Tomato Soup Miracles

Several weeks back I was sitting in stake conference when one of the women speaking told a story about taking freezer meals to others. While listening I had the thought that I ought to make freezer meals for my ministering sisters and take it to them for the first day of school. For those of you not familiar with the ministering program – in our church pairs of women are given assignments to watch out for other women in the congregation. We call them ministering sisters and generally each woman in our church has a companion, two sisters she ministers to and two sisters assigned to minister to her. It’s a wonderful way to make sure that every one has someone looking out for their needs and caring for them on a personal level. This freezer meal idea was weird because I felt like I was supposed to do this for the sisters who minister to me and not the ones that I minister to. I tried to brush it off. I thought I was being too suggestible and trying to steal the speaker’s inspiration. Just because that is what this speaker had done didn’t mean it was what I needed to do.

As the meeting went on the thought kept coming back to me, but I kept pushing it off. I tried to think instead about how I could bless the lives of the sisters I minister to, but my mind kept coming up blank. Finally as the last speaker stood up he said that if we’d had any impressions during the meeting that we needed to act on them. His words cut through me. I knew then that I needed to do this so I filed it away.

School starting was still a week and a half off, but I felt like I needed to wait until the first day of school to take these meals. That was a little annoying since for our first day of school we were going to be packing to leave on a family vacation. Also, we homeschool so the first day of school is more of a working day for me than a break. I didn’t really think I had extra time that day. Besides, it was a freezer meal. By definition it shouldn’t matter what day I took it because the whole point was to put it in the freezer and pull it out whenever you needed it. Taking it sooner only meant that it could be helpful sooner as well as later – right? However as I tried to fit it into the week before I couldn’t seem to make it happen. So I ended up pushing it back to the first day of school anyways.

The other weird thing was that I felt distinctly like what I needed to take was Tomato Basil soup. That might not seem too weird, it’s a really yummy soup and not too difficult to make. However it is not something that I had a freezeable recipe for! I’ve made it a lot of times, but it’s not even a crock pot recipe. It’s a recipe that calls for sauteeing and boiling ingredients separately and then blending with a blender before serving. So it didn’t seem like it would be easy to convert for a one step, dump and cook freezer meal. Plus, it’s not the most filling soup it usually requires a sandwich or something to round it out as a meal. It didn’t seem like the greatest all-in-one kind of meal to bring as a freezer meal. I tried to think instead of another heartier recipe that I could easily freeze. I considered making my Chicken Tortilla soup which would have been super easy to put together as a freezer meal – and a much more hearty soup. But every time I thought of it there was an insistent thought that it needed to be Tomato Basil soup. I finally relented and picked up those ingredients.

Finally the first day of school came. It turned out I was able to get a lot of my trip preparations done in the days earlier. I also decided that our first day of school wasn’t going to be academic and we would wait until after our trip to kick off schooling. I surprisingly had time that day. Even still, I was only half convinced that I was actually going to follow through with this. I had promised my kids that we would go get smoothies that morning in honor of their friends starting school and felt like I had other things that needed to be done. However I woke up with the motivation so I told the kids they’d have to wait. In all honesty the whole endeavor seemed doomed. Who makes 8 batches of a recipe in a way they’ve never tested before to give to 5 other families?? But we got it done and in the freezer. I texted my ministering sisters as well as the sisters I minister to and let them know that I had a batch of soup for each of them. Then I headed out with my kiddos to get their first day of school smoothies – despite it being nearly noon.

That afternoon I got a text back from one of my ministering sisters and took her over some soup. I honestly felt so dumb taking over an untested recipe on a day when I was sure families probably had other plans. I almost apologetically handed over the soup feeling like I had done this more for my sake to get the feeling to go away than for hers. When my friend invited me in she told me that their fridge and freezer had gone out and they’d lost all of their cold food over the weekend. They had to wait until the end of the week to get their new fridge and she hadn’t known what she was going to do for dinner that night. The soup came just at the right time so she could have a home cooked meal for her family. I was especially touched to realize that if I had taken the meal the week before (which I’d thought would be more convenient for everyone) then she would have lost it along with the rest of her food. I guess Heavenly Father knew what he was talking about when he said to wait until the first day of school.

Later that afternoon I took a batch to each of the sisters I minister to. I hadn’t felt as compelled to bring them a freezer meal as I had for my own ministering sisters. But I felt like I was doing ministering wrong to take a freezer meal to my ministering sisters and not to the sisters I minister to. So as long as I was making soup they were going to get some too! It was a good excuse to see them and I’m guessing that it was helpful for them to have a meal in the freezer for when they needed it. I felt good about it, however they hadn’t had the same sort of extenuating circumstances that my ministering sister had and I realized that the prompting I had received was right as it was. I was intended to go to my ministering sisters with the soup.

In the evening I was able to take another batch to my other ministering sister. As I’d been preparing the soup I remembered that she’s a vegetarian. My tomato basil soup is one of my only recipes that – if I substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth – is vegetarian. I felt again that I had been guided in what I prepared. We talked for awhile and she told me she was excited to have a home cooked meal as she lives alone and doesn’t do a lot of cooking. I felt glad that I had followed the prompting to make something that she could eat at home that would make her happy. I felt happy to have been able to bless someone in a personal way.

I thought that was the end of the story and honestly I felt like it was more than enough to have been a part of these tiny tender mercies. How cool that the Lord knew what these women needed and had allowed me to take part in it. I finished packing and went on our trip to the Grand Canyon with a full heart.

Later that week I looked at my phone and saw that my second ministering sister had tagged me in a post on Instagram. Curious I signed in and saw that she’d posted that she had just come home from surgery. She posted a picture of the soup all prepared and talked about how having a meal that she could make at home was such a blessing that day so that she didn’t have to go out while she was recovering. You guys – I didn’t even know she was having surgery. But the Lord did. He knew she could really use having something warm and comforting to eat at home that day. He had put in my heart in advance the exact thing that needed to happen so that this woman would have what she needed when she came home.

I felt really humbled by how well the Lord knows us. He knows not only the things we are going through – but the things we *will* go through. He knew to give me enough lead time to psych myself up to make a freezer meal I didn’t know how to make. He knew to hold me off until after my friend’s freezer went out so that the soup wouldn’t go bad with the rest of her food. He knew that I needed to make a meal that was vegetarian. He knew that my ministering sister was going in to surgery and would need something she could eat after the fact. He KNOWS us, and He loves us. He has a plan that is greater for each of us and He is ready to use us to bless the lives of those around us in meaningful ways.

If Not a Mormon, Then What?

In October General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson spoke to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about the name of our church. He asked us to use the proper name of the church when referring to ourselves as members as well as other entities associated with the church. There was a lot of surprise and backlash from this request, especially as it included re-branding several existing entities such as Mormon.org and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir which had very established branding.

Personally, I was happy to hear the re-emphasis on the proper name of the church. I remembered President Hinckley giving a similar charge back in 1990. Even though I was only 5 years old at the time that call had stuck with me. I went back and looked up President Hinckley’s talk. I found this portion especially interesting –

Six months ago in our conference Elder Russell M. Nelson delivered an excellent address on the correct name of the Church. He quoted the words of the Lord Himself:
“Thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (D&C 115:4.)

I was interested that it was Elder Nelson who had originally inspired President Hinckley to give us that charge. Now that same Elder Nelson has the role of President of the church and he’s back saying, “Ok guys, I’ve said this before almost 30 years ago but let’s do this again. Maybe a little louder for those of you in the back?” Far from being something new, this is something he has been saying for literally decades.

All through my school years I was dogmatic about using the proper name of the church. The prophet had asked us to be careful about how we referred to ourselves and it was something that my family took very seriously. In fact all through my growing up years to call ourselves “Mormons” was akin to swearing in our household. All the way through college I don’t think I once called myself a Mormon without having first used the proper name of the church. I remember introducing myself to friends at school and stating my religion as “I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and then if I got a look of confusion I might follow up with “Some people call us Mormons but we don’t really like to be called that.” Believe me, if you’ve had that whispered conversation in French class in the few minutes before the bell rings, while trying not to trip over the many words in the name of our church – it sticks with you 😛

So in 2010 I was a little dismayed to hear that the church was starting a new campaign introducing the website Mormon.org. I was confused that after all these years of really trying to eschew the nickname of Mormons that we were suddenly changing paths. I imagined President Hinckley rolling in his grave at the introduction of this new website.

At the same time, as a web professional I understood the value of taking ownership of the name and search term. Hopefully rather than someone running a google search for Mormons and finding sketchy websites run by detractors from our faith – they could come to our site and see for themselves what we believe. That to me made sense from an SEO standpoint. Ideally we would want people to call us by our proper name but you have to play the hand you’re dealt not the hand you want. There was a lot more “brand recognition” if you will for Mormon – and can you blame people? One word is a lot easier to remember than the whole string that titles our church. We still weren’t calling ourselves Mormons, just using the term as a way to help people find out more about us. That seemed justifiable to me.

If I was dismayed with the introduction of Mormon.org I felt almost betrayed a year later in 2011 with the introduction of the I’m a Mormon campaign. Again, I understood the motives of wanting to take ownership of the term. I liked that the people who worked with the church were saying “Look, there’s nothing bad about being associated with the church, let’s not allow others to take this term and use it as derogatory. It isn’t a derogatory thing to be associated with the church so let’s take this and be proud of it.” I really do think the motivations were pure and good and I think a lot of good came from that campaign. Despite my confusion at the change in course, I am proud of my faith. So I filled out a profile on Mormon.org, stuck an “I’m a Mormon” badge on my blog and proclaimed myself as a “Mormon” on my social media profiles. If this was what our church leaders had approved then I was all in.

Image result for i'm a mormon

After that I dropped the crusade of using the proper name of the church. I had done my part to use the proper name for so long, but if it wasn’t going to be taken seriously even at church headquarters then there didn’t seem to be a point in me taking it seriously either. To be honest, the word Mormon is a lot easier to use. From a brand perspective it’s easy to fit “I’m a Mormon” in a 160 character Twitter profile. To write “I’m a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” takes 63 characters as opposed to 12 – leaving more room to make other statements about why someone would want to follow me. In conversation it’s easier to talk about our community as “Mormons” rather than “members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. In a recent conversation a fellow member used the term Mormons about a dozen times and I didn’t stop her because I recognized the impracticality of adding over 100 words to what she was saying.

Then of course President Nelson reiterated his previous statements about the name of the church. I believe strongly that it was important that the name we took upon ourselves was Christ’s name – not Mormon’s name. I’ve been told in the past that I was not a Christian because Mormons are not Christians. Which bothered me deeply. It’s much more difficult to tell someone who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that they are not a Christian than it is to think that “Mormons” are probably a weird cult that believes in totally out there things.

Logo of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

However, I still struggled with the return to the doctrine. For 20 years I had personally worked very hard to not use the term Mormon and always use the full name of the church – and after all that even the people at church headquarters had given up. I know what a mouthful the name of the church is and how regardless of my willingness to say all of that I knew others – especially those who don’t share my faith – would not be so willing. I feared that this would be destined not to stick just as it hadn’t before.

As I pondered on this I composed in my head an open letter to President Nelson to express all that I’ve posted above and to ask him to inquire of the Lord for an approved nickname for church members. I totally agreed that we needed to eschew the use of the nickname Mormon to describe our people and that it was of utmost importance that the name we use was the name that we took upon ourselves at baptism – Jesus Christ. I knew that the correct term was that we are Christians, but that term is so broad and encompasses many different sects of Christianity – Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, Evangelicals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, 7th Day Adventists, Anglicans, Amish – it wasn’t a term we could claim that would show our differences. We share our belief in Christ with all of these, but each sect has important differences that distinguish us from one another. I wanted to find a short name that could explain who I was that still kept the focus on Christ.

I have a background in marketing so I decided to also take the challenge on myself. I figured it was wise to take a leaf out of the Brother of Jared’s book and present a possible solution, not just a problem 😉 I found it interesting to note that of the different denominations of Christianity, the only one whose nickname involved a direct reference to Christ is the Jehovah’s Witnesses. As I thought through it the best name I could come up with as an alternative for Mormon was Christian Restorationist or perhaps Latter-day Christian. The thing that sets us most apart from other Christians is our belief in the restoration of the priesthood keys, prophets, apostles and all of the things that were practiced in Christ’s church when he led it personally on the earth.

Peter gives Paul the priesthood by the laying on of hands.  Image courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

This is of course what is supposed to be conveyed in the name of our church – Latter-day Saints is supposed to refer to the fact that we are practicing the same religion as the early saints. We are little s saints meaning followers of Christ who have been sanctified through baptism – not big S Saints like those revered as being holy in the catholic church. Latter days refers to the fact that we are just doing this in a more modern time – a latter day from the original church. Unfortunately that gets a little lost on modern ears and saints has been co-opted so much by the Catholic church that to say that you’re a Latter-day Saint sounds presumptuous – as though we believe we are perfect on a level with their revered Saints. Although it should, the name no longer conveys necessary ties to Christ’s name without the rest of the church’s name.

My degree is in linguistics and I understand that languages change through time and meanings of words are not static. You have to express yourself in terms that are understood by the people receiving your communication. Linguistic success is achieved by conveying meaning, not by using the word you like. I was pretty pleased with this moniker of Christian Restorationist with the only problem being that there are other faiths (Jehovah’s Witnesses, 7th Day Adventists etc) that would also fall under that category, but I felt like it at least got closer to the mark. There would be the issue of adoption outside the church, but it was at least a name that was short enough that I thought it had a chance. But I continued to mull over options and mentally compose that letter.

A view of the Draper Utah Temple in the evening. Image courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

That has been rolling around in my brain for several months. Then, a couple weeks back I was sitting in the temple and pondering on names. I was reminded of a post that a friend made on Facebook. She had been reading the Book of Mormon and had gotten to 4 Nephi and read about how after Christ’s visit to the Americas there were 200 years of incredible peace and prosperity among the people. She was bugged that we have over 500 pages of the Book of Mormon that discuss all of their wars and disputes, but only 24 verses that tell us about this time of amazing peace an prosperity. She pointed out that what she really wanted to be reading was all about how they did the peace and prosperity! Twenty-four measly verses wasn’t enough to teach us all that we needed to know about how to achieve that! Her words stuck with me and I agreed with her wholeheartedly. I decided to go back and re-read those 24 verses to see what I could glean out of them. Here were some of the verses that I read –

15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
17 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.

4 Nephi 1:15-17
Christ in the Land Bountiful, by Simon Dewey. Image courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

It struck me that a major portion of what helped the people gain this amazing peace and prosperity was this idea that there was not “any manner of -ites”. They were able to have peace in the land because they allowed what united them – their faith in Christ – to be stronger than what divided them. I went on to read that not only was that what caused their peace, but it was a departure from that which led to their downfall. If you read on you see that the people divide into many different churches with each one focusing on one doctrine or another and ignoring those that didn’t suit them. From there they go from having 200 years of peace and prosperity to (spoiler alert) completely destroying the church and their civilization in the most gruesome ways within the next 200 years.

I pondered on this idea of “ites”. The thought came to me that isn’t this exactly what we do in modern times? Rather than uniting ourselves as followers of Christ under the name Christians, we divide ourselves into our many different denominations. We decide that our differences are more important than our similarities. I had been thinking that the Lord had called us to be a “peculiar people” as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that we needed a name that reflected that. However when I went to look up that scripture I discovered that it wasn’t a calling given to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but it came from the book of Peter in the New Testament. We are peculiar for being Christians, and the name Christian IS what sets us apart.

Image courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

After reading all of this I no longer feel inclined to find a better nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Certainly I would gladly accept one to be able to distinguish ourselves culturally with linguistic efficiency. However, we have taken upon us the name of Christ – we are Christians. That’s enough. If that means that we are lumped in with all of the other denominations of Christianity – well isn’t that wonderful? I don’t believe Christ wants us dividing ourselves, he wants us united in living our faith as best as we can. Yes, your faith might be practiced differently than mine, but that can be as true between members of the same denomination as it is between denominations. If you believe in Christ and are working out your salvation with Him, then I want to stand with you. Whether you wear a cross or a CTR ring. Whether you listen to the pope or the prophet. Whether your baptism was performed with sprinkling or with immersion. I don’t care. We are followers of Christ and that’s the only name we need to take on ourselves.

So who am I? I am a Christian.

I believe in prophets and apostles, both ancient and modern.

I believe in the power of God given to us through the priesthood.

I believe in the scriptures as the word of God given to us to guide us.

I believe in temple ordinances and the power to bind families together forever.

The Resurrected Christ, by Wilson J. Ong Image Courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

But above all else – I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in His atonement to cleanse us from our sins. I believe in His resurrection and that through Him we can all live again. I believe that He is the way, the truth and the light and that all who come unto him can find peace and everlasting life.

I’m a Christian, and I am proud to share that name with anyone else who wants to it take upon themselves.

How I built a library of over 550 audible books without breaking the bank

Maximizing Your Audible Account

How I built an Audible library with over 550 titles without breaking the bank

I’m a major book junkie. I’ve loved reading ever since I learned how to read. I remember as early as first grade staying up regularly until 1am reading quietly in my bed. However, I’ve found that as a mother it’s much more difficult to justify snuggling up in a chair all day with a book – for some reason my kids seem to require a bit more attention than that.  I missed the chance to expand my horizons without leaving my home, but couldn’t justify letting my house become a disaster and my kids run wild while I kept my nose stuck in a book.  

Luckily, I found a wonderful compromise – Audible.  With Audible I can enjoy fantastic audiobooks and still have my escape to other worlds while my hands and eyes can be busily occupied with laundry, dishes, cooking – or any of the other tasks of motherhood.  My husband is a similiar bibliophile but also found his reading taking a backseat. However, with audiobooks he’s been able to turn a monotonous commute into a small escape.  My kids have also really gotten into listening to books, especially at bedtime.  We have Amazon Echo Dots in each of their rooms and they are able to enjoy many wonderful books this way – although it sometimes tends to keep them up later than I would like.  I guess they must be like me after all 😉  To say that we are Audible fans in our household is an understatement – we LOVE Audible around here!

Anyways, over the years I’ve found lots of ways to get the most out of my Audible subscription.  I’ve built up a library of 557 books so far and have done it for surprisingly cheap.  I thought these tips and tricks might be useful to some of my readers, so here we go!

  1. Spring for the Platinum Annual Membership. I know this suggestion might not make sense for everyone but hear me out. Audible has a subscription service – you pay a certain amount of money to get a certain number of audio books on a monthly or yearly basis.  You can sign up to get one or two books a month and either pay for that many books for a year or per month.  The plans range from $14.95/month (for one book credit each month) to $229.50/year.  The platinum membership costs the most all at once, but it costs $5.39 less per book credit than the basic monthly plan.  In 16 months you would have paid the same amount going with a monthly plan but you would have 8 more books with a platinum plan than with the gold plan.  I think this is the hardest part to swallow is that large charge all at once, but I’ll give you some tricks for making that very worthwhile in my next few tips.  Whatever you decide, a membership is definitely the key to getting the most out of Audible but I’d highly recommend the Platinum membership.
  2. Share with a friend.  This is the trickiest tip to do properly, but it can really make that Platinum account make sense.  My husband and I actually have two separate audible accounts, even though we only have one membership.  What we do is have the membership in my name and whenever Eric wants a book that he doesn’t think I’d be interested in having in my library he purchases it on my account as a gift for himself.  He is then emailed a link that he can click on to add that book to his account.  So there are a few ways you could use this.  If you have a spouse, sibling or friend that you’re close enough with to share your Amazon password (and accompanying access to your credit card for purchases on Amazon/Audible) then you can split the cost and share that password.  I’ve also purchased books as gifts for siblings and friends and then had them send me money for it in return.  They get the book at the membership rate and I can more easily justify my Platinum membership 🙂
  3. Never use a credit to get a book that’s less than $9.50.  Ok, do I need to spell this one out for you?  If you credits are only $9.56 each please don’t use a credit to buy a book that you can get for less than that!  As a member you get discounts on the regular prices of books so make sure that you take advantage of those discounts!  Just be careful at checkout to uncheck the box for using a credit because if you have credits that will be the default value!  I’ll tell you later how I get those books for free a lot of the time 🙂
  4. Sign up for Daily Deal emails. Every day Audible discounts a book to $4.95 or less and emails anyone on their list to let them know what the Deal of the Day is.  I’ve gotten LOTS of great books this way!  If you were to try to buy most of these books on CDs it would cost you $30+ so to get the books for less than $5 is pretty awesome.  I probably only find a book that I’m interested in a couple times a month, but it’s well worth following for those couple times a month!
  5. Take advantage of coupon deals.  Frequently Audible will send their members “Buy 4 books get $10 credit” – this probably happens like twice a year.  I *always* take advantage of this!  If you have credits and a wish list it’s easy to pick out your next 4 reads and get a $10 credit.  I then use that credit to buy a few books that are either priced low or on sale.  It doesn’t get any better than free books!
  6. Maintain a Wish List. One of the greatest features about Audible is that if you keep your wish list filled with all the titles that you would like to get if one of them goes on sale they will highlight those books in their emails to you.  It also makes it easy when you’re looking for your next read to go to your wish list and find something queued up 🙂
  7. Browse 3-for-2 sales, $4.95 sales, etc.  Probably about once a month Audible will have a sale of “3 books for 2 credits” or “any of these books for $4.95”.  I always browse these and have found some of my favorite books this way and stretch my credits even farther!  There’s a strong possibility that last month I spent over $90 and bought 15 new books for my kids – but at $4 per title how could I pass it up??  I was able to justify it since I’ll submit the receipts to my kid’s homeschooling charter school 😉
  8. Check for WhisperSync titles. Seriously, even without a membership this is one of the greatest deals ever.  Sometimes the Kindle book will be free but because you “bought” it you’ll be able to get the audiobook for super cheap.  I’d recommend checking out this post on SlickDeals where you’ll find a bunch of books that you can get the Kindle edition for free and then buy the Audible edition for a couple dollars!  You can also check out this page on Amazon to find out what the audio upgrades cost for Kindle books you already own!
  9. Prime Shipping Credits.  To go along with the WhisperSync titles – if you have a Prime membership you will often be given the option at checkout to forego your 2 day shipping and instead be given a $1 credit that can be used on Kindle books.  I almost always will take that offer, then I take those Kindle credits and buy WhisperSync books that I want for free!  That makes the cheap audio addition an even better deal 😉
  10. Holiday Gift Books and Audible Originals Every month Audible has a selection of free books for members!  You can pick up to two of them and I’ve gotten some really fun listens that way.  Occasionally Audible will also give away books for free as gifts for different holidays.  I’ve gotten new books for 4th of July, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and other holidays.  They’re specific titles that might not be something that I would have chosen myself, but it’s been a great way to get me out of my comfort zone and reading something new – and you can’t beat free!

So there are my tips and tricks to get the most out of your Audible membership. If you’ve signed up now and need a good listen you should check out my book recommendations list – I made it specifically from my Audible listens that I’ve enjoyed.  Happy listening!

The Loaves & Fishes and a Review of Unplanned

Never have I been so excited to attend a movie that I so desperately did not want to see. That’s how I felt going into see Unplanned today. I felt that this movie was important to see, I want it to do well and I thought it should be something everyone should go see – but I knew it was not going to be a fun happy experience. In fact, when I asked my husband when he wanted to go see it with me his response was that he really didn’t want to go see it – and I couldn’t blame him. But I still felt like I needed to go see it. I already knew Abby’s story but I felt compelled to go and see it played out on the big screen for myself.

So when I got my 1yo down for his afternoon nap and realized that I could make it to the next showing – that’s what I did. I quickly packed as much chocolate into my purse as I could find (stupid trying to eat healthy meant there wasn’t as much stock as I would have liked), wore my knit shawl as a socially acceptable excuse to bring a blanket into the theater, and left my husband home with the kids. I knew if I hesitated I would talk myself out of going so I just went.

This was my first R-rated movie that I’ve ever seen unedited. While I totally believe that the MPAA only gave Unplanned an R rating in an attempt to tank it – I also think it was deserved. The movie is heavy, though not dark. As someone who does not deal well with blood – particularly medical blood – it was a really hard movie to watch, and there were definitely several times when I found myself hiding under my makeshift blanket while I ugly cried. However, nothing about the bloodiness or the subject matter was gratuitous. It was real, and it told a true story, without overdramatization. But should it be a movie that kids under 18 are seeing without at least parental knowledge? Probably not. At least, I don’t think I would want my kids seeing it without me, though I think there are many lesser rated films that I would be much more opposed to them seeing.

However, while the movie dealt with things that I wished that I didn’t have to know about – there was a great deal of hope as well. Even though I left with a headache from crying so much over much of the heartbreak and horror of the movie – I did not leave feeling sad, or helpless, or overly weighed down. Instead I honestly left feeling hopeful and inspired. Definitely still saddened, but that feeling wasn’t overwhelming because of the hope and light offered in the film.

Many times throughout my becoming more entrenched in the pro-life movement I have felt like there was no hope. Yes, abortion was a terrible evil, but what could I really do about it? It’s legal, it’s not like I could turn these people into the police. Public opinion, at least as portrayed in the media has always seemed so pro-choice. How can you protect babies whose own mothers won’t even protect them? I’m a stay at home mom with 4 kids – I don’t have a fancy law degree, I don’t have deep pockets to lobby politicians. Is there really anything I could do?

I’d heard of several organizations in my own quest to find a way to fight against abortion, and among them was 40 Days for Life. To be honest when I heard what they were about I felt like their whole mission was too hokey and not action oriented enough. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the organization – they sit outside abortion clinics and pray. Their object isn’t to engage or protest, just to pray. Praying is great and all, but if I was going to get involved I wanted to do something – I could pray from home.

In our Come Follow Me discussion last week we discussed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. I’ll give you a recap of the events. Jesus is teaching a multitude of five thousand men (plus women and children) and decides it’s time to feed everyone. The disciples look around and say “uhm, there are 5000+ people here, there’s no way we have that kind of food.” But Christ asks that they find whatever food is there. Finally a little boy comes forward with 5 loaves of bread, and two small fish. I can only imagine how I would feel bringing that kind of offering, “Oh, hey Lord, yeah I know you said you wanted to feed 5000 people but all I have is 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish – not even enough to feed 50 people really and you have 100x that here. But sure, take what I have, I’ll probably be hungry, but go ahead and see what you can make of it.” To be honest, I think I would have felt like an idiot offering that up. It’s probably why the only person who offered up anything was a young boy – he was the only one willing to offer what he had, regardless of how small it was. Then of course the Lord takes that laughably miniscule offering and not only feeds the multitude to satiation, but comes back with 12 baskets full of fragments – not only filling the boy, and the multitude but giving the boy back more than he even started with.

SPOILERS AHEAD. CONTINUE READING AT YOUR OWN RISK. (However, I don’t think the story is a surprise to most of the people seeing the movie so you can probably keep reading. I would just feel guilty not making the disclaimer 😉 )

As I watched Unplanned I was struck with the characters of Shawn and Marilisa. I’m sure they must have felt much like that young boy – “Well, here we are, praying outside of Planned Parenthood again. We’ve been doing this for 8 years and we watch as week after week more women come in and abort their babies. It doesn’t make any difference, but it’s what we have that we can offer up so we’ll keep doing it.” I’m sure the defeat of it all was absolutely crushing, and that they felt heartbroken that they were standing by and doing what seemed like virtually nothing.

But then, after their long years of waiting. After their patience and persistence. Because they had faith, and showed kindness and “love unfeigned” towards Abby – a miracle happened. A miracle that I’m sure they never could have dreamed of. The clinic director who they had gone toe to toe with for so many years suddenly had a change of heart and not only leaves Planned Parenthood, but goes on to create an organization to help get abortion workers out of the industry. And the clinic they’ve been praying over for so many years closes for good.

I felt chastised for my faithlessness. Is not our God a God of miracles? Haven’t I seen those miracles in my own life? I was reminded of this scripture –

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.

Alma 37:6-7

I have decided that I want to be more like the young man in the scriptures. I want to bring my 5 loaves to the Lord and see what he can make of my meager offering. Together perhaps our small offerings can bring forth something great.

If you haven’t seen Unplanned – go see it! Whether you’re ardently pro-life, more on the fence or even if you’re pro-choice – go see it. I’m not promising an enjoyable couple of hours. You will likely have your heart broken and handed back to you. But, you will leave with hope and a new perspective on the love that our God has for each of us. The story is not one of hopelessness, but of hope.

Joining the Lord’s Battalion of Women

Joining the Lord's Battalion of Women - My experiences from following a prophet of the Lord

In October 2018 General Conference President Russell M. Nelson, the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints spoke to the women of the church and gave us some specific invitations to become more direct participants in the gathering of Israel. His invitations were –

  1. Participate in a 10-day fast from social media and any other media that bring negative and impure thoughts to your mind.
  2. Read the Book of Mormon by the end of 2018.
  3. Establish a pattern of regular temple attendance.
  4. Participate fully in Relief Society.

I have been working on participating in those invitations and last night I completed reading the Book of Mormon just in time to be done before the end of 2018! I felt like I ought to take some time to reflect on that experience in particular and then today President Nelson posted on Facebook and invited the sisters to leave him a comment sharing our experience with him. So I thought I might as well make it a blog post since we know that I won’t be able to keep my thoughts that short anyways, and so that I have it preserved for posterity. I’ll take each point in turn.

Participate in a 10-day fast from social media and any other media that bring negative and impure thoughts to your mind.  Anyone who knows me well will not be surprised to know that this was not the easiest challenge for me to accept. I don’t think I consume much negative media – most of the music and videos that I watch and listen to are kids YouTube videos with nursery rhymes and such to keep baby David happy. The only “negative” aspect of those videos are just that they might start to make me crazy from repetitiveness but they’re not going to inspire any sort of impure thoughts. However, I’m a huge fan of social media. I’ve moved many times during my life and I don’t live particularly close to my family. Social media gives me a great way to share life experiences with people who I love who I might not be able to see in person very frequently. I can keep up with friends who live half way around the world. I love having a place where I can document things that are happening in my life and my children’s lives in little bite sized snippets. It’s how I keep up with my local community and get ideas and support for homeschooling, cub scouts and many other things that I’m involved in. The people and groups that I follow aren’t ones that I feel have a negative influence on my life – quite the contrary. So, it would be easy for me to have said, eh, this invitation isn’t really for me.

However, I do have one problem with social media. It is definitely a place that is easy for me to get sucked into and I can easily spend countless hours scrolling through my newsfeed instead of focusing on the tasks and people immediately around me. The media itself is fine but as far as a “good, better, best” determination is concerned – it sometimes is “good” and gets in the way of my doing what is “best”. It helped me a lot when my mom pointed out to me that what President Nelson asked of us wasn’t to give up social media forever, nor did he declare that it was evil and bad and we should never use it again. Clearly that was not his intention if he is now reaching out to the sisters on that same platform to get feedback! However he asked for us to “fast” from social media. Just like we would fast from food – it doesn’t mean that food is bad, but sometimes we need to step away from it and allow other things to fill in that space.

I actually ended up taking the social media fast challenge twice – once over the summer when he gave the challenge to the youth, and again in October when he issued the challenge to the women. I decided that for me it meant deleting Facebook off of my phone as well as Pokemon Go for the 10 days requested. I set some specific guidelines for myself I was allowed to look at my Facebook memories, or post to Facebook if there was something memorable that my kids did or an insight I had. Those particular functions of social media have sort of taken the place of keeping a journal for me and I don’t think the intention was for me to stop journaling. But I didn’t allow myself to check through my notifications, scroll through my newsfeed, or participate in any of the groups that I normally participate in.

The first time I took the challenge I sort of cheated and selected a week when our family was out of town and happened to be where there was poor internet anyways. There was plenty going on to keep me distracted from needing or desiring social media so it was pretty easy and I can’t say I missed it much. However, in October I took the challenge again and it was during just a normal week in my life. I was surprised to realize how many times in a day I would pick up my phone for no apparent reason. I realized that those were all times that I would normally fill in the gaps with Facebook, even if I didn’t have any particular reason to be on Facebook at that time. I always feel like I am so busy and can’t get everything done that I would like to in a day, but somehow I had all of this time where I was just biding my time on Facebook. To be fair, a lot of that time is while I’m sitting around nursing a baby, or motivating kids to clean their rooms, or waiting in preschool pick up lines – but it was still a lot of time.

I tried to channel some of that time into opening up my scriptures app instead, although I found that frequently I was still doing something that required too much of my attention for scripture study. I did find that I could use that time to message people individually that I might not have reached out to otherwise, or complete other tasks that could be accomplished with my phone. I heard some people say that they spent a lot less money while on their social media fast because they didn’t see advertisements for things that they wanted but didn’t need… I had the opposite experience. While I was sitting there I would think of the Sunday shoes that I needed to order for Danny or some blankets that I wanted for our newly completed basement… Amazon greatly benefitted from my ability to focus on the tasks I had at hand 😛 That might seem like a negative thing, but it actually really was a blessing because I got those things done during time that was otherwise wasted and was able to make better use of my other time.

From this experience I was able to go in and adjust what groups I follow and actually unfollowed some groups that – while very positive – were taking up too much of my time. I’ve also been more aware of how frequently I pick up my phone just to kill time. I’m thinking I will make social media fasts a regular part of things I do – just to take a few days or a week off every so often to clear my mind a bit and allow other things to fill in some of that space. Just to help me keep it as a more balanced part of my life rather than allowing it to take over.

Read the Book of Mormon by the end of 2018. As I mentioned earlier in my post, I finished the Book of Mormon last night. One of the things that stuck out to me with President Nelson’s challenge was his invitation to “mark each verse that speaks of or refers to the Savior.” I have been a member of the church for my entire life. I cannot even tell you how many dozens of times I have read the Book of Mormon, studied it in church/seminary/institute, watched the Hill Cumorah pageant, watched the Living Scriptures videos, read the simplified versions, taken BYU courses on it… this wasn’t my first exposure to the Book of Mormon by any means. But I started reading with that challenge in mind and marked any verse that referred to the Savior. I made it about 3 chapters. It was seriously just about every. single. verse.

Friends, I knew that the Book of Mormon was another testament of Jesus Christ. I’ve seen the cover, it says it right there. I know that the climax of the book is when He appears to the Nephites in 3 Nephi and there’s a lot of talk about missionary work and visions and stuff. But did you know that the WHOLE book is ALL about Jesus Christ? Yes, even those chapters in Alma where it seems like all they talk about is war strategies. The WHOLE book. I kind of knew that, but reading through the book and looking for all the mentions of Christ it blew me away that He truly is the center of all of it. The book isn’t about slaying Laban, or building a boat, or burning prophets, or cutting off arms, or stripling warriors, or wars upon wars upon wars. It is about Christ. It is about how He talks to and leads His people. It’s about the love that He has for them. It’s about the changes that people can make when they turn their lives over to Him. I don’t know how I had never seen it that clearly before, I think I’m so familiar with the book that it’s a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. If you haven’t had a chance to read the Book of Mormon, or if you have read it and think it’s a story about the Nephites and the Lamanites, I urge you to take President Nelson’s challenge. Read the book. Look for Christ. He is everywhere in it.

I know this post is already too long, but I wanted to share some of the other more tangential thoughts that I had in some of the stories of the Book of Mormon. Feel free to skip the next little bit if you only want to read about the challenge itself (I’ve bolded the next part of the challenge so you can skim to there or click here), I just wanted to record these other thoughts while I was thinking of them.

One thing that struck me as I was reading in Helaman about the Nephites that were awaiting the sign of Christ’s birth was just the timing of everything. If you haven’t read the Book of Mormon here’s a quick recap – a prophet comes and tells the people that in 5 years there will be a sign of a day, a night and a day where the sun will not go down which will indicate that Christ was born in Jerusalem. The time goes by and when about 5 years is up some of the people still believe and are waiting for that sign but the people in power have decided the time is up and that they’re going to kill all of the believers the next day unless the sign appears. The leader of the believers prays and is told that the sign will come the next day and that Christ will be born – and so it happens. This got me thinking about what was happening at the same time in Jerusalem – Joseph is taking his wife Mary to Bethlehem even though she is great with child and they don’t have a place to stay. This is 100% speculation, but I thought – what if it really wasn’t time for Mary to be having the baby yet? Would Joseph have really taken her on a long journey if he thought she was likely to have the baby during that time or would she have more likely been left at home in the care of her mother or whoever else? Perhaps Mary was only 36 weeks along in her pregnancy and they thought they still had time. What if the whole reason we have the nativity story we have – with a baby in a manger, no room in the inn, and Mary laboring on the back of a donkey while travelling long miles – is because Jesus knew that he needed to make an early entrance into the world to save those who believed in Him, even though they were a world away from where He would be born. Perhaps not only was his death an act of salvation, but the very event of his birth was timed just so to save the lives of those who believed? Again, I really don’t know if that was the case or not, but knowing the mercies of God and how he cares for his people, I could believe that it might be.

I also thought a lot this time through about Mormon abridging these records after everything that he had seen with the Nephites right down to their destruction. When I was reading Helaman 2:13-14 I thought about how Mormon must have felt writing about the Gadianton robbers who would prove to be the overthrow of the whole Nephite civilization. The very destruction of the Nephites that he was witnessing he attributed to the secret combinations and evil doings of these Gadianton robbers. I could just imagine him abridging these records and wanting to reach back through time and wring Gadianton’s stupid neck. To know that the actions of someone who had lived nearly 400 years earlier was the cause of so much wickedness and suffering among your own people must have been just maddening.

I thought of it again as I read through Moroni’s abridgment of the records of Ether and how secret combinations had overthrown that civilization. One of the things that stuck out to me was that the book covers a time span of around 2000 years but only takes up about 30 pages of the book – as opposed to the rest of the Book of Mormon which spans about half that time and takes nearly 500 pages. I know Moroni says he didn’t have ore, but as I read it this was sort of what I imagined him thinking, “This guy takes power, these guys were ok, these guys were pretty good… and then they sucked again, and then got a little better, and then worse. Then we killed all the people and everyone was in prison, and then we broke out, then back in prison… bad guys, good guys… yaknow what, I just don’t care anymore! People just don’t seem to learn.  The more things change the more they just stay the same. AAAAHHHRGGGGHHHH!!!  We just did that whole stupid game over again!  My people are idiots!  We even had their history and we could see it didn’t turn out well, but did we change things?  Noooooo, we just did the whole stupid play over again!” I can only imagine his sheer frustration that all of the good things that his people had done and all the miracles, had once again come to naught because the people refused to learn from history. They say those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. It struck me that this is a very important part of why we study the scriptures – so we can see the same patterns setting up in our own societies and try to stop it. It has made me more conscientious of seeing similar patterns in our own governments and societies. Are we propping up Gadianton’s robbers or are we rooting them out? Are we seeking out leaders who have the Spirit of the Lord to guide them? Do we value our liberty and peace above all else, to the point where we are willing to fight for it?

One last thing that I read that I’d never noticed before was in Ether 4:5-6 it says that the records of the Jaredites will not come forth in the latter days until the Gentiles (us) become clean before the Lord. I always knew those records existed and were sealed. I don’t know how I’d missed before that we will get those records but that we haven’t yet proved ourselves worthy of them. I’m not sure exactly what we need to be doing to prove ourselves ready for those records, but I think it’s a goal that we should probably be putting some effort towards figuring out how we do that. I wonder if we have gotten too complacent as a people and we are as guilty as those who ignore the Book of Mormon because they say “A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.” The Lord has been pretty clear with us that there are records of his people from all around the world. Shouldn’t we be doing more to seek out those records that they might become one in our hands? I love the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price – but wouldn’t it be great if we were able to have the perspective of even more societies and their dealings with God throughout time?

Alright, enough tangents… let’s get back to the invitations from President Nelson –

Establish a pattern of regular temple attendance. I will admit that I have not yet done as well with this as I would like. I have made it to the temple twice since this challenge was made with the help of my mom (thanks Mom! You’re the best!), which is more than I had been making it. But those were both more of one off attendances rather than a “pattern”. I know that what I need to do is set a recurring temple date and stick to it. I’ve been meaning to ask my in-laws if there might be a particular day/time that would work for them to watch our kiddos so that we can have it set on our calendar as a preset time that we go. I know once something is on the calendar it’s harder to take it off than it is to shoehorn something in during the month when things already feel so busy. I love going to the temple. I’m always touched by the love that our Savior has for us and the feeling of connectedness to all the people who have come before me and put me exactly where I am today. I want to do more to pay back all of their sacrifices. I just need to get out of my own way and do it.

Participate fully in Relief Society. President Nelson gave us two specific tasks for this invitation, to read the current Relief Society purpose statement as well as the Relief Society declaration. I will admit that before President Nelson’s talk I didn’t really know that those two things existed, let alone had read them before. Also, I’ve been caught up in the other tasks that we were given and hadn’t taken the time to read these two documents before now. So I did so this afternoon (no time like the present, right?).

I can’t say that I learned anything new as I read through those two documents, however I was given a very strong confirmation of the things I already knew about Relief Society. I am so proud to be part of such an amazing organization. I think that too often we have dismissed the work of Relief Society as being “just making casseroles and centerpieces”. If that’s what Relief Society is then we are shortchanging ourselves! We as women have a vital role within the church and not only is there a place for women in the church but the church cannot be whole without us!

I think too often we look to the priesthood as being the power of the Lord on the earth. However, it’s really only half of the way the power of the Lord is manifest on the earth. Our unique womanhood is not only the power to create and care for babies – that is an important but very small part of what we do as women. We must not let anyone make the work of women seem small because it is not. We have been called to become learned in the scriptures, and have a personal relationship with the Spirit. We build homes and are to celebrate the unique joys of womanhood – not just motherhood, but those things that make us different than men. We are different from men and it is that difference that makes us so crucial to this work. It’s not that one is better than the other but the very play between our differences allows both of us to see things through varied lenses and offer altered perspectives. We sustain the priesthood – but they also sustain us. We need BOTH men and women in this church! We are called to do good works and love life & learning. We are critical in standing for truth and righteousness. Women build communities that are strong and it is our duty to build those communities on righteous principles to lift where we stand. Everything we do as women is to strive for exaltation – not only for ourselves but for those around us. How blessed I am to be a part of Relief Society.

Unsurprisingly, my thoughts on President Nelson’s challenge are long. I just want to say how grateful I am for the invitation to raise myself to a higher standard and put myself out as a part of the Lord’s army. I embrace the opportunity to volunteer myself as one who is willing to be a part of His great work. I want to share my testimony that I know that President Nelson is a true prophet of the Lord. It is clear that it is a calling that he has given himself to fully and I am so grateful for his willingness to guide us in our day and listen to the Spirit and challenge us to be better. I am so grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ and I know that He loves each of us beyond measure. If you haven’t felt of that love or know this for yourself, I would invite you to “come and see”. His promises are there for you every bit as much as they are there for me. He loves you and wants for you to come closer to Him. Thank you President Nelson for inviting us to be a part of this work.

MyTechHigh Reimbursement Tracker

For the past 3 years I’ve been homeschooling my kids.  One of these days I’m going to blog the what, why and how of our homeschooling, but today I just want to share a resource that I put together to help other homeschoolers who use the same charter we do – MyTechHigh.  MyTechHigh has been the most amazing resource for our family.  They function as a provider through a charter school that helps facilitate home education.  The best part is they are very hands off – I’m required to provide course descriptions for my sons’ academic curriculum for the year, turn in weekly learning logs (2 sentences per subject of what they did that week), and either have my boys take the state tests or opt them out.  In exchange I can be reimbursed for their educational materials and classes between $600-1900 each year so long as I get my expenses approved and turn in my receipts on schedule.  What a deal!  They also provide additional academic resources, meet ups, events and field trips that we can take advantage of during the year.  It has been an amazing resource for our family.

The trickiest part in all of this is managing the receipts for reimbursement for my sons’ classes.  I’m given a certain budget for each class based on meeting certain criteria – $150 for custom built classes, $300 for 3rd party classes, math/english/science can be combined if they’re all custom built, but other expenses have to stay in their category, some expenses can only be reimbursed through the tech allowance, certain classes take money away from the allowance etc.  It gets to be kind of confusing to keep track of how much I’ve spent on each boy and each class.  So I came up with a Google Spreadsheet solution that makes the whole process nice and neat that I wanted to share with my fellow MyTechHigh parents in hopes that it will help make other people’s lives easier too 🙂

I’ll include below a step-by-step tutorial on how to use the spreadsheet, but if you want to go rogue and figure it out on your own you can open it up here.  Of course it’s probably also a good idea to open it up for yourself so you can follow along with my tutorial too 🙂  So to start off you’re going to want to make a copy of my spreadsheet for yourself – you can’t edit mine, that would kinda ruin it for everyone else 😉  To do this you go to File->Make a copy…

After you do that a box will pop up asking for a name for this document.  At first I was going to try to make this easy to use the same spreadsheet for multiple children, but it was complicated enough as it was.  You will need to make a separate copy for each MyTechHigh student you want to use this for – so name your spreadsheet accordingly!

Once you click OK your copy will pop up and you’re ready to begin filling it out.  I’ve tried to lock as many of the ranges that you shouldn’t be changing as possible so you don’t accidentally mess up something that you won’t be able to fix.  You will want to start by filling out the Student’s name and then checking whether they are a returning student and if they’re a kindergartner.  Don’t worry about the Reimbursement Sheet inputs for now, we’ll talk about those later.

You’ll notice as you enter in the fields that the numbers at the bottom will start to populate with your technology allowance.  This will also help generate some of the fields that will make sure you choose the right course types.  You’re now ready to start filling in your schedule.  For each period select which type of course your student has (Custom, 3rd Party, MTH Direct) and you can enter in your course description.  To the right of the course description I have a character counter too, just to help you when you’re writing your descriptions to make sure they’re the right length.  The course description isn’t necessary, but I like having it there so that as I’m looking at my expenses I can remember what I have in my course description to make sure that I’m submitting things that are going to fit within those parameters.  You can also just put vague notes as far as your curriculum there for your own reference.  It’s completely up to you, you can even leave it blank, it has just helped me in the past to remember what I’m actually planning to do.

When you select the course type you’ll notice that more numbers start to appear.  In the column labeled “MTH Funds” you will see your maximum allowance for that period based on the course type you selected.  The total tells you the maximum allowance based on the courses you have. Make sure you select whether you’re doing Science or History so that the information gets filled in properly as well.  Here’s what my son’s would look like with his schedule for this year –

The next part is the spending totals.  You don’t need to worry about changing anything there.  This section will update as you enter in your expenses and will tell you how much you have left to spend in each category.  The next section is where you will enter your actual expenses.  As you purchase items during the year enter a description of the item or items on your receipt, the total and then select the period description.  Don’t put an X mark next to the items until after you’ve submitted the receipt to MyTechHigh for reimbursement, you’ll see why in a minute.  Here’s what my son’s looked like for this year when I put in all of his expenses –

You might have noticed that even though I was over for his custom core and way over for his Tech class (we split that with his brother and submitted the same thing for both and asked for half the reimbursement for each boy) the total at the bottom of spending total is 0 – that’s because if you submit for too much they will only reimburse you for what you have allowance for.  Also, if you were over in some categories but had extra in others it would only calculate the extra in the others since you can’t borrow from different periods to make up for deficits in others.  You’ll also notice that I split his Let’s Play Music class tuition into two line items so that I could be reimbursed for $300 as his custom built elective and $180 from his technology allowance.  I would recommend as you input expenses on these sheets that you take pictures or save copies of your receipts in a single folder on your computer, phone or Google Drive so that you can easily find them when you’re ready to submit.

In and of itself I feel like this is a super handy way to keep track of what you’ve spent for each period and know what you have left to spend, but I decided to take it a step further.  This spreadsheet will also generate for you a cover sheet for submitting your expenses.  This makes it really easy for the folks at MyTechHigh to quickly review and approve your submission, as well as making it easy for you to know that you have all of the right receipts to submit!  If you go back to the top of the page and click on the box next to “Reimbursement Sheet to Generate” you’ll be given a dropdown box of all of the submission categories that you have.  Pick whichever one you would like to create a cover sheet for.  You can then enter any special notes that you might have about this period that they will need to know at MyTechHigh (for example, when I submitted my sons’ tech class this year I made a note on their cover sheet – “Please reimburse half of the total cost to each student.” – however usually I don’t put any additional notes.  Then you will want to open up the sheet called “Reimbursement Cover Sheet” by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page.

This will open a completed reimbursement cover sheet for you which will include the student’s name, which course the submission is for, a list of all of the items and their costs, and the total amount you are requesting to be reimbursed.  You don’t need to do anything with this sheet except save it as a PDF, or copy the data into Word – whatever you want to do in order to submit it.  If you make multiple submissions you can have items previously submitted removed by placing an “x” next to the items that have been reimbursed on the expenses list on the first sheet.  When I go to submit I will save my cover sheet as a PDF and then use Adobe Acrobat Pro to combine that cover sheet with the uploaded receipts that match it so that I have a single pdf file to submit for each period.  You can do essentially the same thing by selecting all the text in the cover sheet spreadsheet and copying it into a Word document (or Google Docs or whatever your word processing software of choice is) and inputting your receipts on subsequent pages before saving as a PDF.  Here’s a sample of what that cover sheet would look like –

And that’s it!  Hopefully this helps you to better keep track of your MyTechHigh expenses and budget in the coming years!  I started thinking I’d just make a few quick modifications to what I had previously so that it would be useful for other people.  Instead it ended up taking me about 2 full days to get all of the pieces working, but I’m really happy with the result.  If you notice anything that I’ve missed please comment below so that I can get it fixed!  I think there might be some other things that I would need to take into consideration for high schoolers, but I don’t know what those are because my oldest is in 3rd grade.  If you want to use this for a high schooler and want to walk me through the variations I’d be happy to work in those variables.  If it is really useful to you consider making a donation to my site, or making a purchase through one of my affiliate links to help me keep this site going.  Happy Homeschooling 🙂

Here’s a link to the spreadsheet again, just so you don’t have to hunt through the article to find it – MyTechHigh Reimbursement Tracker.

Side note: Everything above is my 1st grader’s actual schedule and reimbursements for this past year.  Feel free to use the descriptions and purchase list for inspiration for your own child’s schedule.  I’m planning on posting reviews of some of the things that we’ve loved in the future but I’ll put in a plug for the one thing that we’ve REALLY loved this year which is our Kiwi Crate – it’s been SO much fun for all of my kids and they’ve learned a ton from them.  I thought I was going to like the Kiwi Crate but it’s been so much better than I’d expected.  If you use my referral link you get $10 off of your subscription 🙂

Instant Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup (and Other Adventures)

Recently I’ve seen lots of friends requesting favorite Instant Pot recipes.  I’m going to guess that many of my friends (like me) got an Instant Pot for Christmas and are still learning how to use it.  I always want to respond to my friends but my response (surprise, surprise) is longer than I really want to type out in a Facebook comment.  So tonight when I pulled out my Instant Pot to make my favorite chicken tortilla soup I decided that I would share that recipe (because it’s yummy) as well as some of my other adventures in Instant Pot-ing in hopes that it might help someone else find good uses for theirs! (skip to the bottom if you just want the chicken tortilla soup recipe)

So I sorta knew that I was getting an Instant Pot for Christmas because… it was the only thing I asked Eric for, and I even sent him an Amazon link to it when it was on sale.  It wasn’t a demand… but I hadn’t given him a lot of other ideas so it seemed like a likely guess 😉  I have a hard time coming up with things to give Eric for Christmas though because most of the things he wants are technology – and he knows what he wants better than I do.  So I make him put together an Amazon wish list, but since I don’t work outside the home it feels a little arbitrary to buy (or not buy) things from his list, with money he earned.  Just my own weird hang up.  Anyways, because of that I try to find things that I can give him for Christmas that really are more from me – gifts of the heart if you will.  This year I decided that something I could do for Eric that he couldn’t do for himself was find a recipe for his favorite soup that he would eat all the time on his mission in Taiwan, and the ingredients for it… that could be made in the Instant Pot 😉  So, here’s the recipe I came up with – https://www.tablefortwoblog.com/instant-pot-taiwanese-beef-noodle-soup/ .  It’s kinda like pho … But yummier   I was really glad that I came up with this as a Christmas present for Eric because it forced me to pull out the Instant Pot immediately and not let it languish in its box until I got the nerve up to pull it out 😉

Eric also got me this cookbook as a supplement to go with my Instant Pot!  So far I’ve made the chili and cornbread.  The chili was really good – and done super fast which was amazing.  The cornbread was fine, but nothing to rave about, and it was tricky finding a pan that fit inside the instant pot to make it in.  I’d probably skip using the Instant Pot for that.  I’d recommend the book, but I won’t share those recipes here since that’s someone else’s copyright.

I also used it to make tri-tip, and the kids have requested it frequently since (I mean, it’s tri tip, who can blame them).  I just put the frozen tri tip in with salt and pepper and ran the meat cycle twice and served with bbq sauce – SO good! I made fajitas once using this recipe – it was easy and yummy but there was a LOT more liquid than I expected that I didn’t want to drain because it had all the flavor.  I’ll probably try it again but try draining the tomatoes first or something to see if I can get up to pressure without so much liquid.  Finally I used my Instant Pot to make pulled BBQ chicken vaguely following these instructions – although really I just put as much chicken as I could reasonably fit in the instant pot with a bottle of BBQ sauce and used their cooking times, but it worked out great.

As far as basic things, I’ve used my instant pot to make rice and felt like it wasn’t any faster than my rice cooker, and the rice didn’t turn out as good (but I was cooking more rice than I probably should have been).  I think if I was cooking brown rice it might have been faster, but for regular white rice, I’ll stick to my rice cooker.  However I’ve used it to make hard boiled eggs and it was AWESOME!  I used these instructions and it was super easy and fast, and most importantly the eggs peeled SO cleanly and easily.  I’m a fan for sure.

So, there’s my full report so far of things I’ve made in my Instant Pot!  I’m sure there are many fun adventures ahead.  The thing I’ve found I like the Instant Pot for most is making slow cooker meals at the end of the day.  I’m really good at planning slow cooker meals, but I’m not always as good at actually putting everything in the crock pot at the beginning of the day… and when I realize at 2pm that I meant to do that in the morning… it’s a little late.  I like having the option to resurrect my plans just before dinner time 😉 

That’s basically how this chicken tortilla soup recipe came to be.  This is my favorite crock pot soup, but with the times adjusted for an Instant Pot.   I love this recipe because not only is it so yummy but the prep is really simple – dump several ingredients into the pot and let it go.  The only real “prep” is chopping up an onion and rinsing the black beans.  

Pretend there’s a can of enchilada sauce in there too… I forgot about it until after the picture was taken and didn’t have an extra can just for the picture, hopefully you have a good imagination 😉

I was going to post that my kids really like it too, but let’s face it, it’s not pizza so it’s not their favorite 😛  But they will generally eat it and enjoy it – especially if they can eat the tortilla chips.  Sam though was disappointed last night that it wasn’t fajitas and told me, “well it’s not my favorite, so you can’t expect me to eat it un-pickily”.  Danny was not excited about the soup either until he started to actually eat it, then he said, “Oh!  This isn’t that spicy soup (chili)?  I like this soup!”  They all ate a decent amount of soup and were pretty happy with it.  I asked the kids to pretend that they liked the soup and smile for me to take a picture… this was as close as we got in a few attempts 😛

Regardless of my kids’ reactions, I really like this soup and I’ve served it several times to other people with positive reviews.  If you’re looking for a good excuse to bust your Instant Pot out of its box give this a try!

Instant Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup
 
Recipe Type: Instant Pot
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 8 servings
Ingredients
  • 1-3 frozen chicken breasts
  • 1 (15 ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 (10 ounce) can enchilada sauce (red or green, both are yummy 🙂 )
  • 1 can black beans – drained & rinsed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chile peppers
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 (10 ounce) package frozen corn
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • Optional garnishes: sour cream, avocado, cilantro, tortilla chips, shredded cheese
Instructions
  1. Put all ingredients except lime juice and garnishes in the Instant Pot
  2. Put on the Instant Pot lid set to “Sealing”. Push Pressure Cook and the plus button until it gets to 20 minutes (00:20). You can alternatively do this in a crock pot on low for 6-8 hour.
  3. When the timer goes off do a “quick release” (use a spoon to move the lid stopper from “Sealing” to “Venting”.
  4. When the steam stops remove chicken breasts and shred the meat. Return to the Instant Pot.
  5. Add lime juice, stir and serve with your chosen garnishes
  6. Enjoy 🙂
 

(This recipe adapted from AllRecipes.com)

#LightTheWorld Challenge Planning

It’s Christmas time!  My 3 year old has been trying to convince me every morning that *today* is in fact Christmas and she should be able to open her presents now but so far I’ve been able to hold her at bay (I’m not sure if that will be true once the snow actually comes).  However, I really want my kids to get into the meaning of this time of year and to focus more on giving than getting.  We decided that we wanted to do the challenge that our church had set out to #LightTheWorld.  They have 25 ways for 25 days to celebrate Christ’s life and follow his example.

I decided that I really needed a good way to organize what it was we wanted to do.  I knew that some of these challenges would take a little bit of planning to work them into our schedule or to come up with what I wanted to do.  So I went through the website and compiled each of the days challenges, with their ideas for possible into an Excel spreadsheet.  Now I can easily go through and pick what we want to do for each day and make sure that we have it scheduled in so it’s not too overwhelming.  I’m also thinking that I might move around some of the days in ways that will better fit my schedule.  Additionally, knowing that I live in Utah where lots of other people are going to be doing this challenge I want to put some of the challenges to work on different days than other people will be.  I don’t want to be showing up to the blood bank on the same day as everyone else (although, to be fair, since I’m nursing and have a terrific phobia of needles I wasn’t going to the blood bank personally anyways… but you get the idea).

Here is a link to that spreadsheet – https://drive.google.com/open?id=1sJrakuh2-CfHsiiibjHfWrJ97cR-BwZK, and here’s a link to a printable PDF version – https://drive.google.com/open?id=1wOEfvSgTyhxMHV5W0bPMEMrvzsw76l4O.  Hopefully this helps you in making your Christmas a little more Christ centered ♥

Just Say NO! to Christmas Pyramid Schemes

Ok friends I’ve been seeing these going around on Facebook recently and felt like it needed to be addressed.  Let’s start by explaining what this is – a friend posts that they’re looking for people to participate in a gift exchange.  The idea is that you just buy 1 gift (in this case valued at $10+) and send it to a particular person, get 6 friends to participate and in return you’ll get 36 gifts from other people!  Totally reminiscent of those postcard chain letters that we’d do back in the 80’s & 90’s, and it sounds harmless and fun right?

It sounds great, but let’s think about how this works.  You send your gift to your friend’s friend (whoever included them in the gift exchange) and you’re now out the $10 for the gift.  You now have to find 6 friends who want to send a gift to your friend, and they’ll find 6 people to send a gift to you.  Easy peasy.

So, I did some maths (ok, so Microsoft Excel did some maths… I just entered in a formula) – for the first person there obviously just needs to be 1 person to decide to start the chain.  For the second level there are that person’s 6 friends.  They need to come up with 36 people.  Those 36 people then come up with 216 people, and so on and so forth. I put this in a visual format.  We’re going to pretend that you did not initiate this “gift exchange” and that you aren’t friends with the kind of person who would initiate this – remember: the first person didn’t give *anyone* a gift… they’ve just decided that they ought to receive a gift from 36 of their friends friends just for sheer awesomeness.  So I’ve put hypothetical “you” at the second tier.  I’m not sure whether that makes you really lucky to be so high up in the pyramid (and more likely to have a non-exhausted list of people who would participate, or really unlucky to be so closely connected to the kind of person who thinks scamming their friends for their gain is fun.  You can decide.  I put in the number of people who would have to be participating at each level to sustain the exchange, and some interesting comparisons for what that number of people means to the right.

Sorry, I’m no graphic designer, but the numbers are staggering.  For there to still be 36 participants at the level that would send gifts to you there would have to be more people participating than were killed in the sinking of the Titanic.  For those people to receive the promised gifts would take more participants than would fill Yankee Stadium.  It only takes 11 tiers to exhaust the total US Facebook user population, and another couple tiers beyond that and it would take more than double the world’s population to fulfill the promises of 36 gifts being sent – and neither of those lower two tiers would receive any gifts.

The entire success of this “exchange” is built on the fact that the majority of people who participate will get nothing.  There’s no way for you to get 36 gifts for just sending 1 gift without 35 people sending gifts and not getting any gifts.  Hopefully that helps you understand why these are a bad idea.  Beyond which, they’re actually illegal.  So please friends, just say NO! to these gift exchanges!  If you want to get into the holiday spirit how about spending that $10 on buying supplies for refugees, or if you really want to send someone a gift you can always check my Amazon wish list 😉  

Sources:

Book Recommendations (especially for Audible books)

On Facebook I frequently see people looking for book recommendations.  My response is always – well what do you like to read?  My personal reading range is all over the map, so I need something to zone in on before making recommendations – or else my Facebook comments become crazy long.  However, most of the time people say “oh I like reading whatever”… which doesn’t help.  Finally, someone was looking for Audible book suggestions in a homeschoolers group that I’m a part of. For whatever reason that time I spent spent a lot longer than I should have putting together this (non-exhaustive) list of some of the books that I’ve really enjoyed listening to on Audible  in every genre.  We’ve had an Audible membership for about 7 years now and we have around 400 books in our library. I went through and picked out some of the ones I’ve really enjoyed to compile this list – there are more but here are the ones that stuck out to me for recommending.  After posting that as a crazy long comment I copied it and reposted it to my own Facebook page as a status message.  I found that I was going back to find that status super frequently still so I finally decided to put it together as a blog post so that I didn’t have to copy and paste it anymore 😉   I’ll probably update this from time to time or post additions as new posts, but this is a good start!  But here are my recommendations for books to read, based on my Audible library – I tried to group them vaguely by category, but it’s not the most organized.

Disclaimer: The links in this post are affiliate links.  This means that I get a very small commission if you purchase anything from those links.  It doesn’t cost you anything but it does help me cover the costs to maintain this site and give me some motivation to continue to post content (beyond just that I enjoy writing it 😉 ) 

I’ll start with the obvious – Harry Potter. SO worth an Audible credit, the narration is amazing, the books are awesome – I don’t think I need to explain why these should be in everyone’s Audible library 

My most recent favorite has been the Alcatraz vs The Evil Librarians series by Brandon Sanderson.  They were totally off the wall and SO much fun!  My 8 year old has read through them on his Kindle and enjoyed them a lot.  My 6 year old has just discovered them and has been listening to them as he goes to bed at night and thinks they’re amazing – which is really saying something as he’s not much of a reader.  They were definitely a series that I was sad to get to the end of!

I used to read a lot of historical fiction but for some reason I haven’t really read a lot in the last several years until my friend and I started a book club in our neighborhood this year.  We read These is My Words – which was totally different from what I was expecting for some reason, but awesome.  It made me feel ALL the feels and it was a great glimpse into a different time period.  A lot of people don’t know that it’s actually the first book in a series, but there are two more books – Sarah’s Quilt and The Star Garden both of which I highly recommend.  We also read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which had been on my “To Read” list for a LONG time but I’d never gotten around to it.  It takes a little bit to get past the letters back and forth format, but a few chapters in you get into the rhythm of it and it’s AMAZING.  I can’t believe it took me that long to get to reading it.  

Another book club pick that I really enjoyed was The Orphan Keeper.  It’s an incredible story and based on real events.  I was a little annoyed afterwards to find out how much they had changed the story to fit a nice narrative arc when the true story is already pretty incredible.  But it was still a great read and I would highly recommend it.

For younger kids in the learning to read process I would recommend getting kindle books with whisper sync and let them listen and read along on a kindle. Most of these books though are cheaper if you buy the kindle version first and then add on narration – and cheaper to buy both than just the audible book, so definitely check those out. Recommendations for those – Stuart Little, Winnie the Pooh, Fairy Tales Every Child Should Know, Just So Stories… there are lots of good ones out there, but I’ve mostly been limiting myself to the ones I could get for free with Prime shipping credits 

I’ve listened to Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz with my kids and they enjoyed them. Peter Pan was a little more intense than I was expecting though, and The Wizard of Oz was good, but I felt like Ann Hathaway’s voices were a touch overdone and little distracting – but it did make it easy to tell characters apart so there’s definitely give and take there.

For some good humorous books I highly recommend Jim Gaffigan’s Dad is Fat and Food: A Love Story – both had me laughing so hard I cried. They’re especially great for long road trips if you need to stay awake  Also if you like Garrison Keillor his books are awesome, especially because he narrates them!

Last year I read A Series of Unfortunate Events and it was fantastic! It might be a little dark for younger kids, and I don’t know that they would enjoy all of the dry irony of many of the situations, but I absolutely loved them. 

Anne of Green Gables is awesome as well, but know that you’re going to have a couple holes if you purchase them through Audible (maybe it was just one) as there are some of the books that aren’t in public domain yet. I ended up just purchasing that book and reading it on a kindle but I’m sad to not have the whole set in the same format. But be picky on the narrators! I returned a couple that were VERY poorly narrated.

We’re huge Orson Scott Card fans in our household so a lot of our books are done by him. Anything narrated by Stephan Rudnicki is amazing – seriously you can listen to his voice all day long and be very content  But if you’re looking for Fantasy I’d recommend Enchantment for sure (but not for the kids). And all of his other books are great too – I won’t bore you with a play-by-play but he writes some great things, you should check them out.

If you like YA literature I’d highly recommend The Selection series, also the Matched series by Ally Condie. Oh! And the Defy series by Sara B. Larson. Obviously The Hunger Games if you haven’t read those yet are also fantastic.

I’m really into popular neuroscience (for lack of a better word) – I really love understanding how our brains work. In that vein I really loved – The Female Brain (and the follow up book The Male Brain) by Louann Brizendine, as well as The Compass of Pleasure, and The Willpower Instinct. Oh! And The Paradox of Choice.

I also have really loved these books for the way they’ve helped shape the way I look at the world and my own abilities, my interactions with others etc – Freakonomics, Super Freakonomics & Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson.  (Free: The Future of a Radical Price is in fact… free, so that’s an easy one to pick up 🙂 )

Somewhere between those two categories – popular psychology? – is The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman and also The Color Code. Both of those I feel like have helped me so much with my relationships with different people – particularly my husband and kids!

As far as more modern day popular books that I’ve loved, I’d recommend The Help, Life of Pi and Eat, Pray, Love. Not unique picks but I did enjoy all of them.

I have more classics than this in my library, but the two I’ve made it through recently were Jane Eyre & Great Expectations and I thoroughly enjoyed both of them.

If you want something a little bit light and fun in a British humor sort of way I’d recommend Good Omens or Stardust (the movie version of Stardust is also fantastic – but doesn’t follow the book exactly for better or worse). Good Omens is perhaps a bit irreverent – I think to appreciate it you need to have liked both C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters and Douglas Adams’ A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – a random conglomeration to be sure but if you liked both of those I think you’d enjoy Good Omens. (Oh and I’d recommend Screwtape Letters & Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy too  )

These other books don’t really fit into any other category, but these were some other books that I enjoyed. Honolulu by Alan Brennert was fantastic, and his book Moloka’i is supposed to be even better. I listened to that one on our trip to Hawaii earlier this year and it really made the trip so much more fun because I felt like I better understood the history and tensions of the area. I also really enjoyed I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 – as a tech nerd/enterprenuer. Another cool one was The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg – it was interesting to see another side of WWII even from a fictional (though based on some real events) perspective. Finally, if you like science fiction you should definitely listen to Redshirts by John Scalzi – it was a really fun, not too serious view on the genre.

If you stuck with me for all of that kudos to you! Hopefully you find something you like in all of that!