Saturday, December 31, 2011

best of 2011 excerpts

Here's a sampling of my "Best of 2011" list.

  • Getting taken care of by a group of the nicest women you will ever meet. Who knew you could be so blessed working at a medical supply store? 
  • The Durham YSA ward. Healing up from a broken heart, meeting Danielle, Rachel, and Tom, getting to be pals with Sariah again. Learning about what it means to have a Spirit-filled home.
  • Developing a closer relationship with my mom.
  • Singing along to American Pie with Chris on the way to go see fireworks; spending the next three hours getting to know him.
  • Slow dancing in the kitchen with Chris to Breathing, by Lifehouse during that first week we started dating.
  • That first kiss after 5 weeks of long-distance dating.
  • Many long talks with Rachel and Cindy.
  • Getting a bed for Christmas from an anonymous donor. 

And, it's funny...I made a Worst Of list too, but the longer I look at it, the more I realize that each one could be on my Best Of list, too. It's true, I did not enjoy the first four months of the year, between heartbreak and the feeling that I was just spinning my wheels, but so much good has come because of it. I know so much more about myself and I have such a healthier concept of relationships. I better know what mistakes I am prone to, and I ALSO know that the Lord and I are capable of getting around them. That is so exciting to me.

I know that sometimes my family situation really makes me nervous about the kind of family I will have in the future. However, I've learned this year that man, my family is pretty great. We're all largely functional people, and those of us who aren't functional still do our best to be charming people. I like my family. And I like that I like my family. All things considered, it's not that hard to do. They're good people.

The challenge I am currently facing -- being poor and more dependent on the kindness of others than I ever thought I would have to be -- isn't much fun either. But I know the Lord wouldn't ask me to do it unless it was for the powerful and lasting development of my character. Because of this time in my life, I have a better understanding and appreciation of the Atonement. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be a better wife and mother as a result of it, too. I'll be better able to be a stay-at-home mom, and accept the generosity of my husband which that inherently requires, and I'll be better able to manage the finances of my future home because I have to be so conscious about it now.

Honestly, that's a lot of blessings, even if they have come from really hard things. I can't say I'd like to do it over again, but I'm sure grateful for the good things I've gotten out of it.

And, of course, I'm getting rich blessings out of hard situations currently, and I am tremendously grateful for those lessons. I'm also grateful that life isn't any harder than it currently is.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

merry christmas to all, and to all a good night

I had a lovely, wonderful Christmas with my dear friend Sam. We talked like only girls who have known each other for years can, and listened to music, and ate tuscan pasta. She spent the night on my air mattress, and I slept on my new bed!
It's so pink, and happy, and, and, and, FREE!
In the morning, we had eggs and hashbrowns and bacon, and we made cinnamon rolls. They almost turned out tragically awful, though. You see, I buy as much of my food as I can from the bulk section, because it's cheaper, and that includes my spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves are very easy to confuse in the bag, however. Therefore, if "clove rolls" sound good to you, I have some filling that I would be HAPPY to let you use.
Can you tell which is which?
...Don't worry too much though. We had a good laugh and mixed up a new batch of filling, and they turned out gooooooood.
Not to mention they were awfully pretty, too.
While the cinnamon rolls were baking, I opened presents. My family got me a cute Pandora-esque bracelet, and NEW SCRIPTURES!!!! And Sam, the wonderful, sweet, thoughtful person that she is, bought me matchy flannel PJs, plus shampoo, conditioner, face wash, and hot chocolate. Not to mention that she insisted I keep all of groceries she contributed to our little fiesta. I am grateful for that girl.
The cute little tree one of my roommates put in the living room. I couldn't resist putting my presents underneath!
We went to my ward for sacrament meeting after we sampled our cinnamon rolls. My bishopric + the executive secretary sang a gorgeous quartet, and the congregation sang "I Believe in Christ," which especially touched me today...
Today's journal entry.
I came away from sacrament meeting with a new commitment to love the Lord and live according to His will. I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior, and every good thing in my life I owe to Him. He plants me firmly in the gospel; He is the source of joy, even in our fallen world; He is my Redeemer and Friend.

When we got home, Sam and I ate more cinnamon rolls and read Luke 2 and talked a little about Mary. Her testimony in the Plan of Salvation must have been so strong in order to joyfully accept that kind of responsibility. I also noticed today that Mary "pondered these things in her heart," instead of blabbing them to anyone and everyone. Personally, I'm much more of the blabbing type, but I'm learning greater respect for holy things in preparation for the responsibilities the Lord is putting in my life. We are called to a holy work, brothers and sisters. I testify of that.

After scripture reading, we took a little nap, partly because Sam has been hiccuping for a DAY STRAIGHT, and it had given her a headache! While she rested, I cleaned the kitchen and started dinner. Sam came to help later, and let me tell you, it is so much more fun cooking a holiday meal when you have someone around who will just jump in and take initiative. I'm learning to delegate, but cooking can be hard enough without adding the task of managing other people, too. Cooking with Sam was fun though - I'm grateful for her willingness to help without being asked.

Sam was amazed how well our first Christmas away from our families went. I admit, we're pretty fantastic.
I highly recommend putting green beans, bacon, and pepper together, by the way. It was probably my favorite part of the meal. Except, perhaps, the scrumptious green salad that Sam made. There's a ton of leftovers of that, and let me tell you, friends, my vitamin-deprived little body is sooo excited. Say no to scurvy, kids.

Following dinner, we of course cleaned up, and then talked some more while I made bread and Sam played Sudoku on her new iPad. I admire that she finds ways to make herself busy and content while still being available at a moment's notice to the people around her. I want to be a little more like that. 

At about 9 o'clock, it was time for Sam to go home. We put her stuff in her truck, and she drove away.

It was so satisfying, spending time with an old friend, after a month of spending time either by myself or with people I haven't known for very long. Don't get me wrong, I love the people who are new to my life too, but I think I will be able to interact with greater peace of mind now that I've been reminded that there are people who are very different from me, but still really value my blunt yet affectionate ways.

Basically, this is who God created me to be, and this is the life that He and I have created together.

And, you know, it's pretty amazing.

Merry Christmas, y'all.

Friday, December 23, 2011

just how incredibly blessed I really am

My room is a great place to be.

The closet is the perfect size for me, especially since there's a built-in chest of drawers and a bookshelf. The sliding door was falling off, but since it's a mirror, that was fine; I just moved it to a corner of the room and put my makeup/hair box next to it. 

And then there's the bed. Cue story time...

My house is fully furnished aside from the bedrooms, which meant that when I moved in, I didn't have a bed. I slept on the couch for about a week while I tried to figure out the best solution. In the end, I purchased an air mattress, despite wishing I could be a little more "settled," and feeling like a real bed would certainly help with that feeling.

I discovered, however, that air mattresses don't hold heat the same way a regular mattress does, so I kept getting cold at night. I mentioned it in passing to my roommate Natalie (not to be confused with one of my bffs Natalie, who was my roommate the latter half of college.) She offered to let me borrow the extra blankets that she keeps in her room. This was a blessing all on its own; I slept much better after that.

Last night, though, things got even better.

Natalie's family doesn't live very far away at all, so she's been sleeping at her parents' house this week as part of their Christmas festivities. She dropped in for a few minutes and found me in the kitchen, perched on a barstool and blogging about how I think the Lord needs me to keep accepting charity from other people during this season of my life.

"Sara," she said, "the Lord works in mysterious ways."

"Yes, yes He does! Tell me what happened." We like to tell each other these kinds of stories.

But Natalie slowly shook her head. "Somebody is giving you a bed, Sara. It's in the back of the truck right now. We just need your help bringing it in."

I confess, I stared. Then I slapped my hands to my face. "Wait, WHAT? Tell me the story!"

But there wasn't really a story to tell. Someone was anonymously donating a mattress, box spring, sheet set, and comforter set to me. ME. As in, this is my real life, where people are that generous and God loves me that much.

So we brought it in, and I'm pretty sure I stammered a lot and made a lot of weird I'm-not-gonna-cry faces. I gave Natalie and her mom a hug, and watched them leave.

And then I burst into tears.

I'm not gonna lie, people, parts of my life are really hard right now. I've never been in a financial situation like this. I'm doing my best to be independent and take care of myself, but having to buy only bare essentials can be pretty scary for someone who has always lived in so much comfort. And as mentioned yesterday, the worst part about it is that it really limits how much giving I can do.

But this experience was like my sacrifice had been found acceptable by the Lord. The susurration and crinkle of brand new sheets, the distantly familiar creak of a real was a message from the Lord. Although it's a simple fact that these difficulties are not going to go away for a while, Heavenly Father knows how hard I am trying. Both to make this situation work in a temporal, logistical sense, and also to become a better person via this experience. He sees the sacrifice, and to Him, that is enough.

Whoever it was that was an instrument in His hands yesterday (including Natalie and her mom!) ... I don't know what else to say but thank you. I so appreciate that you would listen to the Spirit and reallocate some of your resources in order to help me when I have little. I pray, so fervently, that you will be blessed for your generosity. Thank you for your part in giving me Christmas. 

Thank you for, in part, giving me Christ.

my new house

Welcome to my house! First stop, living room...
The couches are super comfortable. I would know; I was sleeping on them for about a week because my air mattress doesn't hold heat like a normal mattress does, and I didn't have enough blankets to make up for it. But then my roommate Natalie offered to let me borrow the 2 blankets she wasn't using, and now I happily sleep on my bed and no one feels guilty for walking through the living room in the morning while I'm asleep.

Past the living room we have the kitchen...
The first thing I did when I moved in was clean it. There were piles of dishes even though everyone was gone for Thanksgiving, including a pot on the stove, happily growing MOLD. Since then I've tried to keep it nice for everyone -- I think I have a thing for nice kitchens now -- and my roommates are all tremendously grateful. I like that I get the opportunity to do service.

Down the hall we have the bathroom...
Yes, that's a pair of giant lips on the floor! The decor in there is awful, since it's a mix of pinks with this brownish-yellowish vanity and shower. We're trying to remedy the aesthetics as soon as possible, but in the meantime I'm just grateful it's clean. Jennifer, the roommate who is newer than I am, cleaned it as soon as she moved in, much like I did with the kitchen. I had cleaned half of it, and thought another roommate was going to do the other half, but she has been sick and busy, so I was grateful that Jennifer took the initiative. Especially because I'm not a huge fan of cleaning the bathroom myself!

At the end of the hall is my room...which, as of last night, warrants a post of its very own.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

a different kind of service

Blame it on the time of year, but I've been thinking a lot about 2011 this week.

I was pulled so taut the first couple of months, clinging to something I thought was right. I was determined to stick with it no matter how hard or ridiculous it was. It may be the closest I've ever come to a nervous breakdown, or for that matter, to taking myself to a psychiatrist. In that time, I allowed myself to focus so tightly on the situation at hand that I nearly lost sight of...everything else.

The second quarter was almost a relief after that. I finally snapped; the something I was clinging onto officially failed. The only thing left to do was pick up the pieces, which in retrospect was surprisingly easy given the vast number of blessings in my life. I re-collected my resources, all the things I'd lost sight of while I was focusing so much. I called old friends and begged for reassurance and talked my way through some of the issues I was facing. I made new friends who let me cry on their shoulders and sleep on their couches and absorb their love and spirit. I tried to acclimate to a quiet life after the intensity of college, where I worked at a job without prestige and questioned my contributions to the world in general.

Just as I was getting good at life again, just as I re-learned to love myself despite anyone else, and to rely on the Lord for my wellbeing, I met Chris. It blows my mind how much anxiety I've had through adulthood about dating. I wish I could have sat myself down and told myself about Chris. "It will be worth the wait," I would have said. "You'll have an experience that will show you how good it can be. In the meantime, just love being with your friends and learn about God. That's all you need to do."

The last quarter began with a move across the country. This was definitely the right thing to do, and I have been surrounded by God's love and that of my friends, but I'm still not sure I totally have my feet underneath me again after that. Maybe that's because I'm living paycheck to paycheck now, and I've never done that before. Maybe it's because I haven't really made friends here yet -- my roommates are seldom home, and most of my ward's activities are when I'm still at work. Maybe it's the combination of the two making me feel like I don't have a lot to offer.

That said, I told Chris (in the first real conversation we ever had!) that I have reached a point in my life where I HAVE to learn to accept help from other people, because I am no longer in a position to give very much of it.

I took this to the Lord today, and got an answer. (Thank you Brother Kern, and BYU-Idaho podcast. And thank you, Heavenly Father, for frequently giving me such prompt answers! I think it's because He knows I'd freak out and do something crazy otherwise.)

One of God's most precious promises is that nothing ever stays the same. Eventually, even if it's 80 years from now, that I will have the opportunities to serve in all of the ways that are dearest to my heart. My task right now is not to throw dinner parties or go visit friends. I simply do not have the resources to do so, and that makes me sad:

"O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart! ...but behold, I do sin in my wish."

I sin in my wish because I lose sight of the resources I do have to serve Heavenly Father. I have a lot of time on my hands, which I can use to keep my house clean for my roommates. I also use my free time to do my part to be financially independent, whether it's through doing a little extra freelance work or figuring out how to live even more cheaply.

As part of who I am and what I love, I have a plenitude of words. So, I can make phone calls; I can leave notes. I can (gradually) make friends and thereby uplift them using my willingness to talk to new people. "Ye are the light of the world..."

And, perhaps most importantly, I have the Lord. I know Heavenly Father is proud of how hard I'm trying, and honors my willingness to serve even as He is patient with me while I figure out how He wants me to do that these days. Because I have the gospel, I can fulfill my calling as a Sunday School teacher, indexer, and visiting teacher in the way that He wants me to. Because I have the gospel, and try to live my life in a way that invites the Spirit, I hope that when people come in contact with me, they will be a little more conscious of God and how precious they are to Him. Because I have the gospel, I can continue to grow more like Christ. I can learn charity without neediness, hard work without resentment, and good cheer without ideal situations.

I can do my best.

Perhaps that's what this year has taught me the most. My best really is good enough. God really does love me, even with all of my imperfections. He also has a great purpose for me, and although I am not able to see the end now, I can have perfect knowledge that this moment, this one right here, is just one necessary step along the way.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

eating cheaply: tamale casserole

GUYS! GUESS WHAT! I made up a recipe, AND IT WAS SO YUMMY!!!!


Sara's Tamale Casserole
makes 4 servings

1 T vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1 medium tomato, diced
1 t salt
1 t pepper
1 can black beans, rinsed
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup masa harina
1 3/4 cup water
1 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup salsa

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat medium-sized glass casserole dish (a 9x9 is a little big -- a pie pan or loaf pan would probably work great.)
Heat oil, then add onion, garlic, tomato, 1/2 t of salt and pepper. Saute until onions are tender, stirring frequently.
Add beans and lemon juice to onion mixture.
In a separate bowl, mix masa, water 1/2 t salt, and 3/4 cup of cheddar cheese.
Pour 1/2 of the bean mixture into the glass dish, then spread 1/2 of the masa dough over top. Repeat.
Top with the rest of the cheese and the salsa.
Bake for 45 minutes, then take it out and let it sit for 5 minutes. Serve with a pretty green salad and you've got yourself a meal! A tasty, relatively cheap one, at that.

-You could probably substitute the masa and water for corn muffin batter, which would give this dish a sweeter flavor.
-Much of the flavor comes from the salsa you pour over top at the end, so next time I make it, I'd like to mix in some peppers and canned corn with the onion. That and I'm kind of a vegetable junkie. Also, cilantro and chili powder would have probably provided more flavor and required less salt, but alas, I did not have them.

Edit: It's just as good as leftovers. If not better. Yessssssssssssssssss....
Second edit: It also freezes well.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

bucket list, revisited

"We can focus on the fun things we could have done but didn’t, or we can do something fun right now.

"We can dwell on the mistakes we made in past relationships, or we can focus on enjoying the relationships we’re in right now.

"We can think about all the opportunities we missed out on, or we can focus on embracing possibilities right now.

"There will always be something we didn’t do yesterday, but we get to choose right now how yesterday looks when we get to tomorrow. Right now, whatever age we are, this is our chance to live.

In March of 2008, I wrote a bucket list.

1. Fall in love.
2. Travel.
3. Learn.
4. Write.
5. Be beautiful. varying degrees...I've done them all.

Falling in love wasn't all it's cracked up to be, but it taught me a lot and I know better what to do in order to be a happy and fulfilled person. Namely, that you always have to love God more than anyone else, including yourself. 

I traveled to the UK and Paris last year, and it was the experience of a lifetime. If I never travel again, I will still say that I adore traveling and that if you want to go, just GO. I hope to travel more -- back to Paris, of course, but also to so many more places. Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Australia, and somewhere in Africa would be incredible, for instance.

Learning is so much a part of my life. I've finished my degree now, and eventually I will go on to higher education. I'm learning to be patient about that, though, and learning the difference between "no" and "not now." I'm learning to play sports, to cook, to communicate honestly. I think a love of learning implies a divine discontent with who and where we are today, which is a pretty accurate description of how I try to live my life.

Once, I thought being a writer meant that you had to spout fiction out of your fingertips every day for an hour at a time. That's certainly one kind of writing, but very rarely the kind I do. Instead, I journal, I blog for myself, and I professionally freelance write. There are still stories swimming around in my head, but most days I am just focused on other things. 

For this last one, I'm going to directly quote what I said about this the last time:

"I want to be satisfied with who I am as God created me, with the humility to change and the courage to stand firm. I want to be happy with how my life has turned out, where I'm heading, and what I'm doing in the meantime to prepare for that. I want a beautiful life, full of love and adventure (even on just a small scale) and learning and God, and I want that beauty to come out in who I am."

Amen, me of almost 3 years ago. Amen.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

eating cheaply: pot pies

So, I made pot pies tonight.

They're quite edible, but...but....they're just a little bit...well...odd. I was expecting that, though, seeing as I just threw together things that I had in the house already. The sweet potato has just too much flavor, so it doesn't combine well with the broccoli and canned chicken. (Heh heh. "Does not play well with others.")

So the next time I try this, I'll use regular potatoes for sure. Which kind of makes me feel like I just reinvented the wheel, but hey, I learned a couple of things in the process:

1. I KNOW HOW TO MAKE GRAVY. Well, mostly. See, my dad could make perfect gravy with his eyes shut, but me? every time I've tried it, I've concocted a culinary travesty. However, I've finally figured out a way to make the consistency work, and I think I can figure out the flavor with a few more trial runs. HOORAY!

2. As weird as it sounds at first, broccoli is AMAZING with a little onion, a pinch of nutmeg, a splash of vinegar and a generous squirt of honey. It's tangy and sweet and fun, especially if you don't overcook the broccoli. Which I didn't. Go me.

3. Pies made in muffin tins are a fabulous idea. Fabulous! I'm such a fan of serving sizes built into the presentation.

4. Even when you don't think you need to have milk and butter on do. Just buy it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go rescue my kitchen from the hostile alien invasion clean up the mess I made.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

ten things that make me happy today

  1. The right sleeve of "my" jacket smells like Chris from holding his hand this morning when I drove him to the airport.
  2. "My" is in quotes because technically, the jacket belongs to Chris.
  3. During my 15 minute break at work, I run up and down the stairs and then do stretches in my cubicle.
  4. I get to eavesdrop on people's conversations for a living. (You'd have to be a writer to understand the joy of this one, I think.)
  5. I get to knit while I'm on calls and in between calls, I can write for my freelance job(s).
  6. One of my roommates called me a "clean freak" the other day.
  7. I'm starting to be just a little less needy. 
  8. Sam is coming to see me for Christmas, so I won't be all by myself.
  9. I'm teaching Sunday School tomorrow.
  10. I finally have an income again, so I can finally pay tithing. YAY.

eating cheaply: grocery shopping

I finally (FINALLYYYY) went grocery shopping today.

$4.52 on health and beauty.

$4.74 on produce.

$4.91 on protein.

$5.26 on spices/condiments.

$10.03 on kitchen supplies. (Trash bags and a rolling pin, in this case.)

I feel really good about this. I also think it will be a little less expensive when I have a good stash of spices and condiments built up.

Two biggest things I'm excited about? Fresh produce (YAY!) and the dinners I'll be making.

  • Pot pies -- homemade pie crust, canned chicken, sweet potato, cali mix vegetables.
  • Lemon pasta -- homemade pasta, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, olive oil, basil, evaporated milk
  • Stir fry -- raman, cali mix frozen vegetables, soy sauce, eggs.
  • Tamale casserole (of sorts) -- masa, cheddar cheese, turkey stock, onion, chicken, beans, tomato, salsa
Yes, the pot pies and casserole are experimental, but they use primarily things I already have on hand. And "already on hand" means cheap! Hard to argue with that.

Monday, December 12, 2011

eating cheaply: introduction

So, I don't know if you know this, but I'm poor.

It could be worse, of course. I am not living out of a cardboard box or eating Raman three meals a day. I am, however, learning to budget very carefully and eat very cheaply.

I think a big part of eating cheaply is to make the most of what you already have in your cupboard. Here's my list, a lot of which is left over from things I bought to make Thanksgiving dinner:

1/2 pound cheddar cheese
1 cup pecans
1/2 loaf homemade wheat bread (yum)
1 yam
2/3 pound masa
2.5 sleeves saltines
2/3 bag frozen California blend vegetables
1 bag frozen brussel sprouts
olive oil
2.5 cups homemade turkey stock

From this list, I will eat for 14 meals. To supplement this list (and therefore eat 3 meals a day for a week), I'm going to purchase the following:

brown rice
dried beans
tomato (probably canned, but it depends on how cheap the fresh ones are)
lime juice
chili powder

This week is going to be kind of a Mexican-themed week, what with the masa, rice, and beans. It's also going to be a "do creative things with frozen vegetables" week. The plan is to post the best stuff I come up with. This should be exciting...