So… Whatcha doin’ in February?

I will be speaking at the Story@Home conference in Salt Lake City, Utah on February 1-2. I’m sorry I didn’t post about this sooner. You will have the chance to register for quite a while, but today is actually the last day for early-bird (discounted) registration.  What is the conference, you ask? It is co-hosted by FamilySearch and Cherish Bound, and here’s what it’s about:

No matter how you tell your stories – through your family history, at your child’s bedside, on your blog, or from a stage – your stories matter. Join us for a conference that will change the way you see your stories and the world, and help you connect in new ways with those you cherish most.

Workshops and performances by award-winning storytellers, performers, and speakers will help you explore ways to use the power of story in your home. You’ll be able to record your own story, start on some research to learn more about your family’s history, get started on a blog and learn how to tell your story through social media.

I’d love to have you join us. I will be teaching a workshop called “Recording Life Authentically,” plus I have two other friends speaking there who I know are phenomenal teachers… so I’m saying I can promise quality.  Here is the website for more information and registration. If you think you’re interested, jump on it today for the discount. :)
p.s. Happy Halloween.  May the force be with you.

Nonsense.

This is just stuff I’m thinking about. Please excuse the ridiculous racoonish graphic.

  1. I’m fascinated by this storm. The power and danger of Mother Nature is so intriguing, but I’m so concerned for the human element and fearful of what if may bring out in human nature.
  2. Last night, I loaded up my family in the car to go to a family reunion/dinner. We drove for an hour, and when we got there, I realized it is actually next week. As you can imagine, my family was thrilled, and claimed to be dying of hunger the whole way home.
  3. Do you have a very favorite best-of-all-time crock pot recipe? I want to start dinner already, and I’m feeling uninspired.
  4. The self-control part of my brain keeps telling me to go exercise, like walk (or if I’m feeling super crazy, maybe even jog a little), but it keeps being overcome by an urge to go eat cookie dough out of my fridge.  We’ll see who wins.
  5. I got to teach gospel doctrine class yesterday about 3 Nephi 17-19. I’m so in love with those chapters now that I can’t stop thinking about them.
  6. I have a dream that someday, in the morning before school, my children will eat breakfast without emptying the entire contents of the pantry onto my kitchen table, will not surprise me on their way out the door with some homework assignment they forgot to tell me about, and will actually be ready on time. I used to be a morning person before I had children.
  7. Can someone tell me why I can never bring myself to put away my own clean laundry? Anyone?

That is all. I’m sure your Monday is now complete. Carry on.

GCBC Week 4: “An Unspeakable Gift from God” by Elder Craig C. Christensen

For week 4 of general conference book club, we’ll be studying Elder Christensen’s talk from the Saturday A.M. session:

An Unspeakable Gift from God

By Elder Craig C. Christensen

In this talk, he told several memorable stories: about taking his son through the Bountiful Temple open house, about the death of his grandfather at a family reunion, and about President Monson talking to the woman hiding under her sheet in the hospital.

I remember when Julie Beck taught about personal revelation being the single most important skill we need. I thought of that several time as I read this talk, and how important it is to learn how the Holy Ghost guides and speaks and prompts us personally. I liked this quote:

I’ve noticed that as I really pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that come into my mind and heart, and then act on them (when they are obviously in line with gospel principles I already know to be true), I usually learn quickly that the prompting came from the Holy Ghost. That assurance tends to come through feelings of satisfaction and a sense that I’ve done the right thing, or through the sometimes obvious positive consequences of that choice to act.

I really liked the blessings he listed that come from the gift of the Holy Ghost: “added capacity and spiritual gifts, increased revelation and protection, steady guidance and direction, and the promised blessings of sanctification and exaltation in the celestial kingdom.” Other than the exaltation bit, which is a work in progress throughout mortality, I’ve really felt those other blessings in my own life, and I’m so thankful for the influence of the Spirit.

What stood out to you? What are your thoughts about the role of the Holy Ghost in your life and in your testimony?  Discuss in the comments below.

(A reminder to those of you who are new to General Conference Book Club:  You’re welcome to return to this post any time this week and leave your comment and thoughts in the comment section below. You may also want to see what others are saying about the talk and engage in a conversation for mutual understanding and encouragement. A new talk will be posted each Sunday and will be studied and discussed throughout the week.)

Post-Halloween Party Idea

I know this blog is not typically a gathering place for tips and party ideas, but occasionally I have a stroke of genius, so I thought I’d share. I’ve had this idea for years, and I’m finally trying it out this Halloween. I think it’s a great way to gather friends together, whether your own or your kids’, and just have a little fun.

And of course you could just do these activities with your own family.  That counts as a party too, right?

Here’s the invitation template and if you’d like, you can download it as a .pdf file by clicking here:



The party concept is really simple. Every guest brings a small baggie full of leftover Halloween candy. Stock up on some big buckets of vanilla ice cream, set up a blender bar, and let everyone make Blizzard-style milkshakes out of the leftover candy of their choice. Then play a few candy-bar games together (There’s a list of links explaining them below.), and just laugh and enjoy the company.

The Candy Bar Game with Gloves, Utensils, and Dice: This blogger plays by rolling for doubles. In my family, we always played with one die and switched turns whenever anyone rolled a six, always announced by everyone yelling “SIX!!!”

The Brown Bag Candy Bar Game: In my family, we played it this way, except that you could steal candy bars in any round, not just the last three rounds.  That way, we all tried to be so discreet when we chose a candy bar so that no one would see what we picked and then steal it.

Candy Bar Pass and Swap Game: In this game, each roll of the dice requires a different kind of candy swap or transfer. It would be fun to put a few duds in the mix (like black licorice or raisins that would be like the “Old Maid” everyone wants to get rid of).

Candy Bar Memory Game: Make up code names for the candy on cards and whoever makes the match, wins the candy.

Wrapped Candy Bar Challenge This is similar to the gloves, utensils and dice game above, but with some interesting variations to make it tricky to get to the candy.

So there you have it.  Pinterest, eat your heart out. :)

My Eye in the Storm

It’s snowing today, so as a matter of personal therapy, it seems like a good time to blog a little about the cruise. Warning: This post will include vacation photos mingled with deep thoughts. Proceed with caution.

So this right here…

is an actual satellite photo of Hurricane Paul. He came ashore in Cabo San Lucas the same day we were supposed to dock there. For obvious reasons, our ship itinerary took some detours, but still managed to get up close and personal with a Category 3 hurricane. (And by up close and personal, I really mean a mostly-safe distance, but still plenty too close for my own comfort.) Let’s just say that we spent a whole 24 hours in bed as to avoid being thrown back and forth while about 50% of the passengers and crew puked their guts out. Luckily, Matt and I never got sick, and if we closed our eyes and pretended we were in a baby cradle, it was actually quite relaxing.

I am NOT complaining though. It happened, and we survived, and the rest of the week was very lovely, and hello, it was a FREE prize vacation.  So I won’t dwell on the hurricane other than to say that (because I have a tendency to imagine every worst case scenario and all the possible outcomes … like me floating at sea in a life raft in a hurricane with 30 drunk, crazy people) the whole event made me quite reflective.

I am also a professional people watcher.  That’s a nicer term than gawker, which is what my mother always called it.  Anyway, there are plenty of people to observe on a ginormous cruise ship, and so I did. There is a reason that Americans have the reputation of being gluttonous and spoiled. I won’t list the poor behaviors I saw, but one example is impatiently waiting for the elevator to go down ONE flight of stairs in order to gorge one’s self at the all-you-can-eat Chocolate Buffet. Enough said. There were also people who were deeply good, like our sweet waiter who works six months at a time with no days off in order to support his wife and children back in the Philippines.

In summary:  Hurricane + People-watching + Lots of uninterrupted quiet time = New insights and some personal revelation for Stephanie

I’ll come back to that.  Let’s look at some photos, shall we?

This was my view for most of the trip (including the napping husband):

Our first stop was Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, which was tropical beauty mixed with a roadside landscape of houses and communities that reminded me so much of my mission days in Argentina.

We were accosted by a guy who threw reptiles on us and took our picture for “a tip.” That’s my fake smile, but the background is so pretty, huh?

Our taxi driver took us up into the jungle mountains to wander around at a resort area, and the scenery really was magnificent.

We also spent some time in the old colonial city center. I love to visit old cathedrals and city plazas, and there were both.

On the first day of the trip, they did a safety drill where everyone had to line up with life jackets and practice the emergency de-boarding procedures. Right next to us, there was a man who was already drunk and being rude to his family members. I watched with dismay for a while and then we were all released. That night at our first dinner seating, the host led us to our table, and guess who was seated there? I thought, Oh boy, this is going to be a long week (You share the table with the same guests the whole trip), but then they realized that we were supposed to be at table 411 instead of 311 and led us in another direction while Matt chuckled at the irony. We were seated in a booth with a nice-looking couple who we quickly learned were from Utah. Seriously? So I was relieved because we quickly fell into natural conversation and formed a friendship throughout the week.  Here they are with our rock-star waiter, too.

I’m leaving their names out on purpose so you don’t Google them and steal their children. I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate that. (And in my defense, lest you fear my reaction was as sheltered or narrow-minded as it seems, I could have been perfectly happy to share a week-long dinner table with people from any state or religion or race or creed or whatever, but “drunk” and “belligerent” are not my first choice for dinner companions.)

This is getting too long already. Do you care? Whatever, you know how to scroll and nod.

Next on the agenda: Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, Mexico, two days post-hurricane (It was actually a tropical storm by the time it hit shore, but the locals said it was crazy).  We liked this place. Matt wants to go back and spend more time there some day with the kids.

That last photo shows our boat off in the distance. (Now you can see why this is good snow therapy.)

I’ve always loved the combination of sunshine and wind. It just feels so relaxing and warm, so I loved being on deck on the sailing ship. There wasn’t much deck space available at the front of the boat, but I made it my mission to find a spot where I could stare off into the great beyond ahead of us. I finally did find a spot atop of a fake boulder on the mini-golf course. It was perfect, and no one was there in the early morning hours, so I would go up there and do my morning “devotional,” and watch the sun coming up, and enjoy the strong breeze and natural beauty, and think about my life and my testimony and all that stuff.  When I told Matt about some of my thoughts one morning, he teased me about my Mount St. Mini-Golf, so that’s what we called it the rest of the week.  Here are some of the things I learned at Mt. St. Mini-Golf.  I realize they are random and disconnected, but that’s how revelation usually comes for me anyway.

  • When people are given so much, they often forget what matters most, and they use their prosperity to buy their way out of the kinds of experiences they were meant to have. I need to be careful to not avoid or shirk the responsibilities God has given me, even when other options seem easy or comfortable.
  • Vacations are so nice, and I promise I enjoyed every minute, but my children are what God wants me to do with my life. The break was refreshing, but my heart told me where I really belong.
  • As I stared off into the horizon, I was thinking of Elder Holland’s most recent conference talk as well as many other related gospel references. I had the clear thought that God doesn’t want cruisers; He wants fishermen. We have a work to do, and it’s not a lazy, relaxing meander through life. It’s the up-at-dawn and work-til-dusk kind of life as fishers of men. And that kind of life will make us happy.
  • I have always loved the scripture in Moses 6:62-63, which teaches that all things in, on, above, beneath the earth testify of Christ. I loved looking at my unfamiliar ocean and beach surroundings and finding the symbolism. There were so many things about wind and sun and boats and waves and even storms that teach great lessons about the role of the Savior in our lives. The hymns, “Master, the Tempest is Raging,” and “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me,” and “Brightly Beams our Father’s Mercy,” and “Lead, Kindly Light” all came to mind. I just felt so blessed to have that kind of direction and love available to me in life, no matter what storms may come.
  • Oh, I’m coming back later to add this one more. A lady we spoke to was upset with the cruise line because they changed around the itinerary. I kept thinking, But there was a hurricane! It made me realize how often we might get upset with our Heavenly Father or the prophets for changing our plans unexpectedly or not meeting our own expectations when, in reality, they see dangers ahead that we don’t know about.  Just enjoy the ride and trust the Captain.

Well, that’s definitely more than you ever wanted to know about my vacation. Thanks again to those who voted and helped us win this break. It was much needed, and sufficiently refueling to get back to “my Father’s business” here at home. There truly is no place like home. But I’m thinking I might need to pick up my home and put it somewhere not snowing.