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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 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.

TERI'S CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE RECIPE 

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.  

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!"  

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.  

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.  

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 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.

1. Avoid HAPPINESS


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.

http://archive.sltrib.com/story.php?ref=/travel/ci_14136118
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 

FORGET HAPPINESS, SEEK RESILIENCY


2. Avoid SELF-ESTEEM


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

FORGET SELF-ESTEEM, SEEK INDIVIDUAL WORTH


3. Avoid PERSONAL NEEDS


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?

https://www.justcurves.net/blogs/news/93795457-5-ways-to-be-happier-every-day

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

FORGET YOUR OWN NEEDS, SEEK TO MEET OTHERS' NEEDS

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.



Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Cinderella and other Dangerous Disney Princesses

Today, my friend told me about a new study conducted by BYU concerning Disney princesses.  They have found that the more girls engage in "princess media" the  more likely they will have low confidence in science and math, be afraid to get dirty, have a poor body image, and seek role models based on beauty.

You can read the full article, "Disney Princesses: Not Brave Enough," by clicking here.  

(Credit: Mark A. Philbrick, BYU Photo)

As I read the findings, I thought, "I knew it! I knew it! I knew it along!"

 I didn't really, yet for some reason I never wanted my daughters to get caught up in the whole Disney princess craze.

You are probably thinking, "Why?  What's the big deal?  It's fun to pretend and play you are a princess."

Don't get me wrong, I did let my girls play dress up.  I just never encouraged them to dress as princesses.

For Halloween, my oldest daughter was Pocahantas.



Which  by Disney standards is a princess.  But unlike so many of the others, her character was strong and independent.

My youngest daughter, named Alice after my grandmother, loved everything Alice in Wonderland.  


So I'm not against dress up and pretend, I just don't like Disney princesses.

And I never have.

I'm not particularly passionate on this subject.  I just didn't like the idea of my kids singing "Someday my prince will come."



It wasn't until I read the BYU study that I remembered why.

When I was in high school, I competed in speech and debate.  One of my best categories was oratory.

You can read more about my life as a speech student by clicking here.

When competing in oratory, you got to know your other competitors speeches really well.  One competitor talked about something called the Cinderella Complex, which is basically a fear of independence and a desire for a man to provide for you.  She said that some women will even stand at a door and wait for a man to come by and open it for her.

Keep in mind this was in 1985.  At the time the only Disney princesses we knew about were Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora, and those movies were released in 1937, 1950, and 1959 respectively.  We hadn't had a new princess movie in over 25 years.

The dolls I played with were:

Strawberry Shortcake
Holly Hobbie





AND
Mandy
Apparently I had a love of floppy hats! 























So when this student stood up and talked about the dangers of getting a Cinderella Complex, I thought who would want to be like the old-fashioned Cinderella?



Most kids were busy thinking of names for their newly adopted Cabbage Patch doll.




But fortunately, I never forgot her speech.

After I graduated from high school, I moved away to college.  I could see the beginnings of the Cinderella Complex with people I went to school with.  This is just a small representation of what I heard on campus.

"I don't know why I have to study biology.  It's not like it has anything to do with being a mother."
~Two freshman walking into Biology 100
"I'm not going to pick a major, I'm just here to get married." 
~One of my roommates 

"Why are you bothering with molecular biology?  It's not like you can do anything with it once you get married."~My fellow male students after I told them what I'm studying.  (I heard this many times.) 

My college years woke me up to the fact that the Cinderella Complex was real... and I didn't want my daughters to get it.

So when my children were born, they weren't allowed to watch Cinderella.  We didn't make a big deal out it, we just didn't own the movie or talk about it.  When my kids played at other homes, if I saw the movie out, I'd just polite ask that it not be shown in my kids' presence.

Extreme?  Crazy?  Out of Touch?  Maybe, but I just didn't want my kids to see a girl's problems get solved by sitting in a room crying while little mice and birds do all the work.




I finally introduced my kids to Cinderella when the movie Ever After was released with Drew Barrymore.  I still think this is the best version of Cinderella out there.  My favorite scene is when Cinderella frees herself from her captor.


This was a movie I could get behind.

Before you call Child Protective Services and report me for depriving my daughters of "feeling like a princess" let me assure you they are just fine.

In fact, they are more than fine.




They are two of the strongest, most independent women I know.



You can read more about my incredible daughters by clicking on the following articles:

My Brave Daughter

You've Done Difficult... Times Ten

You Need to Fail 

Mom, I Want to Go to Princeton

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

You've Done Difficult... Times Ten

Our daughter Alice was invited to speak at her high school graduation because she was one of the top 6 graduates in her class of over 600.  I guess you could say she's a one percenter.




Four days later she headed to Ketchikan, Alaska for her next adventure.  She'll be working there all summer before she goes to college.



As I sat with Alice waiting to put her on two planes and a ferry so that she can live on an island she's never seen with people she's never met, I asked her, "How are you feeling?"
She calmly replied, "I'm nervous." She looked at her watch. "I think I better go through security." A certain Englishman and I watched as she confidently showed her ID, put her backpack on the conveyor belt, and went through the x-ray machine. She never once looked back.
When I got home from the airport, I found Alice's graduation speech still up on the family computer.
"Don’t shy away just because a task seems difficult. When faced with a new challenge that threatens your confidence, look back. You’ve done difficult... times ten. You have already experienced fear, anxiety, stress, and all those delightful scary feelings, but succeeded anyway. Use that to remind yourself you can do it again."
This is a woman who practices what she preaches.

This is the full text of her graduation speech.
Learn From Your Successes
Soon we will deal with something terrifying. It is unavoidable, and can be overwhelming. What is this horrific thing? Decisions. Whether it is picking a major, or simply buying window cleaner, we will be making new decisions, but more importantly, we will be learning to accept what we have chosen. If you’re as worried as I am about making the wrong decisions, then I invite you to look back at your own life.
Years ago I faced a particularly frightening transition in my life.  I was advancing from third to fourth grade. Before the year even began, I was convinced I would fail out of school. I truly believed my life would stop progressing at the ripe old age of 9. To my surprise, the beginning of 4th grade seemed to pick up right where the end of 3rd left off. Hopefully you can tell that I indeed was able to survive 4th grade.
The reason I choose to reflect on this experience is because I am now making another transition in my education. Advancing from one school to the next. I’m not going to lie, I am intimidated and overwhelmed by the change that’s coming. But it helps to think that I was also terrified to do something as simple as starting 4th grade. Or just a few years ago, high school.
We all know mistakes have valuable lessons, but so do accomplishments. It has taken a lot of work to get to the point where we are now. Let’s not underestimate the value of our successes. We did not passively graduate from high school.  We are here because we worked to get here. We saw obstacles and overcame them. We got scared, we cried, but we still went to the first day of school.  
Continue to do great things.  Don’t shy away just because a task seems difficult. When faced with a new challenge that threatens your confidence, look back. You’ve done difficult... times ten. You have already experienced fear, anxiety, stress, and all those delightful scary feelings, but succeeded anyway. Use that to remind yourself you can do it again.
So whether you are trying to decide on a career, pick a major, or are just standing confused in the cleaner aisle of the store, recognize the strength within yourself. Use that strength to propel forward.  We’ve done it before, we can do it again. Alice's sister is also very brave.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Storytellers of the Tribe

The Story Tellers:  We are the chosen ones.
My feelings are that in each family there is one who seems called to find the ancestors, to put flesh on their bones and make them live again, to tell the  family story and to feel that somehow they know and approve.
To me, doing genealogy is not a cold gathering of facts but, instead, breathing life into all who have gone before. We are the story tellers of the tribe.  All tribes have one. We have been called as it were by our genes.
Those who have gone before cry out to us: Tell our story!  So, we do.  In finding them, we somehow find ourselves.  How many graves have I stood before and cried?  I have lost count.  How many times have I told the ancestors you have a wonderful family?  You would be proud of us!  How many times have I walked up to a grave and felt somehow there was love there for  me?  I cannot say.
It goes beyond just documenting facts.  It goes to who am I and why do I do the things I do.  It goes to seeing a cemetery about to be lost forever to weeds and indifference, and saying I can't let this happen.  The bones here are bones of my bones and flesh of my flesh.  It goes to doing something about it.
It goes to pride in what our ancestors were able to accomplish.  How they contributed to what we are today.  It goes to respecting their hardships and losses, their never giving in or giving up, their resoluteness to go on and build a life for their family.
It goes to deep pride that they fought to make and keep us a Nation.  It goes to a deep and immense understanding that they were doing it for us.  That we might be born who we are. That we might remember them.  So we do.  With love and caring and scribing each fact of their existence, because we are them and they are us.
So, as a scribe called, I tell the story of my family.  It is up to that one called in the next generation to answer the call and take their place in the long line of family storytellers.
That, is why I do my family genealogy, and that is what calls those young and old to step up and put flesh on the bones.

Della M. Cummings Wright
Re-written by her Grand Daughter, Della JoAnn McGinnis Johnson
Edited and Reworded By:
Tom Dunn