk about dating or drugs or sex without blushing, you are going to make them uncomfortable and they will take their questions and concerns somewhere else. It's a simple, but honest truth. They are seeing and hearing about these things all around them anyway, so don't think you're going to tell them something they haven't already heard somewhere else. Be the voice of honesty and the provider of accurate information. Don't shy away or beat around the bush. Sweeping taboo subjects under the rug doesn't make them go away, it only hides them. Your kids will not only appreciate your honesty, they will see you as a safe and comfortable resource for important information.
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