Monday, February 29, 2016

Have Faith

From his letter to me: 
This week was amazing! Being a district leader isn't that busy, except on Sunday's, when I have to gather everyone's reports of their weekly efforts and key indicators (I'll let you look that up if you don't know what that means), weeks that I have to do companion exchanges, and weeks that we need district training meetings. Also, things are going to be getting pretty exciting pretty soon, and I'll probably have to start doing interviews for baptismal candidates quite frequently. I'm looking forward to seeing the work of the Lord hasten here in Japan.

Days have been pretty chilly down here in Aizu, because we are in the mountains. Not too bad though, with only a bit of fallen snow. None of it stuck though. Hope the weather stays nice!

It's hard for me to imagine my teenage years are over, but I am so glad that I am losing them to my God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Also, when President Monson and the 12 and all the other general authorities were trying to decide if they should lower the age for missions, President Monson received revelation that they needed to get the youth on missions sooner so that they can marry, and marry quicker. Not saying that I have anyone that I plan on marrying (quite the opposite, really), but just thought you should know. :)
The missionaries writing home. Good boys!

To Everyone:
This week, we had the wonderful opportunity to learn at the feet of Elder Choi, the second counselor of the Asia North Area, and a humble and wise mine. He and his wife shared lots of things with us, but one thing that we need to always remember, is faith in Christ. Because of Christ, we will live again. Because of Christ, we can be with family for eternity. Because of Christ, we can feel peace. Because of Christ we can be forgiven. All that is good comes from Him. So please, not for anyone else's sake, but for your own, have faith. As Alma said so well, "...If ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words." (Alma 32:27; emphasis added)
A 3 story escalator (He sends photos of some funny things)

My scripture of the week is Doctrine and Covenants 60:2, "But with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man. Wo unto such, for mine anger is kindled against them." I need the motivation to always open my mouth, and what more motivation can you get than knowing what your doing is pleasing God, someone who I owe everything to.

the Kanji of the week is: 神の奥義 pronounced "Kami no okugi" and means the mysteries of God.

Monday's are never really anything to report on. In the evening, we did some area book work, and tried to call some people.

Tuesday we did finding, and also had a lesson with a recent convert, and also with a new investigator. The rest of the day was finding.

Wednesday we tried to find some more, but didn't end up having that much time. We had to take a bus pretty early to go to Sendai, so we spent 2 and a half hours on a bus, and ate dinner there.
Cookies we sent from Amazon Japan for his birthday that's this week
Thursday was spent all day in Sendai, learning from Elder Choi (pronounced Che) and I had a great time. The mission is going to go through lots of changes, not because anything in the structure is changing, but because the missionaries are. It's a great time to be a missionary in the Japan Sendai mission. In the evening, I went with Elder E., my zone leader and friend, to Yamagata for splits.

Friday was a great day of talking to everyone, having many great lessons, and seeing the Lord's hand in our work. We found lots of people that were interested, but that didn't come with it's fair share of rejections. We did get to have some funny rejections though, like an old lady running--yes, running-- from me, among others. It was cool to work there, because I hadn't been there since last year, almost to the date, and my first companion served there for the last three transfers, roughly four months, of his mission.
A puzzle we sent him that he figured out in 2 days, but he can't remember how to put back together yet

Saturday was spent traveling, and in weekly planning. That's all we had time for.

Sunday was great, had my first sacrament meeting in my new area's ward, and got to know the members a bit. Partaking of the sacrament was, as it is always, a time of reflection and rededication to God. We helped clean the church after services, and then studied. The next hours were spent trying to find less actives' houses. There were some that moved, some that had no interest in the gospel any more, and some who weren't home. Although all are sad cases, we did get a new potential investigator, and also met the mother of a less active who was really happy to hear that we are more than glad to help her if she needs any help with her house (I think I heard her say she lives alone). I hope she really takes us up on that offer!

That's my week! Hope you like it, and I hope your weeks were good too. Have a great week again, everyone! Love you all!


Panorama --- It stitched it on his face so he looks kinda funny he said

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Homemade Sweet Potato Rolls

Today was the second time in a week that I've made these. I didn't think my youngest and pickiest child would eat them, but she tried them and even loves them. These are soft and fluffy and a new favorite at our house. 

I found them at Oh Sweet Basil and wanted to make them, but I didn't find vital wheat gluten at the first store I went to and then forgot to look for it for a while. Then I remembered again and found it at a different store, but it was $8-something and I wasn't sure I wanted to buy it. But these rolls looked so good so I decided to try it. The recipe uses just 1 teaspoon so the bag will work for lots and lots of batches. I don't know how these would come out without it, but it is so great with it. 

Homemade Sweet Potato Rolls
2/3 c. milk
3 T. sugar
5 T. butter, unsalted and diced
1 t. dry active yeast
2 3/4 c. bread flour
1 1/2 t. kosher salt (or 3/4 t. sea salt)
1 t. vital wheat gluten (keep away from the salt when dumping in)
1 c. sweet potato, baked and mashed (about 1 large sweet potato) with skins removed
1 large egg with 1/2 T. egg white removed
Butter for tops after baking

In a glass measuring cup, microwave the milk for 90 seconds, but do not allow to boil. Remove from microwave and add the butter to the milk. Stir to combine and allow the butter to completely melt. Once it is warm but not hot, add the sugar and yeast and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, add the flour, salt, vital wheat gluten on the opposite side of the bowl as the salt, and mix with a paddle attachment or stir by hand. Add the yeast mixture, sweet potato and egg. Mix again just until the dough comes together and then switch to the dough hook and mix for 90 seconds. Cover with a light towel or plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1-2 hours.

Sprinkle the counter lightly with flour and turn the very soft dough out. Sprinkle the top with a little more flour and roll out to about 1/4" thick rectangle. Starting at the end closest to you, pinch the dough closed and tightly roll into a log. Cut about 2" pieces and using the palm of your hand, gently roll the dough into balls. Place on a greased cookie sheet and cover with another towel or saran wrap. allow to rise for 1-2 hours.

Heat the oven to 350° and bake for 18-20 minutes. Quickly brush the tops with more butter and serve.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Roasted Veggie Quinoa Salad

This is the second time I made this recipe from The Talking Kitchen and I love it. I only wish that I would have roasted the veggies longer so they'd have a nice char on them, but I was running behind and couldn't take as long this time. This is a great side dish or even a main dish for dinner or lunch. Lots of yummy vegetables plus a fresh lemony zing and the nutritional goodness of quinoa.

Roasted Veggie Quinoa Salad
1 c. rinsed quinoa
2 c. chicken stock
1 t. extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 t. sea salt

Roasted Vegetables:
2 bell peppers, cubed
1 zucchini, cubed
1 squash, cubed
1 red onion, cubed
1 fennel bulb, cubed
4 garlic cloves, whole
1 T. Herbs de Provence
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 t. smoked salt

1/2 lemon, juiced and zested
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
Fresh herbs

Preheat the oven to 450º, or fire up the grill.

In a bowl, combine all the cubed veggies and toss with the Herbs de Provence, oil and salt. Place in a single layer on a lined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, flipping half way through. (or grill the veggies to your liking)

In a small saucepan, heat the oil over low heat and add the garlic, saute for 1 minute, then add the rinsed quinoa and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes. Turn off heat, let sit for 5 minutes and fluff with a fork.

In a serving bowl, combine cooked quinoa with roasted veggies. Add dressing, toss and serve. Can be served hot or cold. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

I Love You!

Parts of Alex's letter to me:
My new area is good, and I am glad that I am here. Things are looking great. I hope I can set a good example for the other missionaries here in Aizuwakamatsu.

I love my area so far, as you may have read from my mass email. There is a castle here near our apartment, so we may go check that out soon. I'll see about other festivals and such. There was absolutely no snow in my last area, so I didn't have a chance for a snow festival. The snow festival is apparently unique to yonezawa though. Also, this area's city is right below Yonezawa city boundaries, so I'm super close to where I was a year ago.

My companion, Elder H. if I remember correctly is half Japanese, half Brazilian. He doesn't speak either of those two languages, because he's lived in America his entire life, and his mom moved to Brazil with her family when she was young.

Elder B. is from Oklahoma, and lived in Okinawa for a while. He is a half as well. Half American, and half Mexican. Doesn't speak Spanish, just like me. He loves star wars, and is a great guy.

Elder O. is Japanese, and from Okinawa, I believe. He's great at English, and a funny man.

As a district leader, I conduct district meetings whenever we don't have zone training meetings or zone conferences, or other conferences (next week in this case). I also have to collect everyone's numbers to report to the zone leaders on Sunday nights. I have to make sure our apartment stays clean. I have to make an example of my area so that others can model their area after mine. I have to do splits with the other missionaries, and help them learn, grow, and be happy. I also interview anyone who is ready for baptism that isn't taught by me in my area. That's about all I can think of right now.

Me and My New Companion, Elder H.
To Everyone:

You have a loving Heavenly Father who wants you to know that He loves you. He cares about all your problems, as mundane and insignificant as they may seem. He knows your name and what you need. He is so happy when you choose to follow Him and have true and lasting happiness, and weeps tears of sorry every time you choose otherwise. He wants you to return to His presence, and right now is calling you to come to His arms, into His rest. Please, accept his call!

Scripture of the week: Doctrine and Covenants 81:5 "Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees." God doesn't want anyone to be sad, and neither do I. I can't do too much to help you all back home lift your hands, or strengthen you in your times of trial, but I pray for you, and I know God joyfully answers those prayers.

Kanji of the week: 会津若松 pronounced "Aizuwakamatsu," and literally means meet at a safe haven of young pine trees, or something to that degree. It is the name of the city I live and serve in now.

Monday was packing, and in the evening we went to the mission home.

Tuesday was a meeting all day followed by a bus down to my new area. I had to go by myself to Aizuwakamatsu, and when I got there, I didn't see the other elders. I reluctantly asked a high school girl (it was dark and about 8 o'clock, not good for young women anywhere nowadays) if she knew where a payphone was. She didn't but lent me her phone. She was so nice, and I wish I had at least invited her to come to English class.
Ramen with Horse Meat
Wednesday was my first actual time of proselyting in Aizuwakamatsu. We spent most of the time in the city office and other places looking for community activities we can go to and get to know people who are willing to talk to us. We were walking due to the snow, and so we went and had dinner after that before going to the church for English class. The students here are about the same as in Furukawa, but they are all so fun. I am looking forward to working with them!

Thursday we had a lessons with an investigator in the morning, and that was mostly a bit of introducing myself, and reading from the Book of Mormon. We then went back to the apartment and finished studies. We tried Streeting, but not much success. After that we went to an investigator's house, and found out that he doesn't really have interest at the moment. He said that he still needs to think about things, but that if he decides to learn more, he'll come to church. In the evening we went to a sign language place that we found the previous day. It was great, and I loved the practice, but the set up here isn't that effective for our purpose, so we probably won't go again.

Friday we tried to get my bike fixed, because it didn't have good brakes, and we had a really weird time of trying to find one that had mountain bike parts. We ran into a few people that were really unfriendly and didn't want to help (one of them was a store owner who basically ignored us and told us to go away), but we also had a really nice man who does volunteer work help us find a shop (didn't have the parts we needed), and then another really nice high school boy who walked with us to a bike shop. We got part of my bike fixed, but it still needs some work. It's rideable though. After that we tried to street for a few minutes, but everyone seemed to disappear when we started. We had to catch a bus anyway, and we went to Koriyama for English class there. The missionaries aren't allowed to stay there because of radiation from an explosion back in 2011, but it's low enough that we can go there for short times and have no problem. The members there are great, and I had fun with the students there too. I love having two classes of English students!

Raw Horse Meat. It was really good and tender.
Saturday we had a lesson in the morning with a less active, and it was really great. We talked about love, and how we all need to share the gospel. He said that he actually has a friend he wants to introduce to us, so that's great! We then went home, studied and did weekly planning. Following that, we went to a lesson with our recent convert, and it was nice. We read from Alma, and had a fun time talking about that. Then we went with an English class student and a less active to dinner, and had a great time with them. They love the missionaries, and I hope that our influence will one day bring a change to their hearts.
Sunday we took a bus in the morning down to Koriyama again for church. I don't go every week, and probably won't go back there for the rest of the transfer. We had lots of fun, and got to know the members well. There is a deaf member there, so I got some more practice with sign language there. We also had a potluck lunch after church, and one of the members there, the district president, said that he wants to introduce us to a student of his and his family, and also wants to talk about the church with one of his friends that comes to English class every week. Things are going great in both areas! The rest of the day was studying.
I once again want to say how much God loves you, and how much He cares about you. I also love and care about you, to a much lesser extent, because I am not even close to a millionth of the perfection that is God. I hope you all have a great week.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Wonderful Weather

This part is from his letter to me before he wrote the mass email so some of it is repeated. 

I am transferring, and I'm going to a place called Aizuwakamatsu. It's a mouthful, I know. My companion is going to be Elder H., and I will have two more Elders in the apartment: Elder O. and Elder B. if I remember correctly. There are also two sisters in the district. The "biggest" news, is that I'm going to become a district leader there. It will be my first time, and I'm sure it will be an adventure. 

They are doing transfers differently now, and we will be told our companion and area over the phone, and will go to our area as fast as we can. I leave tonight, so that's why I had to finish packing before writing.

To Everyone:
I have news: I am transferring. It has been roughly 4 months here in
Furukawa, and is the longest area (tied with Yonezawa and Hachinohe),
and Elder A. is a companion I've had for the longest (tied with
Elder O., and Elder B.--both now home from their missions).
Note from Valerie: These are different Elders O and B than above. 

The change that really surprised me, however, is I am becoming a
district leader. So, I am going to Sendai tonight to get training in
the morning tomorrow, and I will probably not come back to Furukawa
for the rest of my mission. 

 My scripture of the week is Moroni 8:26, "And the remission of sins
bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and
lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which
Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by
diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints
shall dwell with God." 

 Kanji of the week: 任天堂 pronounced "nintendo." This is loved by many,
so I don't think I need to explain what it means, but an interesting
fact is that Nintendo used to make board and card games before they
became a video game company. It was the only Kanji I could think of
off the top of my head that I might not have shared. 
It's not appetizing looking, but delicious food called okonomi yaki.
We made it ourselves.

 Monday was normal, and we had a great time visiting an investigator at
the local mall, and also at family home evening. 

 Tuesday we went to another town in our area, and were able to talk to
two less active's, and find some very nice high school boys. The rest
of the day was finding. 

 Wednesday we did Streeting, and housing, and not too much to say about
that. We had one person mistake us for Jehovah's Witnesses, but
nothing else really. English class was fun, and everyone was so
energetic. I announced that one of us might be gone next week, and
they were all super sad and thanked us both for everything just incase
we left. It really showed me how much I have an impact on others lives
even when I feel like all I do is teach them English for an hour.
Afterwards, we had two short lessons with one of the English students
who became an investigator, and also a member who likes the
missionaries a lot.

 Thursday we did weekly planning, so a lot of our day went to that. We
did some Streeting after that, and then went to an old investigators
house, to see how they were doing. Not much had changed, but they
still love missionaries. Not much else I can really think of that
happened that day. 

 Friday we went and did district training meeting, and then I came back
with Elder M.  We had a great day, and were able to get some
finding in, and also a lesson with a new investigator. She loves
English, and she also has lots of interest in the church. The 30
minute English, 30 minute Japanese/gospel practice program we have is
great for her. The branch president was there, and it was a great
lesson. We answered a lot of her questions, and the missionaries will
next meet with her on my birthday. 
A box of chocolates I got from an English class student for Valentine's Day. Don't worry, she's
waaaay older than me, but she loves missionareis.
 Saturday Elder A. came back to Furukawa, and the other two went
back to Izumi, we then went to street for a bit, but didn't get much.
After dinner, we went to visit a different investigator, he's a high
school student. He and his friend were outside talking, so we talked
to both of them. His friend asked some questions about us and the
church, so we told answered all his questions and asked him to read
the Book of Mormon we gave him. It was a great lesson, because our
investigator helped teach his friend! That night, I got the call to Aizuwakamatsu, one of the furthest south areas in the mission. My new
companion will be Elder H., and I'm looking forward to it all. 

 Sunday we had a great day at church, and everyone was sad to hear I
was leaving. It was again eye opening, because I didn't feel like I
did all I could to work for the members, but they all kept saying how
much they'd miss me. After church, we gave a member a blessing, and it
was a super spiritual blessing. A huge chunk of the day was then taken
for studies (next transfer I'll have an extra hour of work a day!).
The night was pretty fun, but uneventful. We tried our best though! 

That's the fast version of this week. We had our greatest week
together this week, and I'm sad to leave at such a wonderful time. But
I know that God wants me in Aizuwakamatsu. Have a great week everyone. 


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Drop Brownie Caramel Sandwich Cookie

I was in the mood for a caramel dessert last week so I threw this together. I made the simple-but-really-delicious drop brownie cookies that I have made several times before. Then this time I slathered one with melted caramel and topped it with another cookie, making a super fudgy, caramelly, decadent sandwich cookie. 

Drop Brownie Caramel Sandwich Cookie
2 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
½ c. butter
1 c. flour
11 oz. wrapped caramel candies
1-2 T. water or evaporated milk

Preheat oven to 350º. Spray cookie sheets or line with Silpat.

Combine first 3 ingredients in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 2 minutes, stopping half-way through to stir. Then stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in flour. Let batter sit in bowl for 10 minutes.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 2-inches apart onto baking sheets. Bake for 7 minutes. Cookies will be soft. Cool on baking sheets 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Unwrap caramels into a microwave-safe bowl and add 1 tablespoon water or evaporated milk. Microwave, stopping and stirring after every 20 seconds, until melted completely. If needed, add more water or evaporated milk. It needs to be spreadable, but not too liquidy.

Spread caramel on bottom of one of the cookies and top with another cookie. Continue with rest of cookies, using desired amount of caramel on each.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Turkey, Pesto and Cranberry Melt

Yep, this is a messy, pumped-up grilled cheese sandwich and it is so good! Bonus: it's so easy. Make your own pesto and cranberry sauce or use store-bought. This classic pairing of turkey and cranberries, along with pesto and melty mozzarella, was on The Hopeless Housewife blog. 

Since I had some pesto leftover from making a pasta dish that I still need to post, I thought I'd throw this together as my daughter Elisa's going-away dinner. She left this morning for New York to sing at Carnegie Hall. Crazy and awesome! Anyway, we loved this sandwich. 

I used deli sliced turkey this time, but I'll use some good roasted turkey next time. You don't really need a recipe once you know the ingredients, but I'll give it to you anyway.

Turkey, Pesto and Cranberry Melt
6 slices of roasted turkey breast
6 slices fresh mozzarella cheese
4 T. basil pesto
6 T. fresh or canned cranberry sauce
4 slices sourdough bread, cut ½ – ¾ inch thick

Heat butter in a skillet over medium heat.

Spread the pesto on the sourdough bread, and then add turkey breast, cranberry sauce, and mozzarella cheese.

Place the sandwich into the skillet and let cook for a few minutes until cheese becomes melty, then flip the sandwich onto the other side and repeat until desired color and look is reached.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Utah Local: Foreign Figures

It's been forever since I posted a local music post. Today I'm introducing you to an awesomely talented group who I've been following for a while now, even before they were called Foreign Figures. They have changed names and have had some changes in people in the band, but they've always been great.

The lead singer is Eric Michels and his brother Steve Michels is the drummer. Seth Dunshee is on bass and Jonny Tanner on guitar. They are talented musicians, singers, songwriters and good friends. They also all happen to be returned missionaries from Orem, Utah.

They say, " Foreign Figures has a unique melodic sound that doesn’t hold to any specific genre. Their influences range from alternative rock to R&B."    The first time I watched them, Imagine Dragons came to mind, but they have their own sound.
Photo Cred: Jake Grey 

The second time I saw them perform, I was sitting in Velour and Eric and Steve's mom just happened to sit next to me. She was obviously very proud of them and pointed out how both of her sons have been lead vocal in different bands and they both write songs.

All of them are so full of energy and they just explode on stage! It's really fun to watch and to listen to. They seriously perform like they're already a world famous band and I bet one day soon they will be. You can follow them on Facebook and check them out on their Website so you don't miss anything along their path to stardom and for info on buying their music and merch.

They've already won competitions like BYU's Battle of the Bands, The Stereo Room's Battle of the Bands and KSL’s Garage to Glory contest. Take a look below at two of their videos and the third is the music of their newly released single. The music is great and the videos are stunning. If you like them, please share on Facebook or wherever because they deserve way more views than they have. Can you tell that I'm a fan?? 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sunny Life

Got a pretty short letter from Alex again today, but several photos. He took two of the photos and the others are from an investigator who shared them with Alex and his companion. Then Alex sent them to me.

Life is always sunny, even at night, when you've got the light of the
gospel truth with you! It's easy to forget about, but you can always
be happy as you obey God's commands. 

 My scripture of the week is Alma 26:30, "And we have suffered all
manner of afflictions, and all this, that perhaps we might be the
means of saving some soul; and we supposed that our joy would be full
if perhaps we could be the means of saving some." This was the
attitude of Ammon and his brethren, and it was the attitude of Jesus
Christ Himself when he suffered everything if he could just save one
soul. So, I think it's important to remember.
 The kanji of the week is: 足跡 pronounced "ah-she-ah-toe" and means foot print.

Monday was not that eventful as usual, and we were able to find
someone to talk to and set up an appointment for today with. Hopefully
he read at least part of the Book of Mormon we gave him.
 Tuesday we did a lot of finding, and also visited a less active, and a friend to the missionaries that lives close by to the less active. They're going through a hard time, so I think it was good for them to talk it out with us. Hopefully they can find peace soon. 

 Wednesday we did more finding, and then in the evening we went to English class. We were talking for a long time afterwards with one of the students, and had a great conversation about life with him. We also found out about a Tai Chi place from him, and said we'd go do it with him.

 Thursday was weekly planning and more finding. We met with some potential investigators, but they're busy with tests, so we can't really meet with them. In the evening we tried to find the Tai Chi place but couldn't find it, so we posted some English class fliers, and also went and tried street contacting. 

Friday we had a zone training meeting, and that went great. I always learn so much, and receive revelation from those meetings. We went back home, studied, and then did--can you guess: more finding.
 Sunday was great, because we had an investigator who's getting baptized next week in another area come to our branch. He was really great, and showed how the gospel of Jesus Christ can truly change people into amazing people. The rest of the day was studying or finding.
 Lots of finding this week, but it's been great. God provides, and I trust that He will further His work in His own time. I just need to keep my faith. I hope you all have a great week! Love you all! 


Blueberry Cheesecake Crumb Cake

Bursting blueberries in every bite! I made this coffee cake that I found on  Oh My Goodness Chocolate Desserts  (even though it's not a ...