Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Enormity of Life

So I was thinking the other day about our future children (as I sometimes do) and I suddenly realized that they are probably not going to turn out they way that I'm thinking they will in my head. What I mean is that I guess for SOME reason (even though I know this isn't true) I sort of figured that they would come to our family having all of the knowledge that I already have about life - and while it isn't a lot I just keep thinking that they're going to do high school better than me, they're going to be outgoing and not have problems with being shy, they will be ambitious and desire to learn and we will be best friends, they will hear a classical song and love it as much as I do...

Well then I was driving home from work and I was listening to a song on the radio that had the stupidest lyrics in the world and thought; wow, when I have kids in the car someday I'm never going to be able to listen to the radio because I worry about them hearing these awful songs... So it hit me that it's my job to teach them, protect them, help them learn, and they won't just understand things. That's my job.

Now, I always knew this, but suddenly the enormity of life and the scope of all the cool things I want them to know seemed really vast and overwhelming. How do I make sure that I remember to tell them all the important things and how do I help them get involved without being pushy and overbearing and oh-my-gosh-I'm-going-to-be-one-of-THOSE-parents...

I'm not even expecting and this is what I think about. I guess it's good to get the shock over with now and decide on a "game plan" for being a great-and-effective-yet-not-crazy parent before we have children. All of this really doesn't scare me THAT much. I know that as long as I'm doing my best and Jon and I parent together with Heavenly Father that there is no way our kids won't turn out awesome. But I still have this huge feeling in the back of my head that I want to be the best mom I can be and the best friend mom to my kids. I guess parenthood is one of those "learn as you go" types of experiences. At least it won't be boring :)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Margo's 1st Birthday

Today our baby Margo turns 1 year old!!

"Imma so cute."

Aunt Shelly came over to help decorate and have birthday dinner with us last night:

Jon looks like he's in pain because he doesn't like celebrating animal birthdays, he thought you all should know this was totally and 100% my idea.

Aunt Shelly and I made Margo this super cute birthday banner (bone by Michelle). P.S. check out the new antiqued picture frame Jon and I made this week. I love :)

Aunt Shelly even helped make and decorate Margo's dog safe birthday cake!

Since we had burgers for dinner, Margo got a doggy bone shaped mini patty!

Margo LOVED opening her present. She has come a long way since Christmas:

gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme

What is that??!!

New Margo sized Tennis Balls!
(She had a regular size one for a while but she ripped all the fluff off of it and it was really too big for her to easily carry.)

"Thank you, Daddy - I love 'em!!"

Aunt Shelly and Margo spent the evening playing fetch together with her new toys:

Fun was had by all!

My coworker also got Margo a little doggy cookie, new chew bones and yummy treats today :) She is one spoiled pup.

Happy Birthday Margo!!

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Infinite Power of Hope

Yesterday Jon and I gave talks in Sacrament meeting. We figured we probably had assignments coming this year because the last time we gave official talks in our ward was in 2007 :) Mine was on President Uchtdorf's talk from the October 2008 General Conference. I decided to post the talk here for anyone who wants to read it. I'll post Jon's for you in a few days. It was on the Ministry of Angels. Happy Monday!


In preparing for my talk today I did a lot of reading and searching through the scriptures to find the words that would best convey the spirit of the topic; The Infinite Power of Hope. Now, that sounds pretty intense. Infinite means that it goes on forever and ever without end. Power conotates authority, influence and command. Put those two together and it means that HOPE is an influential and infinite thing.

Hope is one of those words that I always hear, but have never had to define. But it's more than just a word, it's an attribute, it's a blessing and a gift. First I asked myself "What does hope mean to me?" Well, it means that I have things in life that I want or need and have faith that these things will come to pass. Ok, so hope and faith work together... then what?

Luckily President Dieter F. Uchtdorf in the first presidency outlines for us just how powerful hope is in his talk from the October General Conference in 2008. In reading over his words I was intimidated by how awesome it was. There is no way that I could talk to you about hope in a way that would be more perfect than his, so I considered just reading his talk straight to you, since I pretty much highlighted the whole thing anyway for my notes :)

President Uchtdorf began with a story about his family in 1944 Germany. While fleeing Czechoslovakia to escape the dangers of WWII in Europe their train came to a stop where his mother quickly got off to purchase some food. When she returned the train and the children were gone! President Uchtdorf says "She was weighed down with worry; desperate prayers filled her heart. She frantically searched the large and dark train station, urgently crisscrossing the numerous tracks while hoping against hope that the train had not already departed."

Now, I don't have any children yet, but I can only imagine how terrifying it is to lose them even at a grocery store and not know where they went. President Uchtdorf continues:

"Perhaps I will never know all that went through my mother's heart and mind on that black night as she searched through a grim railroad station for her lost children. That she was terrified I have no doubt. I am certain it crossed her mind that if she did not find this train, she might never see her children again. I know with certainty: her faith overcame her fear, and her hope overcame her despair. She was not a woman who would sit and bemoan tragedy. She moved. She put her faith and hope into action."

President Uchtdorf's mother was able to find her children when she discovered that the train had just been moved to a remote area of the station. He says that if he could go back in time he would like to ask her how she managed to go on in the face of her fears. He would ask her "about faith and hope and how she overcame despair." It is no easy task. Today I hope as President Uchtdorf to reach all "who might feel discouraged, worried or lonely." Today we focus on the infinite power of hope.

First, what is the importance of hope? Why have hope at all? President Uchtdorf describes hope as one of the legs on a 3 legged stool, with the other two legs being faith and charity. "These three stabilize our lives regardless of the rough or uneven surfaces we might encounter at the time... Faith, hope and charity complement each other, and as one increases, the others grow as well. Hope comes of faith, for without faith, there is no hope. In like manner faith comes of hope, for faith is "the substance of things hoped for. Hope is critical to both faith and charity."

"When disobedience, disappointment, and procrastination erode faith, hope is there to uphold our faith. When frustration and impatience challenge charity, hope braces our resolve and urges us to care for our fellowmen even without expectation of reward. The brighter our hope, the greater our faith. The stronger our hope, the purer our charity."
The scriptures tell us just how important hope is:

The book of Romans in the bible quotes the Apostle Paul saying: "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." (ROMANS 15:4)

PROVERBS 13:12 tells us that hope is the desire of our heart and when it is delayed it can make "the heart sick."

"Hope has the power to fill our lives with happiness... Hope is a gift of the spirit. It is a hope that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the power of his Resurrection, we shall be raised unto life eternal and this because of our faith in the Savior."

President Uchtdorf also explains that "hope is both a principle of promise as well as a commandment." I thought that this was very interesting. I had never thought of hope as being a commandment. He says that just "as with all commandments, we have a responsibility to make it an active part of our lives and overcome the temptation to lose hope. Hope in our Heavenly Father's merciful plan of happiness leads to peace, mercy, rejoicing, and gladness. The hope of salvation is like a protective helmet; it is the foundation of our faith and an anchor to our souls."

1 So far we know that hope is a tool to be used along with faith and charity.

2 It is an important desire of our hearts.

3 Hope is found in the scriptures and the scriptures have been written for us to give us hope.

4 Hope has power to fill our lives with happiness, it is a gift of the spirit.

5 We have hope in the gospel that through the Atonement of Christ we shall be raised unto eternal life through faith in the Savior, and we know that Hope is a commandment from Heavenly Father.

6 Hope is also a protective helmet and a foundation for faith as well as an anchor to our souls.

Hope does a lot of things! As I was reading I realized that this seemingly little word truly does have a lot of power.

So then why is there despair? A lot of times people blame God for circumstances and trials. Why would a God that loves us give us hard situations, sadness and unhappiness?

In the Book of Mormon, 2 NEPHI 2:11 we read that there must be "an opposition in all things. If not so... righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness, nor misery, neither good nor bad." Unless we have opposites we cannot understand true happiness. If we didn't have trials and bad days, we wouldn't appreciate the good ones.

It is the same "with faith, hope and charity. [Their opposites of] Doubt, despair and failure to care for our fellowmen lead us into temptation which can cause us to forfeit choice and precious blessings... Despair drains from us all that is vibrant and joyful and leaves behind the empty remnants of what life was meant to be. Despair kills ambition, advances sickness, pollutes the soul and deadens the heart. Despair can seem like a staircase that leads only and forever downward."

Wow. When I read that I thought of times in my life when I have felt so worthless and depressed that I never thought I would get back to feeling normal. When we experience a disappointment in life, the death of a friend, the loss of great blessings or our feelings are extremely hurt by another, it is common to have overwhelming feelings of sadness, doubt in ourselves and failure.

While I am in no ways a counselor, I do like the way that President Uchtdorf describes hope as an opposite to these moments in life. He says that "on the other hand [hope] is like the beam of sunlight rising up and above the horizon of our present circumstances. It pierces the darkness with a brilliant dawn. It encourages and inspires us to place our trust in the loving care of an eternal Heavenly Father, who has prepared a way for those who seek for eternal truth in a world of relativism, confusion and of fear."

Living life here on Earth is not easy. It is not easy to have trials day after day and feel like you never get a break and then be told to just have hope in God and feel better. So what is hope and how can we use it?

"Hope is not knowledge." Just because we know that the Savior died for us doesn't mean that we will automatically feel peace. "Rather [hope] is the abiding TRUST that the Lord will fulfill His promise to us." (emphasis added) We trust in the Lord and the promise to us that "if we live according to God's laws and the words of His prophets now, we..." can be confident that we "will receive desired blessings in the future." Hope is "believing and expecting that our prayers will be answered." We have faith and expectations that when we act on the tools given us that we will receive the promised blessings back.

Hope "is manifest in confidence, optimism, enthusiasm, and patient perseverance." When we have these attributes we are showing that we have hope. We often hear of people who are members of the Church who have others tell them that they always seem so happy, they have a "glow" about them. Their life seems so great and put together, why is that? It is because we have hope. We have knowledge of our Heavenly Father and of our Savior and we use that knowledge to live our lives on a daily basis with hope for something better, always keeping an eternal perspective on what is going to come down the line. Although it is also important to live in the moment, we understand that this life is just a short time and cannot be measured compared to the infinite scope of eternity.

In the DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS, Section 84:82-83 we see that Heavenly Father is aware of us and knows our needs. He tells us to "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin; and the kingdoms of the world, in all their glory, are not arrayed like one of these. For your Father, who is in heaven, knoweth that you have need of all these things."

With a Heavenly Father who is so aware of us personally and our needs, we can be confident that with hope in his eternal plan, we can cultivate joy and happiness in our lives.
This being said, there are 2 different ways to hope. There are things we hope FOR and things we hope IN. "Things we hope for are often future events... Is it possible to imagine a more glorious future than the one prepared for us by our Heavenly Father?...The Savior is the Author of our Salvation." I know that with the Savior setting the path for me to walk on to return to my Heavenly Father someday, the promises are sure and that gives me a great deal of hope. Because of the Savior's "Atonement, we can be cleansed of sin and stand pure and holy before the judgment bar" (2 Nephi 2:6-10)

The second way to hope is when we have hope IN something. "The things we hope in sustain us during our daily walk. They uphold us through trials, temptations and sorrow. Everyone has experienced discouragement and difficulty. Indeed, there are times when the darkness may seem unbearable. It is in these times that the divine principles of the restored gospel we hope in can uphold us and carry us until, once again, we walk in the light."
There is a children's primary song called "Teach me to Walk in the Light". It involves a parent and child singing together. The child begins:

"Teach me to walk in the light of his love,

Teach me to pray to my father above,

Teach me to know of the things that are right,

Teach me, teach me, to walk in the light."

The parent responds:
"Come little child and together we'll learn,

of his commandments that we may return

home to his presence to live in his sight,

Always, always to walk in the light."

Together the parent and child sing:
"Father in Heaven, we thank thee this day,

for loving guidance to show us the way,

grateful we praise thee with songs of delight,

Gladly, gladly we'll walk in the light."

When we walk in the light together we see the goodness of God in the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, we hope in Jesus Christ, and in the knowledge that prayers are heard and answered. "Because God has been faithful and kept His promises in the past, we can hope with confidence that God will keep His promises to us in the present and in the future. In times of distress, we can hold tightly to the hope that things will "work together for [our] good" (D&C 90:24) as we follow the counsel of God's prophets. This type of hope in God, His goodness, and His power refreshes us with courage during difficult challenges and gives strength to those who feel threatened by enclosing walls of fear, doubt and despair."

Although this is a lot of great information, it can seem a little overwhelming. So where do we start? President Uchtdorf answers by saying: "We learn to cultivate hope in the same way we learn how to walk, one step at a time. As we study the scriptures, speak with our Heavenly Father daily [in prayer], commit to keep the commandments of God, like the Word of Wisdom, and to pay a full tithing, we attain hope. We grow in our ability to "abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost," as we more perfectly live the gospel." (Romans 15:13)

Knowing what hope is, how to develop it and where it comes from are key tools for us to use as we journey through this life. The most important step however is to "move forward and put faith and hope into action..." President Uchtdorf said that "not just worrying or wishful thinking, sustained our family and me and gave confidence that present circumstances would give way to future blessings."

I know that hope sustains us through despair and teaches us that there is reason to rejoice even when all seems dark around us. President Uchtdorf ends by saying "to all who suffer - to all who feel discouraged, worried or lonely - I say with love and deep concern for you, never give in. Never surrender. Never allow despair to overcome your spirit. Embrace and rely upon the Hope of Israel, for the love of the Son of God pierces all darkness, softens all sorrow, and gladdens every heart."

I echo these same feelings and pray that we all can continue daily to cultivate our hope in the Savior and overcome despair in our lives to once again return to live with our Father in Heaven. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Friday, January 14, 2011

We Belong

I've always been grateful for my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And now, more than ever, as we face big decisions in our lives I'm very grateful for the power of prayer, the comfort of having the spirit to guide me daily, and especially for temples where Jon and I can go to feel peace, meditate, pray for important answers and be uplifted. Jon took this picture at the Sacramento Temple when we attended a sealing in November:

My favorite part about it was the angel Moroni on top of the temple calling towards the sun. I thought it perfectly captured the idea of the temple. Beauty, simplicity, eyes toward heaven and calling towards new life. I decided to make it our link in the sidebar for the church website. Check it out! --> 

I know that in the Lord's plan, I have a place. I belong. Jon and I have SO many blessings because of the lives we live, based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. I know we're not perfect in any means, but that's why the gospel is so great. It's about improving daily, developing a stronger relationship with Heavenly Father, and coming to know Christ as our Savior and the only way to be redeemed.

Starting this year in 2011 I renewed my personal goal to read the scriptures daily. In primary our theme this year is "I know the Scriptures are true". I've never been very good about reading my scriptures every single day and really studying them like I truly want to. So far this year we're 14 days in and I haven't missed one :) I know I still have a long way to go and they say it takes 21 days to make a habit, so we'll see if I can make it. Already though I can notice a huge change in my week because I'm taking time to listen to the spirit daily and learn from what the scriptures have to teach me. Hopefully I can make it through everything by 2012 (including the whole old and new testament). That would be really awesome. Wish me luck!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cooking with Jon and Steph - Double Decker Raspberry and White Chocolate Cheesecake

I made this cheesecake for Christmas originally (my coworker gave me the recipe) and then I made it again for New Year's when I think it was really perfected :) This recipe has a lot of steps, but it's so simple. It turns out great and I love it! I would definitely recommend making it for your next party, potluck, or just because you're interested in a new dessert.

Happy baking!

My notes and changes below are in PURPLE.

1 9-ounce package chocolate wafer cookies, coarsely broken (I used chocolate graham crackers)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 12-ounce package frozen unsweetened raspberries, thawed, juices reserved
6 ounces good-quality white chocolate, finely chopped (I used Ghirardelli white chocolate chips)
4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
White chocolate curls (optional)
For crust: Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides. Double-wrap outside of pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place cookies in processor and blend until coarse crumbs form. Add butter and process until evenly moistened. Press crumb mixture firmly onto bottom and halfway up sides of prepared pan. Bake crust 8 minutes; cool on rack.

For filling: Press raspberries and juices through fine strainer into small bowl. (Husbands are great at this.)

Measure 1/2 cup puree for filling (reserve remaining puree for another use). (If your baby pup is supervising, this is also helpful.)

Stir white chocolate in small metal bowl set over saucepan of barely simmering water until just melted and smooth; set aside. (For those who aren't used to melting chocolate *ahem like me* bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Then turn heat down to low/simmer. Put a metal mixing bowl with the chocolate inside the saucepan of hot water so that it floats/won't touch the bottom or edges. This will keep your chocolate from burning.)

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl until smooth and fluffy. (My cream cheese got stuck inside the beater a lot. Just be patient and have a spatula handy...)

Beat in flour, then eggs, 1 at a time.

Beat in whipping cream and vanilla. (The batter will look creamy and glossy.)

Transfer 2 1/4 cups batter to medium bowl; stir in melted white chocolate.

Stir reserved 1/2 cup raspberry puree and almond extract into remaining batter in large bowl.

Pour raspberry batter into prepared crust;

place springform pan in large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come 1 inch up sides of pan. Bake until raspberry filling is softly set in center and beginning to puff at edges, about 50 minutes. Remove roasting pan from oven; let raspberry layer cool 5 minutes to firm slightly. (*NOTE: I did the water bath the first time I made this cheesecake and did NOT like how it turned out at all. It's probably because my springform pan does not have the best seal, but either way I made it for New Year's without doing the water bath and the cheesecake turned out AMAZING. You can decide how you would like to make it.)
Starting at edge of pan, spoon white chocolate batter in concentric circles onto raspberry layer. Smooth top. Bake until white chocolate filling is set in center, about 30 minutes. Refrigerate cake uncovered until cold, at least 4 hours. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead; cover and keep refrigerated.) Cut around pan sides with small knife to loosen cheesecake; release sides. Garnish cheesecake with white chocolate curls, if desired.

(I kept some of the raspberry puree from earlier in the baking proceess and swirled it across the top of the cheesecake Then I used a grater to shred a few of the white chocolate chips on top. Delicious!)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Year to Create

Happy New Year 2011!

As you will notice, I have already changed our blog header for the new year to match this year's theme:

A Year to Create

Wrapping up last year's "The Year of Awesome" we had a Batman semi-marathon with our friends Bay & Shawn and yelled to the world at midnight. It was a pretty sweet way to ring in 2011!

At last week's FHE, Jon announced this year's theme (we alternate every year picking the new year's title) and he decided that this year was a year for creation. Creative projects, creating our own success, etc.

We want to keep developing our talents together, making our apartment a home, creating better opportunities to teach in our church callings, and creating the best relationship possible for our marriage and future children to come into our family. I've also been inspired to sew a lot more this year and Jon is delving into the world of homemade bookmaking. I'm so excited for this year!

Because I don't have any pictures to start off this year with, I'm posting a video instead. It is an excerpt from a talk by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and was directed primarily at women, but I think it applies to all people. I've posted it on this blog once before, but it definitely deserves a re-post. I hope you're all having a great and creative start to 2011!