Monday, April 25, 2011

Your Garden: Not Just For You

Picture this: orange chunks of sweet, juicy cantaloupe; crisp, dew-dropped lettuce; warm, fresh-roasted sweet bell peppers; firm, juice-gushing vine-ripened tomatoes.

Is your mouth watering yet?

It’s gardening season. For years pallets of bagged soil and six-pack starts in store parking lots made me cringe with guilt. Everyone always said that you need to plant a garden. I have never had my own home. I have never had enough space for a garden. To top it all, for a long time I had zero desire to garden.

My positive thoughts on gardening came on gradually until a major life change—becoming a stay-at-home mom—opened up enough home-focused time in my life to give me a chance to embrace gardening. But I don’t think I would have ever had the desire to plant a garden for myself if it were not for years of examples of wonderful gardeners from my past.

First: my parents. We tried to plant a garden every year of my childhood that I could remember. We most often failed. Our soil, climate, yard orientation relative to the sun, and infiltration of gophers just didn’t make for much success. Then we had a dog that ate our green vegetables before we had a chance to let them ripen and harvest them. That didn’t help things either.

More recently, even though the nest is mostly empty, my parents keep plowing ahead with their gardening efforts. Over the years, they’ve acquired citrus trees, which have been their best success, and now my mom’s homegrown lemonade is becoming the envy of summer wedding receptions in the area. My parents, even after decades, are still working and learning to make the best of their home and bit of earth.

But our struggles were not universal to our area. I could list a good handful of ward members whose thumbs were completely green. My wedding reception was held in the fairyland-like yard of one of those ward members. When I was a kid, we used to pick apples for a widow in the ward who didn’t have the energy to can anymore. Although I never pictured myself as a gardener for a long time, the success of these beautiful yards still filled me with an awe that I could not deny.

Finally, there are my in-laws. They are amazing gardeners. They have a huge backyard. They buy fancy seeds from a catalogue. Their produce looks better than what you can buy from the store. They have so much experience that they generally rotate from a fruit garden to a vegetable garden every other year just to keep themselves interested because they are such experts. And they are probably the ones who impacted me the most with regards to gardening. Why? Because they have shared.

A fall hasn’t gone by since I have been part of their family when my in-laws haven’t given us several laden baskets of beans, grapes, squash, berries, tomatoes—you name it. At first I felt bad about these generous gifts. I hadn’t done any of the work, and here I was basking in the riches of their labors. I felt even guiltier when I realized that their generosity was also saving me a lot on my grocery bill. But in time I realized that their garden produced more and to spare. They loved sharing the joy of their harvest, and they had so much that they needed to give a lot of it away.
It was this sense of generosity and bounty that really attracted me to gardening. My in-laws’ home-grown gifts brought me a lot of health and happiness, but I could tell that the health and happiness that the givers felt was many times more than what they gave away to me.

I have heard it said that the greatest joy of wealth is the ability to give it away. I have learned that the same is true with planting a garden. It is wonderful to grow your own produce, but even more joyful to have so much that you can give it away. Even our first tomato plant produced much more than we could dream of consuming. I loved giving tomatoes away to everyone that I loved!

I dragged my feet for years and years about planting a garden. Even now, I don’t own my own home; I live in a small apartment and garden out of a small, homemade garden box. Maybe you only have room for a small pot. Whatever it is, I hope you choose to garden at least to give. I aspire to being a neighbor or in-law who can’t help but give baskets of gorgeous tomatoes away every year. I want to be the older ward member who invites the younger families to pick and can from my fruit trees. I want to garden so I can give; how about you?

Your Garden: Setting Up for Success

So, you’ve decided to start a garden. Whether that’s in a small pot on your windowsill, a makeshift box on the balcony, a tiny plot in the side yard, or a full-sized gardening-dedicated backyard, here are a few ideas from a gardener who was in your novice little galoshes not too long ago on how to set yourself up for success.

1. Get Advice
Why reinvent the wheel? People have been gardening since the Garden of Eden—why start from scratch? Look around for some good advice—people in your area who are good at gardening, the bestselling books at your local bookstore, or even an internet search on gardening in your area. One of those pros in your ward might even be willing to come take a look at your gardening space and give you some helpful suggestions and tips. Anyone who loves gardening would love to help you get started!

For myself, my mom and sister recommended the Square Foot Gardening method by Mel Bartholomew. Having a handy guide that was geared for beginners was extremely helpful to me in getting started. Plus, I originally borrowed the book from my mom for the first year until I decided I wanted my own copy. You could probably do the same and borrow a book from someone you know loves to garden as well.

2. Start Small
You don’t need to plan on eliminating your produce grocery budget in your first year of gardening. Make sure that you feel like baby steps are okay. When my husband and I decided to build a garden box outside of our apartment, at first I thought we should use three times the space that we finally settled on. I changed my mind when I realized that it would be okay to add a second box later on. It was really helpful to start small and learn how to maintain a small area before adding more space.

3. Start Easy
Some of the advice you’ll want to ask for from the gardeners you know is what is easy to grow in your area. Gardening books will tell you a list of crops that are easy to grow almost anywhere, such as zucchini or tomatoes. Although we all laugh about providing zucchini for the whole neighborhood from one plant, easy-to-grow crops will give you a lot of encouragement and sense of success. Why not set yourself up for that?

4. Get a Head Start
I decided to plant my first garden late in the year and didn’t get it all planted until the very end of June. Because of this, one of my mentors suggested that I use plant starts instead of seeds. That was incredibly wonderful advice.

By that time of year, all the plant starts were on clearance, and I bought whatever was left for really cheap. I don’t think waiting that long to get started is worth it unless you have to, but it was really nice to have an “instant garden.” If this is your first time gardening, consider buying mostly started plants instead of seeds to help set yourself up for success and give your garden a little head start. You can take on the challenge of seedlings when you have a little more experience under your belt.

 5. Learn and Grow
Some of those starts I bought for my first garden were cabbage, which I learned my family didn’t like to eat and I should never grow it again. I also planted onion seeds late enough in the season that the onions did not have time to develop all the way before the fall frost. Despite these setbacks, my zucchini, tomatoes, and carrots were sterling successes.

Be willing to learn and grow with your garden. Don’t expect everything to turn out perfectly, but be all the more grateful for your successes. Live and learn and grow.

The Church teaches that “planting a garden, even a small one, allows for a greater degree of self-reliance” (“Growing a Garden,”,11666,6637-1-3427-1,00.html). Make the decision to feel the blessings of earth, soil, and sunshine by setting yourself up for success.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Your Garden: 5 Reasons to Get Started

 There is a great work for the Saints to do. Progress and improve upon and make beautiful everything around you. Cultivate the earth, and cultivate your minds. . . . Make gardens, orchards, and vineyards, and render the earth so pleasant that when you look upon your labors you may do so with pleasure, and that angels may delight to come and visit your beautiful locations.”
- Brigham Young, Deseret News, Aug. 8, 1860, 177.

I am a gardener, and I never thought I’d say that.

In the past, gardening was always something I associated with the mature folk, with retirement and stiff knees, with everybody but me—with people who had extra time on their hands. But then, all of the sudden, I found myself wanting to garden last summer. I was a new mom and despite the demands of an infant, I knew that changing to be a stay-at-home mom suddenly opened up enough time in my life to garden. Even more surprising than that, I actually wanted to do it. And I didn’t even want to do it for provident living, self-reliance, or any other commandment—just for the joy of it.

I’ve thought about whether my intrinsic gardening desires are manifestations of a heritage from generations of agrarian ancestors across the centuries, but I think that it’s more likely that wanting to plant, cultivate, nurture, and harvest is an endowment from my heavenly ancestry. Elder Uchtdorf has said, “The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. . . . Your very spirits are fashioned by an endlessly creative and eternally compassionate God” (“Happiness, Your Heritage,” October 2008 General Conference). I have found that, as Elder Uchtdorf said, “Creation brings deep satisfaction and fulfillment” in gardening.
This year I planned my little garden and bought seeds in February because I was so excited about it. I started growing plants from seed indoors in March, and I’m growing twice as much as I’m going to plant so I can give my extra starts away to friends who might need help starting their garden.

I am so excited about this joy that I’ve found. I feel like people in my life talked about the joy of gardening to me for years and I never listened, but now I want to share it with everyone. If gardening doesn’t seem like your thing; if you never, ever picture yourself in galoshes, gloves, and a straw hat; if you can’t bear to get your hands dirty and don’t care about where your vegetables come from, I still encourage you to give gardening a try—this year.

Maybe you have a backyard to fill, maybe, like me, you only have a tiny plot of earth to work with, or maybe you only have one little pot of basil. Whatever your situation, give it a try and share in the joy of the miracle of creation. These are the top five reasons I think you should.

1. Get Outside
Gardening got me outside last summer. As a new mother, I needed the fresh air, the sunshine, and the green grass to help me cope with all the changes I needed to handle in my life. We all have changes and challenges going in our lives, and whose trials can’t be helped with a little sunshine and fresh air? The world is for our enjoyment and is so full of beauty. Gardening might be just the thing to get you out there and enjoying it.

2. Be Grateful
I have an aunt who gardens with her middle school class. She reports that there have been students in her class who honestly didn’t know where produce from the grocery store came from—that it originated in the ground or on a bush, tree, or vine. That’s not how I want my children to be raised, but who is going to teach them unless I do by gardening?

Doing the work yourself can help you appreciate food and farmers, technology and agriculture, but above all gardening has taught me what a miracle life and growing and the whole world are—all as a gift from God. Yes, I did make a garden box, filled it with dirt, planted seeds, weeded and watered, but in the end I still can’t believe that a dozen carrots appeared in the ground. It was such a miracle. I can’t wait to watch it happen again.

3. Feel Pretty
The only flowers we planted last year were marigolds to help keep the bad bugs away. Marigolds: bright and smelly. The bees loved them, though, and that flattered me enough to make me love the bees.
No matter what you plant—flowers, vegetables, trees, shrubs, grass, whatever—gardens are beautiful. I felt happy every time I saw my pretty little 7’x2’ garden. The world always needs more beauty: Plant a garden.

4. Enjoy the Fruits
Oh, the vegetables of my labors. My father-in-law always says, “Now this is a tomato!” at least a zillion times every summer after they pull in their massive tomato crop. I never really believed him until I ate my own home-grown carrots. My life will never be the same. Plant a garden and enjoy the fruits of your labors!

5. Unify Your Family
The Home and Family Relations manual says, “Families who work together in a home garden build family unity because they share a common purpose.” Even though my family consists of me, my husband, and my baby, I found this to be true. I love letting my baby play alongside my garden. It makes me feel like he’s helping even though he’s too small because I know that one day he will help. Even though my husband works all day and doesn’t have much time for the garden, calling it “our garden” means that I tell him all about its progress and point out all the growth to him, even if he only has time to help out on an occasional Saturday. President Kimball said, “There is so much to . . . harvest from your garden, far more than just a crop itself!” (Ensign, May 1978, 79). I have found this to be true even in my little family.

I am a gardener of exactly seven cubic feet of earth, plus a few random flower pots. I wouldn’t call my thumb exactly green, but I guess that gives me something to aspire to when I’m mature, retired, and have too much time on my hands (which we know will probably never happen).

The Lord has said, “All things which come of the earth . . . are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart” (D&C 59:18). I have tasted of that joy; I have had my heart filled with gladness from my garden. I hope you can experience it too.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

This Easter Morn: Celebration Ideas

 President Hinckley once said: “What a glorious day is Easter! This is the day when we, with Christian people everywhere, celebrate the most significant event in human history—the resurrection from the grave, the return to life from death, of the Son of God” (“The Victory Over Death,” April 1985 General Conference). I have often wondered how I can make my Easter celebration more meaningful. Sometimes when March or April and the Easter season roll around, it’s been months since the fuss of Christmas but I still am not ready for another big holiday.

In some ways because Easter is a little less commercialized than Christmas and less seeped with traditions, it can be an opportunity to have a more quiet and devout celebration of what President Hinckley called “the most significant event in human history.” In celebrating Christmas, we celebrate the Savior’s coming to the world, but in celebrating Easter we celebrate his resurrection and victory over death and the completion of the atonement—the fulfillment of the mission that He came to earth to do.

Just as each December we strive to keep Christ in Christmas, here are a few ideas about how, during this Easter season, to keep “our thoughts turn[ed] to Him who atoned for our sins, who showed us the way to live, how to pray, and who demonstrated by His own actions how we might do so. Born in a stable, cradled in a manger, the Son of God beckons to each of us to follow Him” (President Thomas S. Monson, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives!,” April 2007 General Conference).

1. Study the Scriptures about Easter
 Many families have an advent reading schedule for Christmas or at least read about the Savior’s birth on Christmas Eve. Consider making a tradition of scripture reading for Easter. You could even follow the last week of the Savior’s life. Here is a list of applicable scriptures to get you started:

 - Matthew 27:57–66; 28:1–20;
 - Mark 15:16–20, 40–47; 16:1–20;
 - Luke 22:44; 23:44–46, 50–56; 24:1–53;
 - John 6:51; 10:17; 19:38–42; 20:1–18; 21:1–25;
 - Romans 6:9
 - 1 Peter 2:21
 - 1 Nephi 11:33
 - 2 Nephi 2:7
 - Mosiah 26:23
 - Alma 11:42
 - 3 Nephi 8:5–7, 17–18, 20–22;
 - Mormon 7:5

Personalize your Easter scripture reading for you and your family. Another idea would be to read the entire Gospels and/or 3 Nephi in the weeks leading up to Easter .

2. Keep Your Easter Sunday Holy
 Consider moving your hunts and basket giving to Saturday so that you can have a Christ-focused Easter Sabbath. You can have time for eggs, bunnies, and candy on Saturday and focus on the real reason for Easter on Sunday.

3. Celebrate with Easter Hymns
We don’t have as many Easter hymns as Christmas hymns, but we have several on pages 197-200 of the hymnbook. There are also Easter songs in the Children’s Songbook on pages 64-70. You may want to sing and/or learn these songs during family home evenings leading up to Easter or even carol them on Easter day.

4. Read the Church Magazines
The Church magazines generally have special issues focused on the Savior during the month of Easter. That means more Christ-focused stories and activities for children, teens, and adults, if you receive all three magazines. I always love the Christmas stories in the December Church magazines; the April magazines are likewise focused on gratitude for the Savior’s life.

5. Enjoy a Church Video about the Life of Christ
We watch Christmas movies; try enjoying Finding Faith in Christ, The Lamb of God, or another Church film this Easter season. Special Witnesses of Christ would be another great choice as the apostles testify of Jesus Christ.

6. Watch or Review Easter Sessions of General Conference
In 2010 Easter fell on the Sunday Sessions of General Conference, but in 2011 Easter will not occur until three weeks after General Conference. The coincidence of Easter falling on General Conference brings a special spirit to General Conference. You could look back at past years and read or listen to talks from these special sessions.

There are other special Easter Sundays in the history of the Restored Church. In 1980, Easter Sunday fell on April 6, which was also the weekend of General Conference. President Hinckley gave a special talk on that day commemorating these three events, entitled “What Hath God Wrought through His Servant Joseph!” You may also remember that the Priesthood was restored on Easter in 1836 when Elijah returned and appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland temple. The Ensign ran a handful of articles by Dr. John P.Pratt about the symbolism of these events several years ago. If you want to learn more about these events, be sure to take a look at these articles:

• “The Restoration of Priesthood Keys on Easter 1836, Part 1: Dating the First Easter,” Ensign, June 1985.
• “The Restoration of Priesthood Keys on Easter 1836, Part 2: Symbolism of Passover and of Elijah’s Return,” Ensign, July 1985.
• “Passover—Was It Symbolic of His Coming?” Ensign, January 1994.

7. Ponder and Share Your Testimony of Jesus Christ
Easter is a great time to contemplate your own testimony of Jesus Christ. Accept the challenge to rekindle and bear your testimony of the Savior during this season. Share your testimony in sacrament meeting, family home evening, or even your personal journal.

I hope that these ideas are just the start of focusing your Easter celebrations on Jesus Christ this year. President Uchtdorf has said: “It is fitting that during the week from Palm Sunday to Easter morning we turn our thoughts to Jesus Christ, the source of light, life, and love. . . . He gave us His gospel, a pearl beyond price. . . . The gospel is the good news of Christ. . . . The gospel is the way of discipleship. As we walk in that way, we can experience confidence and joy” (“The Way of the Disciple,” April 2009 General Conference).

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

When Quality Matters

I'm all about saving money, but sometimes cheap is cheap. This is cheap:

It smells like Nexxus, but it does not work like Nexxus. I don't know what salon "proved" it. Over time (a little over three months) the health of my hair has been completely deteriorating. At first I thought that I just needed a trim, but when I still didn't like wearing my hair down anymore, I knew this was a problem.

Enter this:

This isn't necessarily a Pantene ad. I chose Pantene because it was on sale at Costco. I'm happy to choose any shampoo from Costco because Costco always has quality products. But I am never trying a cheap or generic brand of shampoo and conditioner ever again.

It's only been a few days, but my hair already feels smoother, less frizzy and tangled, shinier, and much more moisturized. Goodbye cheap. Hello hair health. Welcome back. I'm so happy you're here.

Next up in ditching cheap for quality in my life . . . moving from this:
To this:
I can't wait.

Friday, February 25, 2011

You Home Teach My Son? by Brian Ricks

Home teaching is not just another program. It is the priesthood way of watching over the Saints and accomplishing the mission of the Church. Home teaching is not just an assignment. It is a sacred calling. Home teaching is not to be undertaken casually. A home teaching call is to be accepted as if extended to you personally by the Lord Jesus Christ. . . . There is no greater Church calling than that of a home teacher. There is no greater Church service rendered to our Father in Heaven’s children than the service rendered by a humble, dedicated, committed home teacher.
             - President Ezra Taft Benson, “To the Home Teachers of the Church,” Ensign, May 1987, 48.

Shortly after my mission I moved into a single student ward near the university I was attending. I was enthusiastic about making a contribution to our ward and I determined to report perfect home teach every month—no matter what. When I was assigned to home teach an inactive member, I wasn’t disheartened in the least. I was sure I could visit anyone once a month.

Despite my confidence, things got off to a rocky start. I didn’t have his phone number and his roommates said they hardly ever saw him. Most months I didn’t see him either. Occasionally, I could report that I’d said hello as he jogged passed me on the way to his car, but most months I could only report failure.

I grew discouraged and a little cynical. My goal of reporting one hundred percent of my home teaching assignments had failed. I found myself less willing to drop by this brother’s apartment and I started hoping I would get a new home teaching assignment so I could get back to my one hundred percent goal.

One month I felt particularly frustrated with my unachieved goals and decided to try a new way of contacting him. I knew his father, an active member of the Church, taught at the university I attended. With a little trepidation, I walked into the father’s office in hopes of getting some new contact information for his son. After explaining why I was there, the professor did something I had never expected—he started to tear up.

“You home teach my son?” he asked with emotion, “Thank you so much. We’re really worried about him. Please do everything you can to help him.”

I left his office with no new contact information but with a new understanding of what it meant to be a good home teacher. My home teaching assignment wasn’t about statistics; it was about the important worth of a soul—a person with parents and family who cared deeply about him.

It wasn’t much later my home teaching assignment changed because the brother I was assigned to moved several hundred miles away. With my new assignment, I was finally able to report consistent perfect home teaching statistics again, but reporting one hundred percent didn’t bring the satisfaction I had expected; I wanted to be more interested in the lives of those I visited rather than just caring about numbers.

It’s been years since that event, but whenever I feel my home teaching is getting routine or all about statistics, I remember the tears in that father’s eyes pleading with me to help his son. If I were to talk to Heavenly Father about my home teaching assignments, I’m pretty sure he would encourage me with the same emotion as that professor: “You home teach my son? Thank you so much. I’m really worried about him. Please do everything you can to help him.”

President Benson’s Three Fundamentals to Effective Home Teaching

Take a moment to evaluate your calling as a home teacher using the points below. For the women of the Church, think about how you are doing with supporting home teaching in your family and ward.

1. Know well those you are to home teach.
     - Really know them! You can’t serve well those you don’t know well.
     - Become personally acquainted with every child, youth, and adult in the family and know their names.
     - Be aware of their birthdays, blessings, baptisms, marriages, attitudes, activities, interests, problems, employment, health, happiness, plans, purposes, needs, and circumstances.
     - Be close to the father. Know his righteous desires for his family and help him to realize them.
     - Be a genuine friend: care, love, listen, and reach out.

2. Know well the message you are to deliver in each home.
     - Have a purpose or goal in mind and plan each visit to help meet that purpose. Pray and plan with your companion before the visit.
     - Read the scriptures with the families you home teach, especially the Book of Mormon.
     - Carry the right message, and then teach with the Spirit.
     - Prayer should be a part of every home teaching visit.

3. Truly magnify your calling as a home teacher.
     - Do not settle for mediocrity. Be excellent in every facet of the work. Be a real shepherd of your flock.
     - Both the quality and quantity of home teaching are essential.
     - Make your home teaching visit early in the month, allowing time for follow-up contacts.
     - Make a definite appointment for each visit. Respect your families’ time.
     - Train Aaronic priesthood companions well.
     - Keep faithful track of each member you are called to home teach.

God bless the home teachers of this Church. You are the front line of defense to watch over and strengthen the individual and family unit. Understand the sacredness of your calling and the divine nature of your responsibility. . . . As you do this, I promise you the blessings of heaven and the indescribable joy that comes from helping to touch hearts, change lives, and save souls.
             - President Benson

Images copyrighted by Microsoft Corporation.

Monday, January 24, 2011


I finally took down the collage of 2010 Christmas cards from my wall. It's still be less than a month since Christmas--right? And can you believe it?