I never met my great-grandmother Kirsten Marie Sorensen Jensen, but when I was a new mom, I came to know her heart through her writing. Reading her journals and biography were like a connection to a peer. I read how she managed her own daily load and felt encouraged in mine. I admired her honesty and tenacity, her humility and her creativity. I’m amazed at the influence the link she left has had on me, but her influence has been real, so much that my daughter Kirsten is named after her.
Have you noticed a pattern in the Facebook posts this week from women leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Several of them are posting photos of women they admire and sharing stories of encouragement.
Let’s follow their lead! Let’s undo the social and cultural pattern to polarize women from each other and share how we grow and influence each other.
We do need each other!
Which women have influenced your life? Who inspires you? What stories of faithful women inspire and encourage you?
Leave a comment or share your own photo on social media of a woman who’s influenced you.
I’m preparing to release my debut novel Flowers of Grace in two weeks.
My sister Camille, who was also one of my editors, told me she just read it again for what was probably the sixth time. Do you want to know what she said when she finished?
She said that every women could relate to this book, that every woman could find something in this book.
Flowers of Grace is about friendship among women. Immersing myself in this novel through the writing and publishing process has increased my love for my women friends, my sisters (including SILs), my daughters, my mother, and mother in law.
My friend Rozane said this about Flowers of Grace,
It’s touching. It’s clever. It’s uplifting and exciting!
Flowers of Grace is a delightful novel written by a woman, for women. To me this book is a tribute to love and friendship. It celebrates our many differences of personality, age, background and challenges in life. This novel, truly brings to light how women need women, how we are uniquely invested in overcoming problems, how we grow stronger as an individual when we embrace our differences by communicating, sharing a simple laughter, or extending sympathy in times of sorrows.
Flowers of Grace is a testament to me that together as women we can be so much more! I personally can’t imagine where I would be today without a handful of good woman, who have given me advise, time and joy.
Post a photo of you and a friend, sister, daughter or mother on Facebook or Instagram. Write what this friendship means in 2-6 words. Tag your friend and ask her to do it too!
Do you want to take it to the next level of sharing? I’m creating a video after Valentine’s Day with some of my favorite photos and descriptions. Use these hashtags if you want to be included: #FlowersOfGrace #Friendship
Paul asked for a torte for his birthday, and because I haven’t baked in a long while, I set out to plan, bake, decorate and present him with a decadent hazelnut chocolate torte.
Now, this isn’t a foodie or baking blog. Mostly it’s a blog about how I cope with all the things that go wrong in normal everyday life and then figure out what I learned from them. So you can expect that I had some challenges creating this beautiful torte along the way, right?
The biggest challenge was not the torte itself but all the other projects I crammed into his birthday weekend. They all required 100% of my time.
A romantic night out. This worked out beautifully because it was the first event of the weekend, on Friday night, and we went out to eat, leaving the mess to someone else.
Final formatting of my new book. Things got a little sticky here. We uploaded the ebook to Amazon, but then the PDF proofs for the print version were fussy and it took two of us—okay, really Paul with me looking over his shoulder—to sort it out.
Creating a handout and video for a class. (Yes, a class I was teaching on his birthday.) Of course, I didn’t start this until 8 p.m. the night before. And, when he suggested that my old MacBook wouldn’t finish until 3 a.m., he took this onto his plate as well.
Normal things of life. Let me now insert multiple rides for our teenage daughter, an early dinner to accommodate our son’s work schedule, website updates for my author website, and my keyboard shooting out random characters.
And the birthday dinner. This all happened before I started making the beef stew and the famed chocolate torte, which all needed to be complete the night before so we could eat it in the short hour we had before he left for another meeting.
Are you tired, yet?
Through each step of these other projects, I walked back and forth past the cream cheese and butter that was softening on the counter for frosting, reminding me of the baking project ahead of me.
Then I fell apart.
A hazelnut chocolate cake does not express love under these conditions. Baking in this state draws out anxiety and rests it right on the shoulders of the object of my affection.
But I wasn’t going to let it. I’ve done that before. This torte needed a happy ending.
So, I set it aside that night. I didn’t make it compete. The butter and cream cheese went back in the refrigerator.
His perfect dinner wasn’t topped off with a perfect torte. But it wasn’t great that he had to leave right away either. So I used that time to my advantage and pulled that cream cheese and butter out as soon as he left. He did finish a very nice birthday with a super good torte.
It’s all about levels, like the layers on this torte. We can give our all—to the highest level—but not to all things, and certainly not simultaneously.
Truthfully, our highest level does not equal love. Chocolate hazelnut torte–on any level–is not love.
Love is what my husband gave me when he rescued my PDF proofs or the uninterrupted quiet time I encouraged him to take beside the fire before he headed out for five more hours of meetings or putting the butter back in the fridge when there just isn’t time or energy to do all you want to do.
So, by all means, take this recipe and bake a chocolate hazelnut torte for your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day. But please, please don’t forget to add the love.
Without it, something will always be missing.
Chocolate Hazelnut Torte
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup ground filberts (hazelnuts)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Chocolate Glaze (see below)
Whipped Chocolate Frosting (see below)
Fresh Berries for garnish
1st – Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients and gradually mix into the creamed sugar mixture. (This will look more like cookie dough than a cake.)
2nd – Divide into eight separate pieces, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
3rd – Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a large baking sheet with sides by greasing the bottom, laying wax paper over that and then greasing the wax paper.
4th – One at a time, remove layers from refrigerator. Unwrap from plastic wrap, roll in sugar, and press between waxed paper. (Some of mine were too sticky so I also patted them in flour first.) Roll into an approximately a 6 x 4 inch rectangular.
5th – Lay out on the baking sheet in a four long by two high row. They will be touching, and if they aren’t you can pat them out to fill the whole tray.
6th – Bake at 350 degrees for 7-9 minutes, depending on your oven. You do not want them to be brown or crisp, so they are cake-like cookies. Remove from the oven and set the whole pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes.
7th – Gently loosen the cookies from the edge of the tray and cut marks to evenly divide the pieces. Then lift the waxed paper out of the baking tray and onto a two cooling sheets put together or a very wide one. Gently trim any ridges from the edges of the pieces. Allow to cool completely.
8th – Make the glaze:
1 1/2 – 2 cups semisweet or dark chocolate chips (I love Special Dark chips)
2 tablespoons butter
2 – 3 tablespoons milk
Warm milk in a heavy pan on the stove set on low. Add butter, stir until melted. Add chocolate chips and stir until not solid pieces remain. Do not add too much milk. We don’t want this to be a pourable glaze, just a spreadable one.
9th – Now assemble the cookie/cake layers.
10th – Stack layers, one by one, spreading chocolate glaze over each. If a layer seems to be a little too long, go ahead and carefully trim the edges so that they are as even as you can get. Don’t stress about those that don’t create a perfect box shape. The frosting will cover it later.
11th – After all the layers have glaze between them, spread glaze around the full exterior of the torte.
12th – Refrigerate the cake for a couple of hours and make the whipped chocolate frosting.
Whipped Chocolate Frosting
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
Whip cream and set aside. Beat cream cheese until soft. Mix powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Add to cream cheese mixture and blend, gently at first. Spoon some of the whipped cream into the bowl if the frosting is too dry. Then fold most of the remaining whipped cream into the cream cheese and chocolate mixture. I saved some to decorate the top. You can chill the frosting for a bit to make it more firm for piping.
13th – Decorate the rest of the cake. I’m not a cake decorator so many of you can make a much lovelier one, I’m sure. But I piped the whipped chocolate frosting around the bottom and piped plain (sweetened) whipped cream on the top. Then, garnish with berries of your choice. I think raspberries or blackberries go best with this flavor combination.
To sweets, that is. Sugar is my comfort when I can’t cope with the anxiety I feel way too much.
Sure, I’m a person of faith. I pray for comfort and give thanks for daily blessings. I don’t drink alcohol or smoke or use drugs. I’m not even attached to a morning coffee or Coke.
But I am and always will be addicted to warm homemade cookies with nuts, Oreo concretes from Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, a good cheesecake (or any cake), Twizzlers and Skittles, Snickers bars and a square or two of really, really good deep, rich, dark chocolate.
I bet you have your favorites, too. Just pause right here and salivate over those.
I’ve lived my life making sugar rules. You can have as much as you want. You can’t have any. You can only have it one day a week. You can only eat it on “dessert days,” three days a week. You can have three bites. You can only stare at the dessert in front of you, but you can’t eat it.
Have you been there? Which rule did you make and break the fastest?
But this summer I lost control. I even stabbed myself for chocolate. And then my friends and family made sure I had plenty so that I didn’t go to great lengths to get it. But, I noted other signs of addiction.
Admittedly, my health concerns have “grown exponentially” (as my doctor put it) throughout the year. From a diagnosis of a rare neuroendocrine tumor in my appendix to a shoulder injury resulting from surgery to the excision of an atypical mole to my third surgery in six months, I’ve overcome a lot this year.
So, of course, I deserve sugar to cope, right?
Wrong. I constantly craved sweets. They curbed my anxiety for the moment but consumed my thinking about what to choose next. Once again, dessert came after every meal and tried to fill every need. I didn’t gorge, but I always wanted a little something to satisfy my sweet tooth.
The sugar fed my craving but controlled me.
My mind was distracted, my spirit unsettled.
So here’s what I did.
On the 23rd of July, 2014, I had very large bowl of ice cream and put everything I wanted on top of it. On July 24th I woke up and stopped eating dessert.
I just stopped.
I treated this like the addiction in me that it was.
I did not give myself an end date when I could go back.
I just stopped and didn’t start eating it again.
Don’t think I have incredible willpower. I don’t. But, I just did it. I wanted to control my body, not have my body control me. And if it’s right for you, (which it isn’t for everyone) then you can, too.
1. Stop making it. Your family will protest, but they will live and be better for it. I’m a baker and regularly made dessert. I pinned and tried new recipes on a daily basis. Now, I buy ice cream and always have that for a family dessert choice. My kids still make cookies, but we wrap up the extras as soon as they’re cool and stick them in the freezer. When I don’t eat sugar, we all eat less of it.
2. Keep treats out of sight. Keep desserts for others out of your eyesight, literally. Put ice cream in the back of the freezer, chocolate on a high shelf. Have them put it in places where you’re not going to run into it all the time. Some people just don’t have it in the house. I had to ignore my Pinterest account for awhile.
3. Find new ways to cope with emotional needs. This is where my faith came in to help. And good relationships. I’ve learned exactly what brings me comfort, and I ask my family to help me with that. You may even want to try an addiction recovery program.
4. Don’t think you have to say yes. Social functions should be the easiest place for us to abstain, but we make it hard for each other to do that. Is this because we feel guilty doing whatever it is we are doing when others don’t? Peer pressure is real, and Mormons even do it to each other.
5. Say “No, thank you” and don’t explain. You don’t have to tell people you aren’t eating sugar. In fact, beyond your close family and friends, it may be better to not. It’s a big distraction when it becomes a party topic. I’ve found that with the abundance of unique dietary choices today, it’s best to keep the whats and whys to yourself. Just like everyone is not harmed by gluten, going sugar-free isn’t for everybody.
6. Eat fruit. I eat way more fruit now, usually some with every meal. Fresh fruit is best.
7. Use dried fruits moderately. Recipes exist for sugar free “desserts” made with dates, raisins, and figs. While I do eat some dried fruits on their own, I haven’t wanted to use these desserts as replacements, especially in the first three months of withdrawal. But I may try one for Christmas.
8. Avoid artificial sweeteners. Yuck. The idea was to eat better, not just different bad stuff. I chew a little Extra gum on occasion and use sugar-free breath mints, but that’s about it.
9. Realize you’re still going to want it. Admit when you do, but don’t dwell on it. Say it out loud and then eat something else like a piece of fruit (try frozen bananas, grapes or blueberries) or real orange juice without added sugar. Or, go do something else like play an instrument, take a hot bath or read something you love.
10. Count each day as a success. I have gone sugar free multiple times in my life. I hope this is the last. Even if it isn’t, I’ve successfully overcome my weakness today.
What about you? What are your tips for going sugar free? What are the physical and emotional benefits?
Tomorrow I will be two weeks post surgery. And today, my mother/caretaker returned home. She’s been with me for 10 days, since I came home from the hospital. What a gift her care has been to me.
She nurtured me through this recovery, helping me find nutritious soft food options six times a day. She took me back to the hospital ER when my digestive system rejected the initial 36 hours of food.
She’s cared for my family with grocery shopping, meals and cleaning. She’s been my walking buddy to help me get up from the bed to the mailbox to the stop sign to all the way around the block.
She watched a lot of BBC television with me when I just needed to pass time resting my body and my brain. She planted annuals on my front porch to brighten my summer and let me do just enough to get my hands dirty.
She’s vacuumed my stairs and done my laundry and driven me to appointments. She’s been my companion as I received the telephone call that my tumors had spread to the lymph node.
Sometimes even adults need a mom, again, and I did. I told her I’d like to do that for her someday. Because she has her own health concerns.
She’s given me her limited energy so that I can conserve mine. That’s hard to ask just anyone to do, but I’ve needed and appreciated the care she and my husband and children and so many have given.
At my follow-up appointment we all noted some markers of improvement in my healing. I’ve received an okay to expand my diet a bit to include foods that are not just soft and super easy to digest. (Yeah chocolate!!!) With her leaving and the desire to do more, my goal for the coming week has to be this other medical advice I received at the same time: Conserve your energy.
If I only consider the status of what I can see from the outside, I will miss the healing that still needs to happen on the inside.
As a nurturer and doer myself, this is the hardest part of healing. I recognize my strength is returning but I can only use that strength for limited tasks. My priorities for energy go to basic essentials, not extras. And the definition of an extra has broadened to include anything outside of my limited home environment.
I’m adjusting my thinking on how to continue to conserve my energy despite naturally wanting to ease back into my previous role as a nurturer and caretaker myself. Today, I’ve found help from this experience from Bonnie L. Oscarson, the Young Women General President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
At an overwhelming time of her life as she tried to care for many as the wife of a mission president and mom of four young children, she felt a lot of negativity in her challenging role but then learned to use the Atonement to work for her. She said:
“I asked for forgiveness of my shortcomings and tried to become a more patient and giving person. I realized that repentance is a daily necessity and that it simply means we are trying to be better each day. I prayed to understand how to prioritize the various things commanding my time. I tried to put the needs of my children first and to turn the things I just couldn’t manage over to others—and to the Lord. I had to work at letting the Lord take over the many things I worried about. I prayed and studied my scriptures. I learned to listen to the promptings of the Spirit more than ever and trust that the Lord understood me and stood ready to prompt and help. The busyness of my life didn’t change, but my ability to handle things increased. I have never viewed the Atonement the same way since.”
Whether we are sick or well, caring for others or simply caring for ourselves, the ability to discern what’s essential—without either making excuses or overdoing—is a skill every caretaker needs. Honestly listening to our body and spirit and knowing our personal circumstances enhances our ability to do more of what’s important and less of what drains our energy.
And those are the lessons I’ll return to all summer as my teens come home from school to stand in as my new caretakers and we all feel the role reversal in the coming months.
I’m still recovering from an appendectomy last month in which the surgeons removed a carcinoid tumor from my appendix. This Friday I will have a right hemicolectomy, which essentially means that a part of my large intestines will be removed and the new end will be attached to the small intestines. In addition, they’ll remove some lymph nodes and blood vessels.
Physically, I’ve had some pain, but mostly I’m weak and exhausted. Emotionally, the thought of going through it again initially shocked me. Even so, my physical and emotional needs have been met.
An outpouring of support has come from friends and family who’ve nurtured me in the past and who’ve I’ve had the chance to nurture. The number and sincerity of people who have reached out has lifted my attitude and prepared me to face another surgery.
How and when to express compassion can be a complex. Sometimes you and I lack confidence, thinking we’re intruding. Or we awkwardly say or do the wrong thing. Even worse, we may do nothing at all.
Has that uncertainty prevented you from acting to help, even in the smallest gesture, or to express sympathy?
Suffering and accompanying needs vary widely according to the challenges and individual circumstances and personalities. But I’ve discovered some commonalities to compassion.
Here’s 5 Ways to Reach Out:
Be Yourself and Give What’s Uniquely You.
After surgery I received a number of little gifts and expressions of care that suited me but also reflected the talent, knowledge or resources of the giver. One friend sent this offer,
“Is there a time that I can come down and give you a shellac pedicure before your surgery? My theory is that if you find yourself in a hospital bed, you should at least be able to look down and see happy toes. Let me know if you have time in your schedule for such a thing.”
It meant so much to me when she and another close friend drove two hours one-way to do this for me, share a lunch they prepared and visit with me. Yes, I was tired afterward, but the physical gesture helped me feel pretty and even more it helped me feel loved.
Acknowledge the Pain and Naturally Express Sorrow for Suffering.
My adult daughter expressed that she’s not sure what to do when I’m hurting. I shared with her what her dad (and my husband) had done late one night when I was so uncomfortable.
He simply said, “I’m sorry that you are going through this.”
Several others have voiced that same phrase with genuine sincerity at just the right moment to help me not feel so alone in my suffering.
Ask Naturally About Needs and Listen Responsively.
So many have listened to me talk about my first surgery experience, my recovery, my anxieties about the next surgery and my challenges with diet restrictions. And I do appreciate that. It helps me process my thoughts. They simply check in on a regular basis and ask questions like, “How are you feeling?” or “What do you have coming up this week?”
One of my dearest supporters has been a friend who’s suffering herself. She regularly texts me, visits, offers to pick up necessities and even brought a gift of flowers intended for her family. She opens her heart and shares specific knowledge she has and then opens her ears and listens for my need.
Resist Placing Yourself in a Position as Teacher or Judge.
By asking questions rather than just giving advice, you help the one who is suffering to retain his or her independence. Try not to make assumptions about the suffering to try to ease it.
When a friend or family member suffers, there is a tendency to want to fix it, as if it is a problem that “if only you did this” then we could relieve that suffering.
Suffering itself does not indicate that the one who suffers has made a wrong choice or is somehow less capable of making choices. That sounds obvious regarding health concerns or the loss of a loved one but not as much with financial or relationship challenges.
Even though we may not intend it, the words we use to comfort and help may come across as minimizing or sound as if we know better. We can and should still speak up. We can apologize when we misspeak and we can gain the skills and experience to know how to say what might be a comfort. Here are some resources to help:
I highly recommend the book On Loss and Living Onward to be a real help to those who grieve.
And you will surely gain a better understanding of ways to help those in financial need while helping them retain their own independence from my own book, Twelve Stones to Remember Him: Building Memorials of Faith from Financial Crisis,
Compassion is Better Late than Never.
The emotion of suffering brings with it an array of negatives, but it can also allow a flow of rich changes in a person’s life. This learning and growth from a challenging experience happens in a process of time during and after an experience that caused the suffering.
After an initial outreach to one in need, the care falls back, but the needs still remain. The pain may be at a lower level, but the healing isn’t yet complete. If you or I haven’t taken the chance to nurture someone in need before this time, it is not too late to extend that compassion. Healing takes longer than we think.
“When you cross a challenge that is expansive and deep,
you may not even realize when you’ve come to the other side.
That day will come. And when it does, how will you look at your crossing?”
That time after the initial period of a big life-altering challenge—think about the months after everyone else seems to have moved on—is a prime time to be a good and true friend to one who has suffered. Then, as you are observant and available to listen, you can be a valued part of the continued healing process.
A friend told me in an email, “I don’t understand why some people seem to be dished more than their fair share of trials.” I don’t want to classify myself this way because I have had a good life. Still, I have had a fair amount of challenges.
Challenges, I’ve discovered, are not just about getting through and solving, but they allow us to stretch deeper into the richness of life and reasons for relationships. As friends of those who suffer, we can join their journey. And if we approach it with sensitivity, we can bless them and be blessed by it.