Sunday, January 31, 2010

February Dinner Challenge Schedule

Okay, dinner challenge starts tomorrow! It took a while to get it all organized (about a day and a half, plus an hour here and there, actually), but it's all together--mostly. Click here to see the whole month's calendar.

I decided to group the recipes by ethnicity, loosely, which has some benefits. One is that I think it will be fun to get out the map and talk with the kids about the cultures that the food we are eating comes from. Another is that I will have less waste with ingredients because many will be repeated throughout the week, so I won't have to buy a whole bunch of something to only use half of it and then buy it again two weeks later because what I bought before has gone bad. However, we may be sick of rice this week, and tired of beans the next, and tired of tomatoes the next. Hopefully it will just be fun.

Here's the lineup for this week.

Week 1 - Asian Week
Monday: Asian Black Bean Soup
*Miniature Lemon Cheesecake Tarts for dessert
Tuesday: Applebee's Orange Chicken Skillet
Wednesday: Crock Pot Thai Curry
Thursday: Peanut Noodles
Friday: Korean Short Ribs

Here's the shopping list:

May Have On Hand:
vegetable oil
olive oil
soy sauce
cider vinegar
rice wine vinegar
crushed red pepper
minced garlic
salt and pepper
cayenne pepper
brown sugar
powdered sugar
peanut butter
4 eggs

May Need To Buy:
sour cream
8oz cream cheese
Betty Crocker Sunkist lemon bar mix
lemon or raspberry pie filling
1 cup chicken broth
3 cans black beans
ground coriander
hoisin sauce
sesame oil
13.5 oz can coconut milk
Thai red or green chili paste
short-grain, sweet, or "sushi" rice
almond rice pilaf
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4-5 boneless chicken thighs
8-10 flanken-style short ribs, thawed (thin cut, 1/4-1/2 inch thick), or boneless ribs
orange juice
2 onions
1 bunch green onions
1 garlic clove
ginger root
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1/2 large eggplant
1 large sweet potato
1 orange (or orange zest)
sugar snap peas

I go grocery shopping tomorrow morning. Oddly, this is often the most stressful part for me because it can be hard to find so many unfamiliar ingredients. Usually when I shop, it's pretty brainlessly. I have a beaten path through WalMart, and I know exactly where on each aisle to find what I usually buy.

But even though it is stressful, the shopping is also one of the things I missed the most after my November challenge was over. I don't do my challenge shopping at WalMart. I patronize local grocery stores because I know they have what I am looking for, and there are people who know what they are talking about working there. It became such an adventure to learn about new vegetables and cuts of meat, and I have a real love for the produce section at Lin's and the meat counter at Albertson's now.

So, wish me luck, and watch for the barrage of blog posts!


My newest nephew (and the first on my side of the family):

Porter Steele Curry
Born January 5, 2010
2:08 pm
6 lb 8 oz
21 inches long
Here are my favorites of the pictures I took when I visited a few days after his birth. Enjoy!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Favorites - Kitchen Tools

In only three days we will embark on a month-long cooking adventure. It seems only fitting that today I share my favorite cooking tools that will help me complete my mission. They are nothing really special, but they make me happy.

First, how I organize and use my recipes. This recipe box was a wedding gift, and I love it. The dividers are homemade from index cards and labels (I was poor and it was cheap and customizable). I predict that it will fill to capacity sometime in 2010, which means it took 9 years to fill it. It holds 4x6 recipe cards, and I only add a recipe when we've already proven it--it has to make the cut before it's in the box. Many recipes have been thrown out, too, when we've replaced them with something we love more. I'd say about 75% of the recipes in this box are printed off Allrecipes, and I've been using the site so long my recipes are in about 4 different formats as they've changed over the years. I continue to really love their site, especially the ratings and reviews of each recipe.

I love my recipe cards, but they do get pretty beat-up, stained, and smudged. Someday I intend to print fresh copies of all of them and laminate them. Because that may never happen, I especially love this magnetic recipe board my mother-in-law made for me this Christmas, that provides a place to put my cards to keep them visible and clean(er). I had a different one that I made, but I just love how sturdy and pretty this one is.

I do occasionally use a cookbook, too, though, and was having all kinds of trouble keeping them open while cooking, until I found that the easel the magnetic board sits in is a perfect solution for this:

Okay, now for the actual tools. There is no way I could bake without my KitchenAid. Also a wedding gift, it has withstood the test of time. You can probably see the black knobs are broken off, but it still works amazing for me. I use it mostly for baking: bread, cookies, batters, etc. For our homemade pizza, it's practically essential.

This is our humble rice cooker. We actually received two of these for our wedding, and kept the smaller one for our family of two. Our family has since grown and it still meets our needs easily. We eat a lot of rice. Adam is a big fan of Chinese food, and he has converted the whole family. We took a Chinese cooking class when Isaiah was a baby, and we did learn how to cook rice on the stove. But we also learned there was no reason to when the rice cooker did it just as well and faster, with less fuss! It also has a steamer, which I use occasionally, especially when we have fresh vegetables from the garden.

Cutting tools. One thing we learned in our Chinese cooking class was that a chef is only as good as his knife. I have pretty good knives, not anything pro quality, but waaaaay better than the $4 knife set I bought in the clearance bin at WalMart when we were first married. The knife at the top is my favorite of the set Adam bought me (for Mother's Day?) in the last year. I keep the blade straight with the steel at the right. The scissors are just handy for lots of things, trimming meat for one. I hate working with meat. Anything that makes that easier makes me happy.

The other cutting tools are more for everyday use as a mom, but they seriously are some of my favorite things, so I couldn't leave them out. A cheese slicer and apple corer/slicer are essentials for snacks with kids. I avoid cutting apples like the plague, so I love making that chore easier. It honestly really helps motivate me to feed my kids healthier snacks. And, as any mom knows, a pizza cutter is the fastest, most efficient way to make any meal toddler-bite-sized. Ours is rarely clean, actually, because it's used so much.

And finally . . .

Yeah, doesn't look like a kitchen tool, eh? It so is. If you've ever been around Max for more than 10 minutes, you know there is no way I could make dinner without him being strapped in (okay, there is: Adam. He really makes it possible). He has a highchair, too, but this keeps him close and involved in what I'm doing, while keeping him from practicing his two favorite pasttimes: loudly emptying everything in the lower drawers and cupboards (tripping Mom repeatedly in the process), and sneaking behind and around Mom to touch the pans on the stove. It's also awesome for snacks because there is less surface to "wash," I can just wipe and go.

So, you saw mine . . . what are your favorite kitchen tools?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Pinkalicious Day

It was a rainy day, too wet to go outside.
Mommy said, "Let's make
cupcakes! What color do you want?"
"Pink!" I said. "Pink, pink, pink!"

If you have a 4- or 5-year-old girl, you know this comes from Pinkalicious, by Victoria Kann and Elizabeth Kann--it's one of our favorite books. (One of my favorite quotes from this book, which I use on my kids constantly: "You get what you get, and you don't get upset.")

We were having one of those days. Gray, blah, boring. How many days of rain can one have before they go crazy with kids bouncing off the walls? So, I picked myself up off the floor, where I was imitating a blob, still in my pajamas at 11:00 in the morning, and said to Katie, "I'm going to take a shower and then we're going to do a project, art or game or puzzle or cooking, your pick."

It should not have surprised me that she would want to cook. After all, she is my daughter. "Can we make cupcakes?" she asked. I said yes, knowing full well there were no cake mixes in either my pantry or my food storage room. There were about a bajillion cookie mixes we've picked up for a few cents with coupons when they were on sale. But no cake mixes. Oh, well. We weren't going anywhere, right?

So, I pulled out the one from-scratch cake recipe that I have in my recipe box. And we added pink. Lots of pink.

Happy Birthday Cake (aka Pinkalicious Cupcakes)

(This is the full recipe, which makes a 9x13 cake or a triple-layer round. We made half the recipe and got just over a dozen cupcakes, about 14 or 15, I think.)
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
3 tsp baking powder
3 cups flour
1 cup milk
1 pinch salt
(20-30 drops neon pink food coloring, if desired)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour pan(s), or line muffin cups with paper liners.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla extract.
3. Separate the eggs and set the egg whites aside. Add the egg yolks one at a time to the creamed mixture, beating after each one.
4. Measure the baking powder into the flour. Sift a little of the flour mixture into the creamed mixture. Continue adding the flour and the milk alternately, while continually beating the mixture. (Add food coloring if desired.) Beat the cake batter until a few air bubbles show.
5. Beat the 4 egg whites with a dash of salt until stiff. Gently fold egg whites into the batter. Pour batter into prepared pan(s).
6. Bake at 350 degrees until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, 25-35 minutes for cakes, approx. 15 minutes for cupcakes.

We frosted them with a canister of Betty Crocker white frosting with confetti, with 10 drops of neon pink food coloring stirred in, of course.

Every time I make cupcakes I am reminded how messy they are (pouring into the cups, frosting, eating) and how much I dislike cake in general. It's just not my favorite thing. Oh, well. Katie loved it. She even wrote a book about it afterward, entitled "Katie's Pinkalicious Book." In it, she ended up pink. Of course.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Be Not Weary

Mothers of young children are tired. All the time. I was thinking about this after talking with my sister, who is the new mom of a beautiful 3 week old boy (post to come, I promise), today. I am luckier than most because sometime before Katie was born, Adam took over nighttime duty when, in my sleep, I picked Isaiah up out of the bed by his feet and shook him, yelling, "Stop kicking me!" Yeah, I'm not nice at night.

But even still, I nursed babies all through the night. And I have woken up to clean up blowout diapers and puke on the carpet. I know tired. It's not even just the nighttime stuff. It's all the millions of little things all day that you do for everyone but yourself: wiping noses, pouring cereal, fixing "owies," etc, etc. The brain cells that are sucked from you as you play Ponies or Legos for hours, sing songs and talk incessantly to build language skills in your baby, or painstakingly decipher what your toddler is so emphatically trying to tell you. It's knowing how important the job you are doing is even as it is the most tedious, frustrating, exhausting thing you've ever done.

I've been thinking about it a lot (as I mentioned in this post). Apparently I'm not the only one. I stumbled across this post at Diapers and Divinity while reading this post at Chocolate on My Cranium, and they both resonated with the scripture that's been bouncing around in my head since that night that I wrote about my New Year's Resolutions: Doctrine and Covenants 64:33 "Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great."

How to be not weary? I'm don't know exactly, but I'm pretty sure it requires more prayer and faith than I've been having lately. In any case, I am "laying the foundation of a great work." At the very least (which may be my best for now) I can keep plugging along, hanging in there. After all, "out of small things proceedeth that which is great." I can bless my family even if I am imperfect. And, as my grandpa used to say, "I can sleep when I'm dead." Or maybe he said, "I was born tired." Hmmmm . . . either way, it's past my bedtime.

What we've been eating this weekend

I'm not sure why I've been so food obsessed lately, but all I've been wanting to do is cook. I'm sure I'll be done and ready for a break, though, by the end of February. Anyway, since we've been eating so well, I thought I'd share. Here's what we've been eating this weekend.

Buttermilk Pancakes with Raspberries and Whipped Cream

Buttermilk Pancakes

1 1/2 cups flour
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp white sugar
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 egg
3 tbsp butter, melted
2-4 tbsp milk

1. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. In a separate bowl combine the buttermilk, egg, and melted butter. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk mixture, mix until smooth. Add milk until desired consistency.
2. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying ban over medium high heat. Ladle the batter onto the griddle, brown on both sides and serve hot.

Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Beat ingredients with a hand mixer until soft peaks form. Dollop on top of pancakes piled with raspberries.

Rice Krispie Treats

Just the basic recipe. I thought about talking Katie and her friend, Gabe, into making something a bit more complex (scotcheroos), but I thought for a kid project, simple is good. Plus, it's what they wanted.

Carolyn's Orange Rolls

This was dang yummy. I made giant rolls, so I got half the amount listed. And, a word of caution if you try to make this recipe, you have to use a whole lot more than 6 cups of flour. More like 10 cups. But they are so great with cream cheese frosting:

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8oz pkg cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp orange juice

Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 8oz cans tomato sauce
1 10oz can enchilada sauce
1 med onion, chopped
2 tbsp chopped green chili peppers
2 cloves garlic, minced
approx. 20 oz chicken broth (I just poured it from a big box until it felt right)
1 can black beans, drained
10oz frozen corn
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp chopped cilantro (I didn't have any, I just think it would be good)

Put all ingredients in crockpot, stir. Cook 8 hours on low. One hour before serving, shred chicken an return to crockpot. Serve with tortilla chips, sour cream and cheese.

We had this last night for Sunday dinner. I love crockpot dinners on Sunday! It's so nice to come home to your house smelling yummy! Adam said he preferred my Taco Soup, but I still thought it was good and an alternative to the same old thing.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Favorites

Isaiah: "You're the best Momma ever!" whispered in my ear, as part of a hug, several times a day.

Katie: "I have tried onions before. They are terrible!" exclaimed with a wrinkled nose, hands on hips and attitude.

Max: "blowing kisses"--holding his hand out for me to kiss

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Call for Recipes

I've decided to do another dinner challenge in February, this time from favorite recipes, mine and yours. So, send me your recipes! Here are the deets:
  • Five nights of every week in February I will cook dinner for my family, take pictures of each dinner and blog about it. The recipes used can be new to us, either from you or my new cookbooks (birthday gifts), or from our collection, but I will cook at least two new recipes each week (more if I get enough recipes from you-*update: I already have enough to do 3 new recipes a week!*).
  • You may submit as many recipes as you wish, but they must be dinner recipes, and their ingredients must be readily available in my relatively small town. I will include recipes or links to recipes in each blog post. I promise to follow the directions as you give them in the recipe. I start cooking February 1, so get them to me with enough time to shop before I cook.
  • I will give credit to you in my blog post, I'll even link to your blog or site if you ask. You may link away if you so choose.
  • Our family will rate each recipe by the thumb system: Thumbs up, thumbs medium, or thumbs down. (Still deciding whether or not I'll publish that on the blog for each recipe--let me know if you don't want me to rate your recipe publicly.) The top three dinner submissions will receive a prize! (Not sure yet what it will be, but I'll come up with something great, at least something real this time! I'll pick something I would want.)

Sound like fun? Well, it does to me, we'll see how much of a cooking mood you all are in . . . . Send your recipes to rachel at ellishome dot org. I can hardly wait to see what's been cooking at your house!

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Decadence: dec⋅a⋅dence  /ˈdɛkədəns, dɪˈkeɪdns/ [dek-uh-duhns, di-keyd-ns]; unrestrained or excessive self-indulgence. I think that explains tonight's food gorging accurately.

See, Pete and Colleen are visiting, which is so much fun. You know those friends that have known you long enough that you don't have to explain everything with a whole story? You can quote a movie line and everyone laughs because you all watched it together almost a decade ago (or more), and it was funny then, so it still is. I love that. Having friends visiting is also a perfect excuse to make food, and lots of it, and not just hamburger gravy, but to break out that roast that you froze, waiting for an occasion to make it. Yeah, that's what we did, actually.

First, we made Awesome Pot Roast.

My modifications to the recipe:

I dip the meat in flour and sear it in a pan before putting it into the crock pot. (And, obviously, I use a crock pot liner. This time I forgot until everything was in the crock pot and I literally dumped it into the liner, washed the pot and put it all back in. It was so worth it, I didn't even have to rinse the pot after dinner.) This roast was half-size, so I halved everything, and I added beef bouillon to the water to make beef broth. When it was done cooking, I picked up the liner and just snipped it and let it pour through a strainer into a sauce pan, then brought the strained drippings to a boil. I added about two tablespoons cornstarch and a teaspoon or two of beef bouillon to a quarter cup of cold water and mixed it into the drippings

We also had green beans and plain ol' mashed potatoes:

And what's Sunday dinner without bread? I was planning to make rolls from scratch, but was running short on time. So, I pulled out my backup Rhoades rolls, only to find I only had a dozen. (Not nearly enough for our now-large families.) And I couldn't do my other backup, because I only had a dozen Pillsbury bread sticks. So, I did both. I made Italian-Style Rosettes with the bread sticks. I didn't post a picture when I made them before, so here you go:

So, we ate. And ate. And ate. I think we have a couple of rolls and some green beans left--and that's all. Mmmmmm . . .

Now, for the inspiration for this post. Yesterday, as Colleen and I sat in the kitchen chatting, she was flipping through my February issue of Better Homes and Gardens which had just arrived. She came to a recipe for Decadent Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cheesecake and said, "Mmmm. This looks good." I looked at it, and had to heartily agree. I said, "We could make it for dessert tomorrow." So, we did. It is incredibly heavy and rich. And even though we made it with milk chocolate chips, it had almost a bitter, dark chocolate taste.

Decadent Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cheesecake
18 graham cracker squares, finely crushed (1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 tbsp sugar
2 8-oz pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate pieces (I used milk chocolate chips)
2 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
peanuts (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine crackers, melted butter, and 2 tbsp sugar. Press into bottom and 1 inch up sides of a 9-inch springform pan; set aside. In bowl beat 1 pkg. cream cheese with electric mixer until smooth. Beat in peanut better and 1/4 cup sugar until combined. Fold in 1 lightly beaten egg; set aside.
2. In saucepan stir chocolate over low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Cube remaining cream cheese; add to chocolate. Stir to combine. Stir in milk and vanilla until smooth. Fold in 2 lightly beaten eggs. Spread half the chocolate mixture into pan. Carefully spread all the peanut butter mixture over layer. Evenly spread remaining chocolate mixture.
3. Bake 45 minutes or until top is set when lightly shaken. Outer 2 inches of top will be slightly puffed and dry-looking; center will look darker and wet. Cool in pan on rack 15 minutes. Use small sharp knife to loosen crust from sides; cool 30 minutes. Remove sides of pan; cool completely on rack. Cover, chill 4 hours. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes before serving. (Sprinkle with peanuts if desired.)

Here's what our slices (well, except for Adam's, his was a little mangled thanks to me) looked like:

As we sat finishing off second (and maybe third helpings of dinner), I said, "You know what would be really good with that cheesecake? That Bunny Tracks we have in the freezer." Pete said, "You two are really bad for each other!" No doubt about it, it was a gluttonous meal. But so delicious. And I even think it was worth it. Mmmm . . .

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

And it backfired

Katie and I had an encounter today that left me laughing and kissing my sweet girl. Monday night Katie took a whole slew of toys to play with Grandma Bubbles and Grandma and Grandpa Wilson while they were visiting. Tuesday I picked them all up and put them outside Katie's bedroom door for her to put away. Today they were still there, more or less, having been scattered slightly by Mister Max. It was almost nap time, so I should have known better, but getting fed up, I asked Katie nicely to pick up her toys and put them away.

Katie, throwing herself down on the floor: Nooooooo . . . it's too hard! I need help!
Me: I did help you, honey. I picked them up from the living room and put them right here, so all you'd have to do is take them into your room.
Katie: I wanted to carry them from the living room! You did the part I wanted to do!
Me, losing patience quickly: You wanted to carry them all the way across the house?!
Katie: Yes!
Me: You got it sister . . .

Then I picked up all the toys (it took me two trips) and carried them back to the living room, tossing them all across the room. We're talking about a hundred Littlest Petshop Pets, My Little Ponies, and itty-bitty accessories, plus the Petshop Clubhouse, and Ponyville Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and ice cream shop. Katie then bounced up, suddenly full of energy, and called out, "Thank you, Mom!"

Still fuming, expecting more whining, I looked into the family room only to see her busily bustling around, cleaning up. "I didn't mean for them to be all over the room, I thought you'd just bring in the baskets, but this is still easy!" she said as she picked the zillion toys up and relayed them to her room.

Then, she said, "I'm going to help you now, since you helped me!" And she picked up 2 weeks worth of newspapers scattered daily over one corner of the living room by Max. "Now it will be so much easier to vacuum!"

Much humbler, and laughing at my silly, sweet girl, I gave her a big hug and a kiss. So much for teaching her a lesson!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Christmas . . . and a recipe

Our Christmas morning always starts with putting Christmas Rolls (or coffee cake, sticky buns, or pull-aparts) into the oven while we see what Santa brought. It's a tradition from Adam's family, and it wouldn't be Christmas without it for him (and for all of us now). This is a terrible-looking specimen, but I'm all about the pictures, so here's what ours looked like this year. They tasted yummy!

They are super easy and you start them the night before, so there is no time cooking spent away from Christmas morning festivities. Although, I do usually make scrambled eggs to go with them, because between sticky buns and stocking candy, it's a lot of sugar to start your day with.

18 Rhoades rolls
1/2 pkg cook & serve butterscotch pudding mix
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
(optional: pecans and cinnamon)

Grease bunt pan. Sprinkle pecans in the bottom of the pan (if using), then arrange rolls around the bottom of the pan. Layer the remaining ingredients as follows: pudding mix, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon. Cover with plastic wrap and raise overnight. Bake at 325 degrees for 20-30 minutes.

After breakfast we move on to opening gifts from each other. Here are the highlights:

Isaiah's fave: DS Lite we bought used from EBay (He'd been assured for months that a DS was really expensive and a really big gift for a 6-year-old, I think he had resigned himself to the fact that it wasn't a possibility--do you see the surprise/excitement?!)

Katie's fave: princess dresses Grandma Linda made by hand (they are gorgeous and easily Katie's most-played with gift)

Max's fave: toddler slide (No pics of him enjoying it on Christmas, he was a bit pukey that day. However, he quickly mastered climbing up and sliding down face-first on his stomach!)

Of course, Christmas is not just about the presents. The real reason for the season:

The Birth of Christ
(A rag-tag, adorable bunch, eh? Gotta love acting out the Nativity!)

And, of course, the holiday season is all about family.

(Just a note about this picture: isn't it amazing?! The best group picture of Adam's family I think in 5 years! What a wonderful occasion to have everyone but Eric, who is serving a mission, together for Christmas, including Grandma and Grandpa Wilson.) Also, no pictures of my family this year, but they are just as much a part of our hearts and lives.

Hope your Christmas was as merry, and less sick, than ours!

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Resolution

For a long time, months even, I've been mulling over a topic for a blog post about being a mother and how that changes a woman so completely. I haven't been able to put my finger on what exactly I wanted to say until right now, this moment, as I've been pondering how to distill what I wanted to accomplish this year into simple, succinct New Year's Resolutions.

I've spent a lot of time this past week reading. I received some books as gifts, and being as sick as I was, reading was about all I could do. I think I can count it as a blessing in disguise that I wasn't able to do anything else as I realize I have nearly finished every written thing I was given (representing hundreds, if not thousands of pages), because there were some really valuable things presented to me in those pages.

One of those has addressed the discontent I've been feeling as a mother and wife. Now don't get me wrong, I know I am just about the most blessed woman on the earth to have Adam and our beautiful children, and the most important job in the world caring for them. But our generation of girls was done a disservice when we were hammered with the idea that we could become anything we wanted when we grew up: we all got the idea that the age-old infinitely important and essential job of "Mother" was something to avoid. That it wasn't important or valued at all. How on earth am I supposed to feel fulfillment when there are no promotions, bonuses, awards, or even a salary involved?

Of course, the answer is God. Now if you have a pretty good relationship with God, it doesn't matter what anyone says, you know who you are and what your role is. You will feel fulfilled digging ditches or cleaning toilets, or even changing diapers and wiping noses.

That is the essential puzzle piece I've been missing for so long. Of course, God is in my life, but I haven't had a close, meaningful relationship with Him in years. I've been so frustrated myself and my own failings that I gave up trying to do the things that brought me close to Him. But how could I feel His approval with the choices I've made in my life, the things I am doing, if I don't invite Him to comment?

Just now, I was reading from a book Shelli gave me, Contentment: Inspiring Insights for LDS Mothers by Maria Covey Cole, and I came across a familiar quote by Richard G. Scott that has actually struck me with meaning before: "It is easy to forget the fundamental purpose of life. Satan has a powerful tool to use against good people. It is distraction. He would have good people fill life with 'good things' so there is no room for the essential ones."

This is where I remembered an object lesson I gave, I think in Relief Society when I was in the college married ward or maybe it was in Young Women, where I filled a jar with different things: sugar, beans, pasta. When you fill the jar with the sugar first, nothing else fits in the jar. But when you fill it with the pasta first, the beans and the sugar, trickle down in between, finding their proper place.

And I knew what my New Year's Resolutions needed to be.

Focus on the essential things:

1. Return to regular personal prayer and scripture study.

2. Peacefully care for my family.

3. Seek ways to give service to others through Church callings and personal friendships.

I feel like I need to clarify my #2 because written down it seems really general, but I have a specific idea in my head for what that will look like. I'm thinking of the mundane, necessary things like feeding, clothing, teaching, and cleaning up after my family. But finding a peace in doing it, instead of beating myself over the head about trying to do it perfectly. Someone wise recently told me that in all these things is some of our most important spiritual work. Because, "all things unto me are spiritual" (D&C 29:34).

So, here's to a peaceful 2010 focused on what's most important.

Still here . . .

hanging on. One upper respiratory illness and three stomach bugs later, we're still hanging on . . .

Things I've learned over the last two weeks:
1. The best way to clean up a pop tart that has been crushed and scattered over the carpet: call the dog in to eat it.
2. You can entertain a toddler by laying on the floor next to him, moaning, for approximately 42.5 seconds. (Just long enough for the other parent to escape to another room to answer a business phone call.)
3. Christmas decorations start to self-destruct (okay, with a little help from a couple of tiny beings) if left up too long after Christmas. (Luckily, I found and reassembled everything that was missing!)
4. There are at least 4 different ways for a house to smell bad when its occupants are sick.
5. You can be well for the requisite 24 hours (or even 48 hours) after a stomach bug to return back to public and life in general, only to relapse even more violently than ever when you least expect it.

I had great intentions of doing a month-long challenge of some kind for January. I was so pumped (just wait, you'll love my ideas!), but here it is Jan. 1, and I am still recuperating. So, we'll see. But for now, we're just still hanging on . . .