Monday, March 20, 2017

Negativity Bias - What we can learn from toast and basketball games

Before you read my article, I'd like you to do something for me.  Say the word "TOAST" 10 times for me.  I'll help you.



















Okay, quick.  What do you put in a toaster?  

What was the first word you thought of?  

Was it toast?  

Actually, it's bread.  

Why do most people think the word "toast" when asked that question?  

The brain is a funny thing.  Saying the word toast 10 times makes you think of the word toast when you hear the word toaster.

Our mind has a great capacity for focus.  To prove it, try this exercise.

Count how many passes the white team makes.

Were you surprised at the answer?  

That's because we are also limited by how much we can focus on at any one time.  

For more information about our ability to focus,  watch the television show, Brain Games Season 2 Episode 1 "Focus Pocus".

As public citizens, we can be easily distracted and tricked into caring about issues we don't really need to care about, at least as much as others would have us believe we need to.  

A candidate running for office can start crying at each rally, "We need to do something about our _________."  You went to the rally to learn more about the candidate, yet you walk away thinking about what ever he filled in the blank with, whether it's high taxes, crime, emergency services, or the sewer lines.  

Should we care about those things?  Absolutely.  But what the candidate is able to do is to get you to care more about that issue than before you attended the rally.   It's because of something called Negativity Bias.  

Psychologists Paul Rozin and Edward Royzman have shown that a negative perspective is more contagious than a positive perspective.  Language analysts have determined we have in the English dictionary TWICE as many negative emotional words as we do positive ones.

As active citizens, we need to be aware of our propensity for the Negativity Bias.  It can affect how we vote and who we vote for.  

Let me give you an example:  

In 2013, the City of Pleasant Grove held a Truth in Taxation meeting informing the citizens that a new tax to pay for a Public Safety Building would come to about $12/month per household (on average.)  Most at the meeting were supportive of a new Public Safety Building and asked if it could be a General Obligation bond (where the citizens vote) instead of a Municipal Building Authority bond (where the City Council votes) in order to get a lower interest rate.  Seems reasonable, right? 

Except a few people stood up at that meeting and talked about the poor condition of the roads and said that we should be paying to fix the roads before we build a new Public Safety Building.  They were able to successfully change the conversation from "Should our new Public Safety Building be funded with a GO or an MBA bond?" to "Should we first fix the roads or build a new Public Safety Building?"  

The city then became divided between those who supported higher taxes for adequate space for a struggling Police department (who were storing evidence in an elevator shaft) and a crumbling Fire Station (literally, the inspector wouldn't even enter certain parts of the building) and those who wanted the roads improved.  

Three years later, the citizens finally voted for a Public Safety Building.  But not before cutting the cost down so that the building will only last about 20 years instead of 50.  The savings?  About $3/month per household.  

Problem solved, right?  Nope.  

Now the residents are driving on the roads every single day thinking about the quality of the roads.  Each driver is now much more aware of each and every pothole.  As they drive past gorgeous mountain views, through relatively crime-free neighborhoods to take their kids to soccer practice they think, "Something has got to be done about these roads!"  

Turns out that this city hasn't been all that effective in maintaining and repairing the roads.  They were definitely falling behind in keeping up with all the damage the cars and weather were doing to the asphalt, you know like everywhere else in America.  But Pleasant Grove is now focused on it because their attention was drawn towards it (the toast) and we can't focus on everything at once (the basketball game). 
Then the problem came to a head in 2017, five men came forward with an initiative that would force the City of Pleasant Grove to spend 18% of its General Fund budget to fix the roads.  They claimed that the 18% could easily be found if the city would "trim the fat" of its budget instead of the city charging a $20 road fee per household.

Imagine your boss telling you your salary will be cut 18% because you can find different ways to save on your household budget.  

Their justification for this initiative is that the citizens want to see the roads repaired.  In fact, they claimed that a survey revealed 78% of the community wanted roads funded first before anything else.

Before anything else?  

So if your house is on fire, you're more concerned about the trip your firefighters have than if there is water in their hoses?

You are more than happy to drive to a neighboring city so your kids can have swimming lessons as long as you don't hit a pothole along the way?

You don't mind if restaurants choose a different city offering tax incentives as long as their customers can drive through your town and think, "What nice smooth roads I'm driving on as I pass by this town with no places to eat."  

Really?  Before anything else?

Have the road conditions changed all that dramatically in the last four years for Pleasant Grove?  Not as dramatically as the residents' attention to it.

As I'm writing this, the City Council is currently trying to figure out what else they are going to cut in the General Fund, which is 75% salary and benefits, in order to respond to this initiative.  

What types of "fat" will need to get trimmed in order to pay to fix all the roads in the city?

Which according to the initiative is dire.

I've been to Haiti, don't use the word "dire" to describe Pleasant Grove roads around me.  Until the roads look like this, the situation is not dire. 

Here are some services that could easily be on the chopping block:  

Strawberry Days (an annual city celebration including concerts, amusement park, rodeo, and of course strawberries and cream) 
Holiday lights on main street
Story time at the library, so long Mrs. Claus!
Youth sports and other after-school programs
Training for the police which requires 4 hours of travel
Heritage Festival (annual birthday celebration for the city) 

Do you think this totals to 18% of the General Fund?  You're right, not even close.  

So let's cut deeper:

Switch to volunteer police and fire lowering the response time
Cut 2.5% salary raises, we already are losing staff to higher paying jobs and better benefits.
Cut library staff
Cut rec center staff
Cut salaries for elected officials  (they make $600 a month)

Are roads still looking like a top priority?  

But here's the saddest part to me about this whole story. 

The city already has plans to increase their road repair and maintenance 2018 budget by 50 percent.  But the authors of the initiative say that's not enough.  The road fund should be fully funded before all other services.  

What goes in a toaster again?  

That's right, bread!  

So how can we fight this Negativity Bias and not let extreme lobbyists and politicians tell us what we should worry about, making us focus on issues that don't need as much attention as others?  

1. Be aware that your mind is wired to make you afraid.  Activists and politicians will work to play upon your fears.  

2. Pay attention to those who are beating the drum of warning.  Critically consider what you are being told.  Do they have sufficient evidence to prove that it is true?  Are the warnings empty or exaggerated?  

3. Pay attention to the positive services a government provides.  Dr. Hanson says negative experiences stick like velcro, positive ones are like teflon and harder to "stick."  Recognize that we can easily remember negative things our government does but it's hard to remember positive ones.  

4. Express gratitude.  Because we remember negative experiences more easily, we tend to complain more than compliment.  When was the last time your complimented your local librarian?  Have you ever written your elected official a thank you, especially if you don't vote for him or her?  Expressing gratitude for what is going well will give you a stronger voice if you want to say something about what you'd like to see improved or changed.  

5. Maintain a 5 to 1 ratio.  Every time you drive over a pothole, or see that broken sidewalk, think of 5 things your city does for you that makes your life better.  It won't make the pothole go away, but it will definitely help you feel better about the place where you live.

6. Find out what you can do to be part of the solution instead of complain about the problem.  It's so easy to say, "Someone should do something!"  Be that someone.  Do something!

Warning, if you live in Pleasant Grove, or anywhere else for that matter, please do not attempt to repair roads yourself.  This could create danger to you and to those driving on those roads.  There are many more effective and safer ways to help.  

No matter where we live, whether it's a quiet suburban neighborhood, or a busy urban city, it's easy to find what is was wrong and look to our representatives to fix it.  As well they should.  But let's not fall victim to the negativity bias and rally to have them fix something that could create unintended consequences or worse create even more expensive problems to solve later on.  

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Second Act

 Below is my address I gave at the funeral of my friend's mother.  Be sure to click on the hyperlinks for additional information. 

I’m one of those people who forgets movies aren’t real.  I get so caught up in the story and the characters, I think it’s really happening.  Every time I watch Pride & Prejudice, I still wonder just a little bit if Lizzy and Darcy will actually get together.  

Sometimes a movie will just get so tense and the characters are in such a mess,  I pause the movie.  I feel like I need to give them a break, and I need to calm down.  

For those who have seen this movie, you'll know this is when everything goes horribly wrong.

When I pause the movie, a marker will pop up showing how many minutes the movie has played so far, and how many minutes are left.  Almost always when I press pause, there is 20 minutes left in the movie.  This brings me a measure of comfort because I know that there is still adequate time for everything to become right again.  I press play feeling more relaxed knowing that I’m most likely going to see a happy ending.   

I’ve discovered that it isn’t coincidental that I usually end up stopping the show with 20 minutes left.  You see, Hollywood has a formula for making movies.  It’s known as the 3-act structure. 

The first act is called the Setup – this is when the audience is introduced to the characters.  We are shown who is the protagonist, or hero, and who the villains or antagonists are.  The first act ends at the first major plot point or after the inciting incident. 

The second act is called Confrontation.  This act has what is called rising action.  We watch our hero get into horrible situations.  At first they don’t have the skills to fight the antagonist, but they eventually start to gain some skills and awareness of what they are capable of.  Usually mentors and other protagonists help him or her on their journey.  As they keep getting into difficult predicaments, they begin to change.  The second act ends when it looks like the problems are insurmountable. 

The third act is called Resolution.  This is when we see the protagonist overcome all odds, beat the villain, and get their happy ending. 

Former President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles Boyd K. Packer said that our existence is like a play in three acts.  To read his speech, click here.  

Right now we are all living in the Second Act here on earth.  However, we can’t remember the First Act, which was when we lived with Heavenly Father.  We don’t remember the setup.  This is what allows us to be tested and to have faith. 

Because we can’t remember our life with Heavenly Father, many things that happen in our Second Act can be frustrating.  Who are the heroes, who are the villains?  Why does that person have cancer, why did that little baby die?  Why are there wars?  Why is there crime?  Why do some people get sick and die, yet others get better? 

Boyd K. Packer said,
“If you expect to find only ease and peace and bliss during Act II, you surely will be frustrated. You will understand little of what is going on and why it is permitted to be as they are.Remember this! The line “And they all lived happily ever after” is never written into the second act. That line belongs in the third act when the mysteries are solved and everything is put right.”

We are actors on the stage trying to figure out our lines and what to do in this second act called mortal life which is full of conflict and challenges to help us grow

Fortunately, Heavenly Father didn’t push us out onto the stage all by ourselves.  In His wisdom he put us here in family units.  These serve as our co-protagonists and mentors to help us on our journey.

What I find so fascinating about the Lord’s plan is how it connects to family.  In the First Act, when we lived with Heavenly Father, we were a family.  In the Second Act, we live as families here on earth.  And in the Third Act, we have the opportunity to remain as families throughout eternity.

The family unit is an interesting relationship.  Think of all the relationships we have on earth.  We have business relationships—bosses, employees, and co-workers.  We have relationships in government--elected officials and constituents.  We have social relationships--friends and acquaintances. 

With those relationships we have choice.  We can quit our job.  We can let an employee go.  We can vote for a different representative. We can let friendships fade away.  But family is different. The only family member we get to choose is our spouse.  

All others are chosen for us--parents, siblings, and children.  And yet despite the fact we didn’t pick them, we love them and will even die protecting and defending them. 

Why?  Why do we love our families so much?  Especially when they have the ability to drive us the most crazy?  I think it’s because we love whom we serve, and serving our families teaches us to love as Christ did.  It’s also why we mourn the loss of a family member so deeply. 

Johnny said after we learned of Michelle's passing, “It will be so weird to walk into the Frary’s home and not see Grandma.  She was always the first person I saw.”  I know her absence has been felt this week and will be felt for quite some time. 

I remember when my mother died many people offered condolences by saying, “I’m sorry for your loss.”  The first time I heard it I was rattled.  “Loss?  I didn’t lose her.  It’s not like I misplaced and can’t find her.  I know exactly where she is….
her spirit is alive and well, and she’s happy to be free of her broken body.”  

Brent L. Top, the author of several books on death, said, “Death is the opening of another door in our eternal existence.  Without minimizing the sadness that occurs with the loss of a loved one, I like to think of death as walking from one room in the house to another.  Doors open and doors close, but we are not really “gone” at all—we’re just in a different part of our home.”

When I think of Michelle in her Second Act, I remember someone who showed her love by quietly serving.  She had a hard time keeping still.  Even when her body started to slow down, she wouldn’t quit and kept serving.   

Now Michelle has moved on to the Third Act by leaving this mortal life and she is alive and well.  I love how our former prophet Spencer W. Kimball describes what happens during the Third Act. 

The meaning of death has not changed. It releases a spirit for growth and development and places a body in the repair shop of Mother Earth, there to be recast, remolded into a perfect body, an immortal glorious temple, clean, whole, perfected, and ready for its occupant for eternity.”

Today Michelle’s body will be put to rest in what Pres. Kimball calls the repair shop.  Mother Earth will surround it and care for it.  But her spirit is still very much alive.  In D&C 138:33-34 we learn that she is now being "
taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and all other principles of the gospel that [are] necessary for [her] to know."

She is learning who she is, and whose she is.  She will have the opportunity to accept this gospel and her ordinances can be performed on her behalf by someone here on earth. This is why we call the Gospel of Jesus Christ, good news.

The good news is there is a happy ending for Michelle, and for all of us because of Jesus Christ.  He has shown us the way.  Because of Him, after we die, we will be able to continue loving and serving our families. Not in the imperfect way we have tried to here on earth, but as resurrected beings whom have become perfected by Jesus Christ.  

I think that on days like today, more than on others, we are cognizant that one day our own curtain will close and our second act will end.  Sometimes this can make us feel like I do when I’m watching a movie.  We want to push pause because the pain is too much to bear, or we are filled with regret.   But I testify to you that if we could somehow pause our life and look to see where the marker is, we still have at least 20 minutes.  We are still in the Second Act.  We still can look forward to when we reunite with our families, reunite with our Heavenly Father, and get our happy ending.  

'Of Such Is The Kingdom Of Heaven' by Del Parson

To learn more about our life before we came to earth and what happens after we die, visit or contact the missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies in the World

One day, I loaded my 5 little kids in my mini-van and drove up to Salt Lake City to visit my friend, Teri.   She had just moved to a new place with a huge backyard.  Between the two of us we had 10 children under the age of 8.  I was looking forward to a chance to reconnect with my dear friend now that we lived about 45 minutes apart.

When we arrived she had fresh, homemade chocolate chip cookies for us.  I was amazed, I was about to double the amount of children in her home, and she took the time to make us a treat.  I should have been the one to bring a treat, except I don't make cookies.  

We grabbed a couple lawn chairs and positioned ourselves so that we could watch our children play together and visit.  I told her how amazing her cookies were.  

"I can give you the recipe if you want," she said.  

"Oh, thanks, but I'm not very good at making cookies," I said.  

"No, trust me, this recipe is really easy, no one can mess it up."

"Teri, trust ME.  I always manage to find a way to mess up a good cookie recipe."  

But Teri insisted that I would be able to make these delicious chocolate chip cookies.  Turns out I didn't need a good recipe, I just needed more detailed directions.  Thankfully, Teri was willing to take the time to patiently tell me HOW to make cookies, not just what ingredients go in them.

Because we were outside, I grabbed a piece of paper from a notebook I had and jotted down the ingredients.  That little piece of paper has survived 2 houses, multiple spills, and being inserted in different sheet protectors and recipe books.  

You'll notice I have two other recipes on it too.  These are the only three cookies I ever make, but Teri's Chocolate Chip cookie recipe is the one I probably make 90% of the time.  FYI, that oatmeal recipe is Teri's too.

You'll also notice the recipe has no directions, somehow I was able to remember what she told me and I've never forgotten what she said. I have never written them down.  

Until now.  

You see, Teri was tragically killed in a car accident last Saturday.  And as a tribute to her, I want to share what she told me on that beautiful sunny day in her backyard.


Before I begin the directions, I want to recommend that you use the mise en place techinque.  It really does make a difference, and is a great way to get your kids involved too.  For mise en place you need good prep bowls.  My favorite prep bowls are from Williams Sonoma.   Even if you aren't someone who likes to shop at Williams Sonoma, I recommend you get these bowls.  You'll be glad you did.  Now let's get cooking! 

2 cubes of butter 

Teri told me that the butter needs to be soft enough to whip it.  I use Costco salted butter, but I imagine any butter would be fine as long as it is real butter.  I have learned that microwaving the butter to soften it does NOT work.  What I do is set the butter out the night before so that it is room temperature when I'm ready to make the cookies.  

My favorite tool for making cookies is my Kitchen Aid, but I also have used a hand mixer.  What I have learned is that the butter needs to be whipped without any other ingredients before anything else is added to it.  This is critical.

2 eggs
I use large eggs at room temperature.  When I set out the butter the night before, I set out 2 eggs as well.  In fact, I like to have a small bowl of eggs next to my Kitchen Aid so that whenever I decide to bake, I have room temperature eggs waiting for me.

I add my eggs to the whipped butter one at a time, and make sure each is beaten really well.  I crack the egg in a separate small bowl so I don't get shells in the batter.

1 1/2 c. brown sugar 
Brown sugar and white sugar give you VERY different cookies.  Mixing brown and white sugar give you VERY different cookies.  I have tried them all, and I like how cookies with made with only brown sugar turn out.  Teri knows what she is doing here.

I store my brown sugar in an airtight container.  If my sugar is starting to harden up, I like to add either an apple slice, or a piece of white bread to keep it moist.  If you are pressed for time and have hard brown sugar, you can pop it in the microwave for a few seconds and it will soften right up.

Add the sugar after the eggs and continue to whip until it is smooth and creamy.  I don't know about you, but this is when raw batter tastes the best to me, I could eat it at this stage all day long.

2 tsp. vanilla
I have learned that real vanilla is best to use.  The absolute best vanilla I have ever added to my cookies came from Haiti.  So if you know anyone who is going to Haiti, ask them to pick up some vanilla at the Port Au Prince airport for you.  Otherwise, get real vanilla at Costco or on Amazon.  But most importantly, don't buy that imitation stuff--that is just nasty.

I haven't really found a wrong time to add the vanilla flavoring, except before whipping the butter.  I like to add my mine after whipping the eggs and sugar.  This picture shows me adding it after the brown sugar.

2 1/2 c. flour 
Okay folks, let's talk flour.  Flour makes a huge difference in your cookies.

I don't use wheat flour.  I love to make wheat bread, but not wheat cookies.  They are just aren't the same.  I use Lehi Roller Mills turkey flour.  It's my favorite.

Measuring flour by volume is not very accurate.  The temperature and the humidity of where you are, will determine how much flour fits inside 2 1/2 c.  And if you are measuring it in a half cup 5 times, you'll be way more off than if you measure it in one cup twice and a half cup. 

So my advice is to start with 2 c. flour and then slowly add the last 1/2 c. but stopping once it "looks right."  But when does it look right?  That's why Teri made such amazing cookies, I believe she had an instinct for when it looked just right.  I don't know how to accurately describe what that looks like but I can say this.  Make cookies over and over.  After you have added the flour, make a mental note of how it looks, even take a taste.  Then make a mental note of how your cookies turned out.  If you do this enough times, you'll develop your own instinct for how much flour to add.

Another trick with the flour is you don't want to over mix.  Once I add my flour I give myself a "stir allowance."  Once the flour is mixed in, I'm only allowed to stir it a few more times.  If I overbeat it, the cookies won't be chewy.  Note, if you are using a Kitchen Aid, when mixing in the final half cup, slow the motor way down.  

1 tsp. soda 

This is referring of course to baking soda, and not carbonated water.  Baking soda and baking powder are not the same thing.  I have seen several recipes that call for baking powder.  They make a different cookie.  Additionally, baking powder can lose it's rising agent over time, but I've never seem to have "stale" baking soda.  I'm a huge fan of only using baking soda, and because that's what Teri told me to do.  

The trick with adding the baking soda, is that you don't want to add it to the wet ingredients, and you don't want to add it after the flour and blow your "stir allowance."  

So this is what I do.  I add my 2 cups of flour, and before I mix it in, I add the teaspoon of baking soda on top.  That way it doesn't touch the wet ingredients but can get mixed in with the rest of the flour.

2 cups chocolate chips 

You didn't think the last step is as simple as throwing in 2 cups of chocolate chips, did you?  Of course not!

First of all, don't use milk chocolate chips, and don't use dark chocolate chips.  You want the good ole semi-sweet.  It's the perfect mix of flavor and what I call "meltiness."  While I don't like to eat semi-sweet chips out of the bag, once it is baked into a cookie it has a different flavor that makes a cookie taste great.  

My favorite brand is Nestle Toll House.  I know that sounds cliched, and maybe you have a brand you like better.  But after trying all the fancy brands, I came back to Nestle.  They know what they are doing over there.  

Now remember the "stir allowance?"  These chips are going in after you have mixed in the flour.  I used to try to really mix the batter to get an even distribution of chips for each cookie.  But I don't do that any more.  Now I sprinkle in the chips and stir it maybe once or twice to coat the chips.  It's true, some cookies get more chips than others, but that's called life.

I say, "Let the chips fall where they may!"  

Life is too short to worry about an even distribution of chips.  

Bake at 350 degrees on a cookie sheet

Every oven is different.  Some ovens run hotter and colder than others.  You can try to calibrate your oven, but keep in mind altitude affects how your cookies bake as well.  I used to live at almost 5000 sq. ft, and now I'm at sea level.  So even if I am at a true 350 degrees, my cookies are going to bake differently.  

Not only does temperature vary, but so does the type of heat.  I have three ovens in my home in Utah.  When making cookies, I always choose the one that has the convection feature.  I like how the little fan in the back evenly distributes the heat.  Here in New York City, I have a gas oven.  It changes which rack I'm willing to put the cookie sheet on and whether I'm willing to cook more than one sheet at once.  

In Utah, I just use my old beat up jelly roll pans I got as a wedding gift 25 years ago.  I bake my cookies on a silicone mat so that I don't have to grease the pan.  Before, I would use the wrapper of the butter to grease my pans.

Here in NYC, I splurged and got the Williams Sonoma gold cookie sheets.  I really like them and will probably buy some for my Utah home too.  They are insulated and have a lip that makes it easy to get them in and out of the oven, but the lack of edges makes it easy to get the cookies on and off the sheet.

This is my favorite size of cookie.  I try to make it the size of the inner circle on the silicon mat.  I added this penny to give it some perspective.

for 8 minutes 

Okay, this where I really failed as a cookie maker.  I was baking them for way too long.  

This is the secret that Teri taught me that changed my cookies forever.  Are you listening?  

Take the cookies out of the oven before they are done cooking.  

That's right, BEFORE.  

Teri told me that you want to watch your cookies and wait until they are cooked on the outside and bottom, but not in the middle.  Then she said I should take out the cookies and let them rest for 2 more minutes on the cookies sheet.  The residual heat will cook the inside of the cookie without burning the outside of the cookie.  

"But what if the batter on the inside doesn't get cooked all the way through?"  I asked Teri. 

"It doesn't get cooked all the way through, that's what keeps the cookies chewy." 

"But then my kids will be eating raw dough in their cookies!"

That's when Teri looked at me like, "Oh give me a break, like you don't eat let them raw dough already?"

And that's why Teri's cookies are so good.  They aren't cooked to a crisp, it's more like eating baked cookie dough.

There is a restaurant in Orem, Utah called The Chocolate that pretty much does the same thing.  They sell what's called a Cazookie.  It's chocolate chip cookie dough baked in a cake pan, but only for 15 minutes.  The outside is cooked, but the inside is delicious gooey cookie dough.  They serve it with a scoop of ice cream on top.

Again, this is something that will take lots of practice to get your oven temperature and cooking time just right.  But the trick is to take them out sooner rather than later and let them keep cooking on the stove top for 2 more minutes.  

After the 2 minutes is up, place them on a wire cooling rack to cool.  If they aren't going to be eaten right away, seal them in a ziploc bag or else they will dry out.

Here's the bottom of the cookie.  This is the very darkest I would be comfortable with.  

Other Tips 

Here are some other tips I have learned after making Teri's recipe multiple times.  

  • Don't double the batch.  For some reason it seems to mess everything up.  If you need to make lots of cookies, make one batch at a time.  
  • Don't refrigerate the dough.  Even if you take the dough back to room temperature, they just aren't the same.  I think it might have something to do with the whipped butter.  
  • Don't go crazy with the chocolate chips.  I buy my chocolate chips in large bags from Costco, and I rarely use a full 2 cups, which would be equal to one 12 oz bag.  Too many chips affects the baking time and texture of the cookies.  
  • Don't put cookie dough on a hot cookie sheet.  This messes up the cooking time.  Wait for the sheet to cool before you bake more cookies.  I find that 5 to 6 minutes is enough.  
  • Don't bake angry.  I'm not kidding, whenever I begrudgingly make a batch of cookies, they never turn out.  I think that is also why Teri's cookies were so good.  They were always baked with love. Every single time.  Love really is one of the ingredients, but you can't buy it at the store.  
Here's Teri's Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe so that you can copy and print it.

Teri's Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 c. butter (2 cubes) whipped at room temperature
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
2 tsp. real vanilla
2 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Whip the butter, then add eggs one at a time and continue whipping.  Add brown sugar and whip until thoroughly mixed.  Add vanilla.  Mix in flour and baking soda and stir until combined.  Add chocolate chips.  Divide into 24 portions.  Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes and let rest on the cookie sheet for an additional 2 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight bag or container. 

Note: Product endorsements are my own.  I did not receive compensation from Kitchen Aid, Costco, Nestle, Lehi Roller Mills or Williams Sonoma.  (But I should!) 

To learn more about my horrible attempts to make cookies and Teri's willingness to teach me, click on the story below.

How I Learned to Make Chocolate Chip Cookies at the Age of 33. 

To learn more about my beautiful friend Teri, click on the story below.

Teri Taylor -- Master Chocolate Chip Cookie Maker

To help with Teri's funeral expenses donate here.  

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Teri Taylor - Master Chocolate Chip Cookie Maker

 I just learned that my dear friend Teri Taylor was killed in a car accident yesterday.

To see the news article, click here  

As hard as it is to believe that I had 5 kids in 6 1/2 years, it's even harder to believe that so did someone else, and at the exact same time as me.  When we met and compared the ages of our kids, we were in shock.  All of our kids were born within a few months of each other, and we were both pregnant with our fifth--due just weeks apart.

So of course we joined forces.  We traded our kids one day a week.  I took them on Wednesdays, and she took them on Fridays.  Our kids each had a buddy to play with, and we joked how we got more done watching 10 kids then watching just our own 5 kiddos.

She is the reason why I make really good chocolate chip cookies.

To read the story of how she taught me how to bake cookies, click the title below.
"How I Learned to Make Chocolate Chip Cookies at the Age of 33." 

She is the reason why Sacrament Meeting was so adventurous.

To read the story of when our 10 children almost took over the meeting, click the title below.
"We Don't Play Hide and Seek at Church!" 

She is the reason why I attempted to can apricots, which resulted in me writing a story titled "$99 Apricots" that was published.

You can now get this book on Amazon for one penny!
But aside from all of our adventures in baking, worshiping, and canning, what I treasured most about our friendship was that she understood me in a way that no one else could.  We were in the trenches together doing our best.  This was before the days of the Internet that can provide resources and support to young moms.  Before we met, we felt alone raising so many little ones all at once.   We never doubted for a second that God put us in the same neighborhood just as we gave birth to our fifth and last child.  He knew that we would need each other to get through the next year.

And what a year it was.  Here's a summary of all the things I did the year I lived close to Teri.  I'd say about 80% of the list was either with her, because of her, or she watched my kids so I could do it. 

    visited by 31 people out of state
26 from Mesa, Arizona (were we had recently moved from)
3 from New Mexico
1 from Oregon
2 from Tennessee
2 from Romania
·         made 7 trips outside of our own state
·         made 14 trips to the airport (no surprise with all those visitors)
·         hosted or attended 17 parties
·         took advantage of Utah’s recreational facilities
6 times up the canyon (we were the only hikers we met with 5 small kids)
6 times swimming
5 visits to Temple Square
4 musical performances
7 dance classes
12 soccer games
4 trips to parks (how sad, we went to the airport more times than to parks)
5 trips to the zoo
2 trips to the Utah Fun Dome
1 trip to Lagoon
1 parade (I'm not a big fan of parades, but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say that in Utah)
1 Utah Jazz game
·         took advantage of Utah’s medical facilities
about 20 doctor appointments
2 stays at St. Mark’s hospital
1 stay at Primary Children’s Hospital
2 surgeries
1 trip to the emergency room (my son learned the hard way that you can’t nap inside of a dresser drawer)
·         entered two Halloween costume contests and won prizes worth around $700

Eventually I moved away with promises to stay in touch, and we did for a while.  Then she moved to Oklahoma, and our growing families took over our busy lives.

Fortunately we were able to reconnect a few years ago.  By this time our older children were serving missions and learning how to become adults.  My oldest was living in her town and she was kind enough to feed him Sunday dinners and look out for him in a way that I couldn't so far away.  She even fed him some of those famous chocolate chip cookies.  

This morning before I knew of Teri's accident, I bore my testimony at my church's congregation.  I talked about the death of my mother almost 2 years ago.  I said that the word "dead" doesn't really accurately describe what happens when we graduate from this life and move to the next life.  I said, "It's not like they are a lifeless blob waiting around for the resurrection.  They are active, busy, and helping us but from the other side."  

I have no doubt that is true for Teri.  I hope that at some point she and my mom have a chance to meet, even if it's just to laugh about how horrible I am at baking cookies and canning apricots!  

I will miss you, my dear, sweet friend.  Until we meet again!  

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Parable of the Shoes: Lessons Learned from a Missionary Mom

Today I lose one of my most cherished titles, "Missionary Mom".  A title I've had for 4 years, 1 month, 3 weeks and 1 day.  And the reason why I've had this title for so long is because my three oldest children were born in less than 3 years.

And they all served LDS missions.

To read more about an LDS mission, click here.  

My oldest left, September 19, 2012,

then my daughter left March 5, 2013,

and my second son left Nov. 5, 2014.

As I prepare to say goodbye to this title, and hello to my son after 2 years, I'd like to share this parable that came into my mind this morning.


Becoming a Missionary Mom is like purchasing a new pair of shoes.

 You've been looking at these shoes in the window for a long time waiting for the day when you can buy them.  You long to wear these shoes; you imagine what life will be like with these shoes, and you hope you get to have these shoes for a long time--at least 18 months to 2 years.

Finally the day arrives when you can walk into the store and buy the shoes.  Everyone tells you how wonderful the shoes are, and you agree. You wear your shoes wherever you go, enjoying all the compliments and praise you get for the shoes.

But quickly, the shoes start to feel tight and uncomfortable.  You can't understand why.  They fit perfectly in the store, why are they bothering you now?

The next time you receive a compliment on your shoes, you confide that they actually are hurting your feet a little bit.  The person responds, "You should just be glad that you have shoes on at all."  You look down and realize that this person is barefoot and longs to wear shoes like yours.  You feel bad for complaining about your new, beautiful shoes.

One day you see a woman wearing the same shoes as you, except hers are worn-out and weathered.

"It looks like you've been wearing your shoes for a long time," you say.

"Oh yes, I love these shoes, I'll be sad when I have to take them off and store them in the closet, but it will be nice to wear some different shoes too." she replies.

"I know that one day I'll take off my shoes too, but that seems so far away.  I feel like I'm going to have to wear these shoes forever."

"Trust me," says the woman, "you'll be taking them off sooner than you think.  I feel like I just put these on yesterday."

"But they are so painful, and I don't feel like I can tell anyone because I should just be glad I get to wear these shoes."

The woman puts her hand on your shoulder. "Your shoes don't have to hurt, you just need to break them in."

"But how do I do that?"

"Let me share 5 things you can do so that these shoes will be comfortable for you to wear the next 2 years.

1. Stay present.  Don't count how many days you have owned the shoes, or focus on how many days until you can take them off.  This will distract you from enjoying today, a day you get to wear your shoes. Some parents have to take off their shoes much sooner than they expected, so consider each day with the shoes a gift.

Countdown calendars can be fun, but they can also make you miserable.  If you are feeling like time is dragging on or sad about your child on a mission, stop counting down for a week and see if it helps.  And don't remind the missionary how long they have or how long they've been out.  They need to focus on the work at hand. 

2. Don't worry about your missionary's shoes.  Your missionaries are going to have shoes that will hurt their feet and might even cause blisters or make them bleed.  That's okay.  Those are their shoes.  Your child has a Shoemaker, and it isn't you.

Don't freak out when you child goes through trials.  That's the point.  My kids had horrific experiences on their missions.  Of course I wanted to fly in and rescue them, but my missionaries have a Savior, and it isn't me. 

3. Document what it is like to wear your shoes.  Write your missionary each week and tell them what it is like to walk in your shoes.  Put a copy of those letters or emails in a special place because they are part your story, not just your missionary's story.

If you use Gmail or Outlook, you can create an email rule that will automatically label your emails to your missionary and archive them in a special folder. 

To find out how to create email rules, click here. 

4. Respect the rules.  Don't think you don't need to follow the instructions you got at the store when you purchased them.  You need to waterproof them.  You need to shine and buff them.  You are no different than any one else wearing these kind of shoes.  If you follow all the rules, it will not only help you break in your shoes, but also help your missionary break in his or her shoes too.  

Don't send your missionary extra money.  Don't talk to them on Mother's Day for 4 hours.  Don't send weekly packages.  Teach your missionary to follow their mission rules by being committed to keep them as well.  

5. Use your shoes.  Your missionary received a manual on how to care for shoes, you have a copy of that manual too.  Read it.  Find out how your missionary is using his or her shoes, and try to do the same over here.  Even though you are separated from your missionary, you'll feel like you are right next door.

Study Preach My Gospel as part of your scripture study.  Share the gospel with strangers and friends.  You may not have a black name tag, but you are a missionary too.  

"Thanks for the tips," you say.

"No problem," she says.

You look down at her feet and see her shoes are more worn out than you had initially noticed.  One sole has duct tape on the bottom.  "Why does your shoe have duct tape on it?" you ask.

"Oh that's from when I found out my son had a sore on his leg that got infected.  Someone cut out the infected tissue using a knife in his living room.  When I found out, I was so upset, I broke the bottom of my shoe."

"Why are your shoelaces different colors?"

"I found out that my daughter was living in a place infested with rats and my son's place had maggots crawling out of the carpet.  I kept taking off and putting on my shoe trying to decide whether to fly down there to bring them back home.  I untied my shoe so many times, the shoelace broke."

"I didn't see all those spots on your shoes until now.  What are those?"

"Those are tears.  I have cried both tears of sorrow and tears of joy.  But for some reason the joyful tears are the ones that seem to leave a permanent mark."

As the woman walks away, you look down at your own shiny, new shoes.  They don't seem quite so tight anymore.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Strive for Joy

One of my most popular posts in my blog is when I confess that my husband doesn't make me happy.

To read the post, click here.  

My guess is that the title causes people to ask:

1. Why would she admit something so personal?

2. A certain Englishman seems like a pretty decent guy, why what's wrong with him?

I can assure you nothing is wrong with a certain Englishman, he is a great guy.

To find out how he got the nickname, a certain Englishman, click here.  

My other guess is that when you read "my husband doesn't make me happy" you focus on the word happy.

But read it again, only this time pay attention to a different word.

My husband doesn't make me happy.

See the difference?  I don't look to my husband as my source of happiness, because if I did, he'd also have to be the source for my sadness.  Instead, I try not to look for happiness at all.

I strive for joy.

LDS Apostle President Russel M. Nelson spoke at the Sunday morning session of General Conference in October 2016.  His talk was titled, "Joy and Spiritual Survival"

To read his talk, click here. 

Notice his talk isn't titled, "Joy and Spiritual Enhancement" or "Joy and Spiritual Boost" or even "Joy and Spiritual Good Ideas"; he used the word SURVIVAL.

This tells me that if we don't want spiritual death, we need joy.

He warns us that we should avoid anything that could cause us to interrupt our joy.  Since our joy should be rooted in Jesus Christ, anything that goes against the Savior's doctrine can prevent us from feeling joy.

I would like to submit to you three things that I think could be considered interruptions to joy.


You are probably wondering why I think happiness interrupts joy.  First, we need to figure out how these two words differ.

Merriam Webster defines happiness as an experience that makes you happy, and it defines joy as a source or cause of delight.

Since they sound pretty much like the same thing, I think we tend to use them interchangeably in the English language. But I think we should reserve using the word happy for moments that are fleeting and joy for a continual feeling.  Can we feel joy and sadness at the same time?  I think so.  Just ask these two.

Disney's 2015 movie Inside Out
I love how this movie shows us we don't need to be afraid of sadness nor constantly strive to be happy all the time.

While it's great to be happy, it's not very realistic to be happy all the time.

Just ask marriage and family therapist Christine S Holding.

To read more about Christine's practice, click here. 

At the 2015 BYU Women's Conference, Christine told a powerful story.  She said that her client list was filling up with young LDS brides who had been married about 4 to 5 months.  They would come into her office and cry, "Something is wrong with my husband.  He doesn't make me happy anymore."

She would then reply, "Why do you think your husband is supposed to make you happy?"

"Because my Church leaders told me that if I earned my Personal Progress Award, found a returned missionary, and got married in an LDS temple, I would be happy.  I have done all those things, and I'm not happy, so it must be my husband's fault."

Then she told a powerful story.

One day she was invited to go ice climbing up the face of Bridal Veil Falls in Provo Canyon.  Which looks something like this.
While Christine is extremely athletic and loves to hike, this activity was daunting for her.  She couldn't see how she could scale an icy wall without falling.  She was shown the rope that she would be attached to and promised that it would prevent her from falling.

After getting secured to the rope, she proceeded to climb the wall.  Sure enough she slipped and lost her grip on the ice.  To her surprise, instead of falling to the bottom, the rope grabbed her and she swung out and away from the mountain.  She kicked her way back towards the mountain, and using her tools, was able to start climbing again.  No sooner than she got back on the mountain, she lost her footing, and swung out again.

While she was able to gain confidence in the rope, she didn't feel like she was making much progress up the mountain.  She would do her best, but kept losing her grip and swinging away from the mountain.  She'd kick her way back and try again.

And then to her surprise, she saw the top.  What she didn't realize, was that she had been making progress every time she kicked her way back to the mountain.

She told us that marriage is the same.  It is a relationship of two individuals who make mistakes and will slip and fall.  But we have a rope, and that rope is Jesus Christ.  If we never let go of the rope, we will be able to stay on the mountain.  If we keep kicking our way back to the mountain we are resilient.  She said that it is that resiliency that will eventually get us to the top.  She counseled us to try to have a resilient marriage instead of a happy one.

I think this analogy can apply to more than just a marriage.  Really, just about any relationship we have is made easier if we are willing to stay anchored in Christ.

In the New Testament, we read in James 1:2

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;

At first glance, this scripture can be confusing.  We should be joyous when we fall into temptation?  That doesn't make much sense.  But if you look up the definition of temptation in the 1828 Webster Dictionary, you'll see that temptation used to also mean trial.  That means that even when facing adversity, we can still feel joy.  

That doesn't mean we should minimize our trials or, even worse, ignore them.  Some of our trials can be very serious and require major intervention.  But no matter what causes us to fall off the mountain, we can keep trusting our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and that brings us joy.  

To read more about adversity or trials, click here.  

So my first recommendation is to 



My interest in self-esteem began years ago when my kids were little.  I was visiting a girlfriend and our kids were playing together in the backyard.  Her 4-year-old daughter came running in and told her mom that her brother had hit her.  

My friend stroked her face and said, "You are so pretty."  

Confused, her daughter ran back outside.  

I was confused as well.  "Why did you say that to your daughter?"

"When I was little, my parents didn't do anything to give me self-esteem, and I don't want that to happen to my daughter." 

I didn't say any more, but I wanted to ask, "But didn't you just teach your daughter that it's okay if a boy hits you as long as you're pretty?"  

Her comment started me on a quest to learn more about self-esteem.  And this is what I've learned.  

  • Self-esteem is combination of confidence and competence, just telling someone they are good at something doesn't create self-esteem, they actually have to know they are good at something (and be right). 
  • Self-esteem is how one feels about oneself.  If a mom tells her child how wonderful she is, the daughter will have mom-esteem not self-esteem. 
  • High self-esteem and low self-esteem have something in common, focusing on oneself, and doing that interrupts joy.  

One of the popular LDS Face to Face series featured Apostle Elder David Bednar and his wife.  During the event, a question was asked by a girl who felt like she wasn't pretty and wanted advice on how to improve her self-esteem.  

Sister Bednar's answer should be heard by every teenager who is struggling with their body image or popularity.  

To view her answer, click here.  

Sister Bednar's answer confirmed what I've felt all along.  We shouldn't be building our self-esteem, but identifying our individual worth.  Individual worth is understanding our inherent value as a child of a loving Heavenly Father. 

In fact, if you look for self-esteem in the LDS youth programs, you won't find it mentioned in the Young Women values, the Duty to God booklet, or in the Strength for Youth pamphlet.  Don't you think that if self-esteem was important, the LDS Church would encourage our teenagers to have it?  

My second recommendation is



It seems obvious that in order to feel joy we would need to have our needs met.  To a small extent, I can see how that would be true.  If we are cold, hungry, and naked, it would be hard to feel joy.  Not to say, that we couldn't, but it would be hard.

What I think is an interruption to joy is not so much having our needs met, but worrying about whether our needs are being met.

Have you ever heard of the hedonistic treadmill?

Essentially it is the concept that no amount of acquiring material items or improving our circumstances will make us happier than we are right now.  Because while a new purchase, job, or house might make us happier for a moment, eventually we'll adjust to the change and go back to the previous state of happiness.

So if more money, a better job, or a better home doesn't create more joy in our life, what will?

Alma, a missionary in the Book of Mormon, offers an idea.

But I do not joy in my own success alone, but my joy is more full because of the success of my brethren... Alma 29:14

How can we get to a point where our joy is more full because of others' successes and not our own?

My friend was kind enough to share this experience with me, which I believe shows the answer.

Later in life, she was surprised to learn that she was expecting.  At 44, she had resigned herself to never having a child.  Being blessed with this amazing gift motivated her to be the best mother she could be.  Within a few short years, she felt like she was failing in her quest.  It was as if her daughter came to earth already knowing all the things she had wanted to teach her.

One day she knelt in prayer and offered a heartfelt plea to the Lord.  "What would you have me teach my child?  She knows everything already!"

The answer came to her clearly and simply.

"Teach her to serve."

My friend got up off her knees and went straight to work.  She started a new branch of an existing nonprofit that teaches young children how to serve others.  One of the young moms heard about her efforts and started a her own nonprofit in her hometown.  That nonprofit is now getting national recognition and children across America are learning how to serve others before they are even potty trained.

Imagine a rising generation that is more concerned about the needs of others than their own.

That is why my last recommendation is to


Finding joy in our life can seem impossible in a world that is riddled with war, pestilence, and corruption.  But we have been promised by many prophets, that it is possible.  Lehi taught us that we exist to have joy.  Former president of the LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley told us life is to be enjoyed, not just endured. And recently our current prophet, Pres. Thomas S. Monson, told us how we can enjoy eternal happiness.

Joy is possible!  Instead of trying to be happy all the time, focus on being resilient.  Don't worry about your self-esteem, try to find out your real value and purpose.  And look to meet other people's needs instead of worrying about your own.

It's true that my husband doesn't MAKE me happy, but I know where I can turn to find eternal happiness.