How To Get Yourself a Bowl of Cereal

A 19-Step Guide for Parents of Young Children

1. Decide to get yourself a bowl of cereal. This is a big one. Without the conscious decision, it will never happen. You’ve got to approach this whole-heartedly, or the enormity of the task will overtake you, and you will decide it’s not worth the effort.

2. Get out of bed. Ignore the sounds coming from the other room (so as to avoid discouragement at the thought of trying to get a bowl of cereal with all that going on).

3. Put on a robe and glasses. The importance of this will become more obvious later, but yeah, you’re kids don’t really want to see you in your underwear.

4. Take a deep breath, and step out of the room. No seriously, take a deep breath. You’ll be glad you did. Just don’t let it out yet.

5. Change the youngest child’s diaper. Hence the need for the deep breath.

6. Run the dirty diaper outside to the trash. Now, aren’t you glad you put the robe on? Ignore the awkward glances coming from your neighbors. You may want to stand on the heater a few moments when you return to melt the snow between your toes.

7. Wash the bowl of the youngest child. The other kids will wash their own bowls, but not the littlest, and believe me, you don’t want to be eating cereal without supplying the youngest with a bowl of cereal, too.

8. Wash your spoon. I don’t know who got it out and soiled it, but there you have it.

9. Pour the kids some cereal. The order of pouring the cereal doesn’t matter, but the order of pouring the MILK is crucial. Make sure you get milk LAST. In fact, just to make sure, don’t get your milk yet. Just get everyone else’s. Oh, and don’t let the other kids pour their own milk, or it will be gone before you get any.

10. Let the dog out. You don’t want to miss this step.

11. Let the dog in. Potentially you could leave him out while you eat your cereal, but the excessive barking may upset your neighbors. It’s up to you on that one.

12. Pour your own milk. Now the countdown to sogginess begins, so before doing this one, make sure no extra steps have shown up that are waiting for your attention.

13. Put the milk and cereal away. If you don’t, both will be magically wasted and gone before you come back for more.

14. Ignore the incessant demands for bread for toast. The kids can finish their cereal before they make toast. Plus, you haven’t eaten anything yet.

15. Break up the fight between the two middle children. Give them a brief lecture about kindness.

16. Take your cereal in your bedroom. Unfortunately, this is also essential, unless you want 1, 2, or 19 more steps randomly showing up before you get to take the first bite.

17. LOCK THE DOOR. Otherwise step 15 will be useless.

18. Say your morning prayers. Ideally, this would be done before step 1, but if you’re like me, you forgot. Oh, well. That way you can ask a blessing on your meager breakfast at the same time.

19. Eat your cereal.


No wonder there’s never enough time. No wonder we grow up too fast. No wonder we’re always in a hurry. We aren’t native to time. Time is not our native state.

We’re eternal beings locked in a world that’s governed by time. The result is, we’re constantly wrestling with it, constantly trying to come to terms with this thing that demands our attention.

Maybe that’s why this life is called a probationary period—a time to prepare to meet God. A time to prove to Him that we will follow Him.

There isn’t much we know about the spirit, and the spirit world. But we know a few things. For one, we know that change, growth, and progression, are easier in the physical state, while we have a body. In Spencer W. Kimball’s masterpiece, “The Miracle of Forgiveness,” he quotes Melvin J. Ballard, who said:

“…But this life is the time in which men are to repent. Do not let any of us imagine that we can go down to the grave not having overcome the corruptions of the flesh and then lose in the grave all our sins and evil tendencies. They will be with us. They will be with the spirit when separated from the body.
“This life is the time to repent. That is why I presume it will take a thousand years after the first resurrection until the last group will be prepared to come forth. It will take them a thousand years to do what it would have taken but three-score and ten to accomplish in this life…
“…When we go out of this life, leave this body, we will desire to do many things that we cannot do at all without the body. We will be seriously handicapped, and we will long for the body; we will pray for that early reunion with our bodies. We will know then what advantage it is to have a body.”

So perhaps time is a struggle for us, but the alternative is to be in a state that makes change and progression more difficult. And who knows? Maybe time is one of the reasons change is easier in the physical state. Thoughts?

When There are No Words, God Still Hears

God Still HearsLet’s face it, there are sometimes when we kneel to pray, and the words don’t come. There are times when someone else is suffering so badly that we can’t begin to know how to help, let alone respond. There are times when despite our best efforts, nothing works, and there is nothing we can do about it.

It’s at those times, I remind myself of this simple principle: when there are no words, God still hears.

I remember once talking to a woman once who was afraid to pray. It seemed that every time she tried, something would go wrong. Her life itself had paralyzed her from the ability to kneel and speak to God.

Though I couldn’t pretend to know what she was going through, I was having a pretty tough time myself at the time. Not knowing what else to say, I told her that I too, have had times when it was difficult to pray. For me it was never out of fear, but out of frustration, anger, guilt, or dismay.

“At those times,” I told her, “all I can seem to do is listen. If I have no words to say, I simply address my Father in Heaven and then listen in my heart. I know that our Father in Heaven can hear the words that we cannot say, and will answer those prayers. But pray to Him, even if all you can do is listen.”

At that time, I discovered the truth of Elder Packer’s words that “In your emotions, the spirit and the body come closest to being one,”* because as I spoke, the Spirit grew very strong, and I wept.

I know now that at those times of struggle, when I felt that there were no words to speak in my prayers, and I simply opened my prayer and then listened—my heart was speaking, even though my mind was silent. Since that conversation I’ve thought about that concept often. Sometimes my heart feels so empty that I feel that there is nothing to say. Sometimes I feel so ashamed that I can’t bare to speak a word—even in my mind. Sometimes I feel so hurt that I can’t find the words to speak.

Through such experiences, I have discovered something about our Father in Heaven. He is the most perfect listener in the universe. He can hear words that are not even spoken in the mind. I wonder sometimes if the spirit of a person communicates in a different way than by language. I wonder if it speaks through feelings and concepts. Whether or not this is the case, I know that our Father in Heaven hears those feelings as clearly as if I’d shouted them out loud.

I wouldn’t suggest that our prayers ought not include words. I believe that these things are necessary to building and strengthening our relationship with God, especially in offering thanks, petitioning for the Lord’s help, and in the repentance process. I believe that prayer should include entire conversations with Heavenly Father. But on those rare moments when we cannot seem to say the words, whatever the reason, if we open our prayer and simply listen for a few minutes, we will hear and learn things that we may have never been able to learn in any other way.

By our becoming acquainted with God’s beautiful power to listen to the words we do not speak, we will learn to listen to the finer, purer, wordless messages that He sends so regularly to our hearts.

(Boyd K. Packer, “Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise,” Liahona, Jun 1997, 8)

Why I Stand with the Prophet in Every Issue

Some people are bothered by my statement that I stand by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on every issue. I’d like to talk about that for a few minutes, because it seems to come up often.

I think one of the reasons this statement bothers people is because independent thought and conscious choice are such valuable and essential aspects of the plan of happiness. And I agree, those things are absolutely essential, and it’s for that very reason that I feel as I do. Some would say that being so loyal to the church and its leaders is a way of handing my agency to someone else. That’s a valid concern. But remember, this is my agency. I have to choose what I do, choose what I believe, and choose whether or not to act on what I believe. Well, it’s simple. I choose to stand by the church in every issue. That’s my agency in action. That’s what I choose, and I will continue to choose it all my life. It takes a great deal of character and loyalty to make a choice like that. It takes courage, faith, and determination. It takes work. And that’s the choice I am making.

Another concern some have is that by simply obeying, I’m allowing someone else (or perhaps the church itself) to do the thinking for me. The concern is that I’m just being the obedient workhorse plugging away, pulling when I’m asked to pull (even if I don’t know what I’m pulling), and traveling when I’m asked to travel (even if I don’t know where I’m going). That too, is a valid concern. But there’s one thing that this concern isn’t taking into consideration. Who is most likely to be thinking—like, really, deeply, meaningfully thinking about the thing we’ve been commanded? Think about it. Which of these three are most likely to do the most thinking about the particular issue:

  1. The person from the outside, whose not at all interested in heeding the counsel;
  2. The one in the church, but looking for the reasons, wandering and waiting for solid logic and reason before proceeding; or
  3. The person actively doing the thing requested.

I believe those actively obeying are doing a great deal more thinking about the issue than anyone else. They’re the ones who stand by the teaching regardless of the persecution, legal ramifications, or abuse against them for doing so.

I can’t speak for everyone, but when the Lord commands something, or teaches a principle, or proclaims a doctrine, by his living prophet—even if it’s something I don’t personally understand or agree with, and I act on it, stand by it, and teach it, I can assure you I’m doing a boat-load of thinking, pondering, praying, and studying about it.

And while I’m sure both the obedient person and the disobedient person are looking to different sources for their answers, and may come to very different conclusions, I’m confident that almost always, the obedient person has put a lot more time, thought, and energy into the matter than the disobedient.

And every time I’ve obediently proceeded, and simultaneously thought, studied, prayed, and questioned the teaching, I’ve always come to see the deep spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical significance of the thing taught. I’m always left in awe at the wisdom and foresight the Lord has demonstrated in everything He has ever requested of me.

Another factor that can be difficult to explain to people is the matter of personal revelation. Even many who believe mostly as I do conclude that before they will proceed, they must receive personal inspiration from God that the teaching is right. I think it comes down to what kind of testimony a person has. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t call one type of testimony “superior” to another, but I do believe that the closer we come to the Savior, and the stronger our testimony is, the more we will be able to place our faith in Him without reservation. And the more we do so, the faster the further light and understanding come.

I once heard the prophet of God teach a principle, and I immediately accepted it. Not in a shoulder shrugging compliance, but because as he spoke, the Holy Spirit filled my heart, testifying clearly and unmistakably that the principle being taught was true. I had long since received a personal testimony by the power of the Holy Ghost that the prophet was truly called of God, and that His words, if heeded, would always lead me aright. My experience with the Spirit in that particular meeting simply strengthened that testimony. Several days later, while speaking to a friend about the teaching, she said, “But what about finding out the truth for ourselves? That may be what the prophet said, but I can’t believe it unless the Lord tells me personally as well.”

My friend was holding back until she could receive an independent testimony of the principle taught. But I’ve found that when I listen with a believing heart, I often receive that answer the moment the teaching is given. Then, the questions most worth asking the Lord are things like, how should I apply the principle in my own life, for my situation? Or what can I do to best teach this principle to others?

I have heard some suggest that those members of the church prior to 1978 that weren’t picketing against the church’s stand on the priesthood were in the wrong—that they should have been more actively involved in bringing about the change. I see two problems with that. First, it’s the Lord who made the change, not the saints. And second, those in a position to receive the revelation (Spencer W. Kimball and the twelve apostles) never once voiced a single word of opposition to the policy of the Lord’s church at that time. They received assurance from the Lord that the time would come, but they were not told when. They petitioned as they felt moved upon by the Holy Ghost. Only after faithful compliance and diligent prayer did the Lord finally give the revelation that changed church policy forever.

There were previous generations of prophets who petitioned the Lord on the very same issue, and they were turned away. The Lord knew what He was doing, and every church leader stood firm by the policy, because that’s what loyalty is. They didn’t understand it, and though they had questions, and brought them before the Lord, they always stood true to the answers given.

I feel to do the same.

That brings up another important point. Sometimes a principle isn’t intended to be fully understood before the commandment or revelation is given. A good example of this is plural marriage in the early days of the church. Some today are troubled that the church once practiced it. But the revelation to live that principle is not given to us today. We are not to practice plural marriage—and if we make the attempt, we will be excommunicated. We can’t expect a testimony of the full meaning of plural marriage right now because we are commanded not to live it. We accept in faith the fact that the Lord has different instructions to different people at different times.

Many saints in the early days of the church were commanded to live it, and with the commandment came the understanding and testimony. A great example of this was Brigham Young.

Would it surprise you to learn that Brigham Young was deeply troubled by the principle? He thought it had come from an evil source. But instead of picketing against it, or speaking out about it publicly, he prayed to the Lord about it. When, up to that point, it wasn’t enough, he spoke to the prophet himself. He discussed it with Joseph in a private conversation—not in a meeting with other elders, but in the privacy of his front yard one evening after the prophet walked him home. The only reason we know about the conversation is because the night was warm, and Brigham’s wife had her window open to cool her room, and she overheard the conversation.

According to S. Dilworth Young:

Down this road came Brigham Young and Joseph Smith. She (Brigham’s wife) heard Brigham say to Joseph, “Joseph, the doctrine of eternal marriage as you described it to me is not from the right source.”

Joseph Smith said to him, “It is from the right source, and you will know it, Brother Brigham.”

Brother Brigham then moved toward the door to open the latch, and Joseph Smith walked on up the street. Then Brigham stopped. He didn’t pull the latch string. He suddenly called out, “Joseph! Joseph! The Lord has revealed it to me!”

My point in sharing this account is to say that sometimes we’re not intended to fully understand or receive a testimony of a principle before the commandment is given. But if we are faithful, and a revelation is given that might contradict our previous views, and we seek the Lord’s guidance, He will provide us with a testimony of the principle. It may not come all at once, like Brigham’s, but when it does come, it will be so clear and sure that we may come to wonder how we could have ever seen things differently. And in the meantime, if we remain faithful and loyal to what the Lord has already revealed, we place ourselves in the best position possible to receive more light and knowledge when the Lord sees fit.

In regards to honest questions, or even doubts, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave a beautiful bit of wisdom that I wholeheartedly stand by when he said,

When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes…

When problems come and questions arise, do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your “unbelief.” That is like trying to stuff a turkey through the beak! Let me be clear on this point: I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have. Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not! So let us all remember the clear message of this scriptural account: Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle.

When it comes down to it, I stand with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on every issue because God has revealed to me by the power of the Holy Ghost that the living prophet has been called of God, that he speaks the word of God to the church, and that if I follow his counsel regardless of the consequences, I will be doing the right thing. I will be acting according to the will of God for me. That testimony has been burned so deeply into me that I can’t deny it without calling God a liar to His face. I know it’s true. The Lord leads this church. And what a beautiful thing that is! The Lord speaks to us through the living prophet, and God has revealed the truth of His words to me.

Ten Ways I See The World Different Than I Did 10 Years Ago

You know how teachers, parents, and dates always like to ask, “What do you see yourself doing in ten years?”

Well, a lot has happened in the last ten years, and though I’m not where I expected to be, I’m happy where I am, and I’ve learned a lot. And though I don’t have any regrets, there are several lessons that would have made the ride smoother, or at least more comfortable, had I known them ten years ago. So this is advice I give my ten-years-ago self, in hopes that it might benefit someone else in a similar situation.

1. Education is more important than schooling.

Flickr photo by jameskm03

Don’t get me wrong, schooling is incredibly valuable! But the things that have made me most successful are the things I learned while studying stuff that wasn’t required for school. Obviously, some careers require the paper diploma, but the skills used in a career don’t. And the stuff that sets you apart from all the other diploma holders (and non-diploma holders), is what you teach yourself during your off hours.

2. You can do a lot more than you think you can.

This is a big one. While there are many paved roads to desired destinations, there are far more roads “less traveled by,” and sometimes the best path for you to get to a destination is by a route that has never been tried. You always have more options than you think you do, and when you genuinely put in the effort, things will go much better than you think they will.

3. You don’t need X amount of dollars to make it.

Flickr photo by Doug88888

There’s no shame in poverty, especially when you have a goal, a mission, and a plan. Likewise, you don’t need a regular paycheck to live. Having your own business often involves extremely inconsistent funds. A great month doesn’t mean a short time of higher living, but it’s what makes life possible during the inevitable bad months. Oh, and you can survive on a single income—even with a big family, and that income is really small.

4. (Similarly) Financial survival while starting a business requires learning to be ridiculously smart/clever with money.

We’ve had to learn several tricks over the years, but while going full time with our family business, we’ve had to become even more savvy about saving, budgeting, and preparing for the future. For the past year, we’ve often been living off money we made months ago. And believe it or not, business books/podcasts/programs are a lot more interesting than they seem like they’d be.

5. What you think you’d like to do may not be what you’d really like to do.

Learning what you really want to do with your life is tough, since there’s no way to know if you’d like a path until you’ve been at it a long time. The trick, in my opinion, is to try a lot of things. Sometimes skimming the surface is enough to find out that you don’t want to do something, but the only way to know if you’ll really love doing something is to go into it full throttle, diving into the depths. And the moment you discover for certain that you don’t want the destination you’re headed for, get out. Get on your new path as fast as possible. You’ll recognize your true path when you can acknowledge that the worst parts of it are totally worth it for the rest of it.

6. Marriage Doesn’t Change a Person—at least not in the way you might think

Andrew Morrell Photography

This is something that we all know intellectually, but being unmarried, it’s impossible to really grasp. All the attributes of patience, kindness, and service you’re striving to learn now really will serve you well in marriage, but only as you use them with your present family—your parents, your siblings, the people you live with and see every day. Oh, and keep reading all the relationship advice books, conference talks on marriage, etc. They’ll be exceptionally useful. And by the way, the talk (the define-the-relationship talk) isn’t nearly as scary as you think it will be. It’s actually quite liberating!

7. Kids ROCK, but not always for the reason you think now.

Flickr photo by Swami Stream

Yeah, kids are a lot of fun a lot of the time, but they’re not fun a lot of the time, too. So it’s not their cuteness and the fun you have playing with them that’s going to make you a great parent. You have to be deliberate about teaching them to do what’s right, whether you feel like it at the time or not. Also, most of the good feelings you’ll have for your kids will come at times when you are consciously choosing to love and adore them regardless of their choices.

8. Every Constructive Hobby You Seriously Try Will Serve You Well

Flickr photo by British Council Russia

Be it artistic, digital, musical, horticultural, literary, culinary, athletic, scientific, psychological—any hobby you try will come in handy. Most will at some point help pay a bill, too, no matter how obscure it seems. So don’t be afraid to try new stuff and go deep into them.

9. Failure is Good. Failure is Necessary.

For the most part, you won’t have true success without failure—not in dating, not in careers, not in any worthy endeavor. Don’t fear failure. It won’t feel good at the time, but know it’s for your good. And it won’t always come in the ways you expect. Learn from it, and press forward. The person who won’t stay down can’t be defeated. And yes, despite what you may think, that includes you.

10. Keep Feeding Your Testimony of Jesus Christ. Never Stop.

Flickr: was_bedeutet_jemanden

Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep insisting on good daily study of God’s word. And continue to love serving, working, and blessing the lives of others. You’ll never regret a single right decision you make. In fact, those choices will continue to provide new lessons that will build on old lessons to create greater and richer life lessons. Don’t worry about those who might think you’re going overboard or being fanatical. They don’t know what you’ll know in ten years. You just keep it up.

What Kind of Drum Would the Little Drummer Boy Have Used?

Someone on Facebook today asked,

Why does every version of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ use a snare drum? I’m pretty sure they didn’t have snare drums back then. And that a snare drum would make a baby cry. Maybe a little native lap drum covered with animal hide, played gently? Or are we carrying the baby into the Battle of Gettysburg?

So right! Now, obviously, the Little Drummer Boy is a made up story, but let’s just say it were true. If it were true, what kind of drum would the drummer boy have? So I tried to look it up. Turns out the question is bigger than I thought it would be! So let’s journey the question together.

My first thought is a hebrew drum, since Jesus was a Hebrew. What kinds of drums did Hebrews use?

TimbrelHere’s a common Hebrew drum called a Timbrel. These were common in Old Testament and New Testament times. You’ll notice it looks similar to the modern tambourine.

Then again, the song says, “I am a poor boy, too.” Which makes me think a drum like this was probably too expensive for a poor little boy. So let’s see about a poorer style. Maybe something without the timbrel bells…

Poor TimbrelOkay, I guess that works. This would be a common frame drum. Probably the best thing a Hebrew shepherd boy could get.


But hang on, duh! The boy probably wasn’t a Hebrew at all. The song says, “Come, they told me, our finest gifts we bring.” He was tagging along with the wise men. Shoot. Start over…

Let’s see, so they’re from the east. Okay, ancient Asian drum.

Han Dynasty Bronze Drum

Here’s a bronze drum from the Han Dynasty period (about 200 BC to 200 AD).But let’s face it, no little boy is going to be able to carry this metal chunk across the desert.

Can we try a little lighter?



Chinese drumThis is a fun little asian drum, but still a little too posh for a poor boy.





This is the style of an ancient doumbek drum.These are from ancient Korea. Nice, but still a bit big for a little guy.








DarbukaOkay, now we’re talking. This is in the same drum family, but called a miniature darbuka. Perfect for a little poor boy.








But before we decide conclusively, maybe we better double check to make sure the “east” referred to is Asia.

Quick search…

Okay, according to Wikipedia (the source of all truth… ahem… right), the wise men were more likely from Babylon, Persia, Yemen, Arabia, Pakistan, or India. Oh, man. Just to save us on time and effort, let’s assume that those places are close enough that we can find a common poor drum from a few of those areas, and assume it’s probably very similar to the drums you would find in the other areas. Okay… here we go.

Thappu-thumbHere’s an Indian thappu drum. Though I can’t be sure on how long these have been around, it looks basic enough that it may have been around at that time. I like how the leather wraps around the frame. It’s played with either two sticks, a big one and a small one, or by hand.




Here’s another view of the hand thappu.





DafHere’s a Persian drum called a Daf. It’s made of goat skin, and has rings inside to give it a little rattle as it’s played. This is probably the closest thing to a snare drum he might have. Though, again, being a poor boy, I’m guessing his wouldn’t have the rings.





pakdrum1Now this is one I can relate to. This is a frame drum from Pakistan, and looks, and likely sounds, similar to a Gaelic Bodhran. I have a bodhran. And though a little poor boy would have no problem carrying this wide frame drum, I’m guessing his would probably be a little smaller.






Pakistan Frame drum

There. This is a simple Pakistan frame drum, and just for fun, it’s got a stick. You may notice this drum is almost identical to the Hebrew frame drum.

Poor TimbrelActually, simple frame drums are one of the most universal drums of this era, and would therefore probably be the cheapest, and the easiest for a little boy to carry and play.

Here’s a video of a small frame drum:

My guess is that if there was a little drummer boy, his drum would look and sound something like this.




Thoughts On Being Poor

I have to be honest, I don’t feel very qualified to say much about poverty. I spent two years in Africa, where I saw real poverty. Compared to many of the people there, I’m rich.

IMG_20131219_170541Even so, according to Utah poverty guidelines, me and my family are way under—as in, we’d have to earn more than double our present income in order to even reach the poverty line, let alone get above it. So by Utah standards, we’re definitely poor.

So how is it? Good. Life’s awesome. Hard, to be sure, but great. We’re optimistic, full of faith and optimism, work our tails off, and our family is healthy and happy. I should give some context, though. None of us have any major health conditions, my kids are made of rubber (at least it seems that way, since their bonks and trips rarely need more than a kiss or bandaid). Our only debt is our home-mortgage, and yes, it’s a 30 year mortgage, and our house is a tiny modular home in a trailer park.

We pay tithing. Always. 100%. That always comes first no matter what. And I suspect that’s what makes the rest of our strategies work.

In case someone out there might be tempted to entirely blame our poverty to our choice to have me go full time with music and writing, I should also clarify that since getting married 9.5 years ago, we’ve always been under the poverty line. This move is actually the best step we’ve ever taken to work toward getting above that line.

We decided before we married that if at all possible, Jenni would be a full-time mom when the kids came, and not have a job outside the home. We’ve never even been tempted to consider putting our kids in daycare—not because we have something against daycare, we just don’t want it for our kids, ever. And lest anyone think that’s just the choice of one of us (such as one of us demanding it despite the other’s wishes), let me assure you, it’s always been a strong desire for both of us—and one of the things that drew us together when we were dating, and it’s a desire that has only strengthened for both of us with time.

That itself, having Jenni at home, has helped our poverty situation immensely, for several reasons. Obviously, no daycare costs, but it’s also helped maintain good health in our kids. In fact, this year we started homeschooling, and from the middle of summer (when we started working with the school curriculum we’re doing now) until now, our kids have only gotten flu/colds once, and that was around Thanksgiving, when we visit a lot of friends and family.

Having Jenni at home also allows her time to do a lot of the home-made products that we wouldn’t have time to produce otherwise, which I’ll speak more of shortly.

We’ve had to learn to be really smart with money. And we’re constantly learning and implementing new strategies. Everything from paying for our car insurance twice a year instead of monthly to save $3 per payment, to staying home from events because twenty miles just uses too much gas. There are so many little things that help.

We’ve also gotten pretty smart with our food. We’re becoming proficient at stockpiling. Basically, that means when the items we commonly eat go on sale, we buy hoards of it. As long as we keep ahead, we’ve almost always got all the food we need. Just as an example, we rarely ever pay more than $3/lb for cheese, $.10 an ounce for cereal (think $2 for 20 ounces of cereal, or $3.20 for 32 ounces, etc.), and $1/lb for fruit, such as oranges, apples, tomatoes, etc. That’s another thing poverty and stockpiling has done for us, it’s got us counting ounces and pounds and stuff. And when we do buy cereal, for example, we might buy five or six huge bags of it—and that’s all, in one grocery visit. We’ve learned that bread, milk, grated cheese (can you tell we’re big on cheese here?), and many forms of produce can be frozen for long periods of time.

When I mention to people some of the things that can be frozen, the response is sometimes, “Oh, but I don’t like frozen and thawed milk,” or, “but when I freeze and thaw bread, it goes a little bit stale, so I don’t like to do it,” I have to smile. We’ve just gotten ourselves used to those kinds of things. None of us in our household are picky about things like that. We’ve taught ourselves not to be. We’re very careful never to eat or feed our kids anything that’s molding, or going bad in any way. But there are lots of great ways to make food last a long time. And the foods that can’t last a long time, well, we just don’t buy them very often. In terms of stuff (diapers, soaps, deodorant, etc), we’ve got a great system for buying them online at incredible prices, and in big enough quantities that we get free shipping. No matter the item, there’s always a cheaper way to get it. It’s just a matter of planning and anticipating needs, and finding the right deals at the right time.

I think we’re to the point that if you handed $10 to me or Jenni, and $10 to a random other person, and said, “See who can get the most daily living stuff with this,” Jenni or I could probably womp the competitor almost every time.

We’ve learned to graciously accept stuff offered to us. People are so kind! It’s both impressive and touching how generous people are! Neighbors, friends, and family sometimes offer food, money, clothes, or other living needs, and we’re always grateful for it, and say so. It really does help! We’re not the type to ask for stuff from people, and I suppose they know it. But we’ve learned to gratefully take what’s offered.

When it comes to government help with food, we are on WIC—or, I should say, my two youngest kids are on WIC, and it helps. But if WIC wasn’t available, we’d still be fine. We’ve gotten pretty smart with food. And I suspect we’re eating significantly healthier than we would if we had all the money we’d like to have. There are brackets of healthy food prices. The quintessentially healthy advertised products are the most expensive, and then the typical foods that most people eat, which are healthy enough, and then theres the raw material foods that are both the cheapest and healthiest—and most time consuming to make. When you work in the lowest bracket, you save the most money and spend the most time in food preparation. You’re basically trading time for money, but it works, and it works well.

As I briefly mentioned, we’ve gotten pretty proficient at home-made products, and making foods from scratch. For example, we’ve learned how to make our own wipies, ranch dressing, laundry and dishwasher detergent, yogurt, powdered sugar, tortillas, pasta, and probably dozens of other things that don’t come to mind at the moment. Sometimes we even grind our own wheat. Pretty much, if something exists, there is a way to make it at home from scratch. Google has become a close household friend.

Pretty much, and we’re finding this more and more, we don’t usually need all the things we once thought we needed. When the money’s not there, you find a way to make things work. It’s also forced us to use incredible amounts of creativity.

I don’t know the last time I had new clothes from a department store. Thrift store or bust, baby! Jenni’s had to get a few things from Walmart, because they weren’t available in the thrift stores, but most of our clothes are either hand-me-downs or from a thrift store.

Cost entertainments are simply out. With the main exception of anniversaries, we don’t go to movies, we don’t go out to dinner, we don’t bowl (or any similar cost activity). We don’t even have Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Prime accounts (though we use free trials when they offer them—and they tend to offer them once a year or so, and we cut them off when the trial’s over). We’ve found plenty of free sources to legally see the shows and movies we want—just late. When we first married, we got $10 per month each as an allowance. Then it dropped to $5, and now it’s been years since I’ve had frivolous money… though I do have probably $3 in nickels in a drawer—and some ideas of how I might spend it. After awhile, cost entertainments just don’t matter much anymore. There are plenty of free entertainments, and life itself can be plenty entertaining if you get creative.

So, what about stigma? Meh. We try to ignore it.

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m complaining. I’m not. Life rocks, even being poor. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m boasting, but we’re kind of pleased with how well we’ve been able to make use of what we’ve got. I mean, sheesh, with some of the terrible trials, challenges, and adversity so many people have to go through, poverty at this level doesn’t even hold a candle to things like loss of loved ones, severe health problems, or even (in my opinion) no time for dad to spend with the family. In all honesty, we feel immensely blessed.

What I haven’t touched on much is the benefits, and there are several.

Because of our school and work situations, we’re together—like, always. At least we’re all in the same house at the same time. I’m secluded in the bedroom while I work, but I get to eat lunch with my family, and I don’t work more than 40 hours a week.

Our family is a set. Other than business events, transactions, and purchases, we go almost everywhere together. And we’re all crazy about each other (as well as crazy around each other). Jenni and I, and the kids, have such a great time together. Some would call our life boring, but we find it adventurous and exciting in its own way, and we love it.

We have big dreams, and every intension of seeing their fulfillment, and we feel like we’re well on that path. I never thought we’d get this far this soon! And the best part is, we’re on that path together as a family, and we love it. If being poor now is part of the cost of being together and making our family dreams a reality, we’ll gladly pay it.

You Can Choose!

I’ve grown increasingly interested in how many things we have a choice about. And while I agree that there are many things we can’t choose, there are a lot more things we can choose than we think. Let’s say, my house, for example. Let’s imagine I don’t like my house (hypothetical, because I actually love my house). If my finances are really tight, I may be inclined to think I don’t have the choice to move. But the fact is, I always have the choice to move. I could move into a smaller, cheaper place.

Well, yeah, you may think, but that doesn’t count! Oh? And why not? If I choose to find a new place to live, and continually work toward that decision, I’ll find a new place, and I’ll move there. If I simply want to move into a bigger home, and I choose to do it, I’ll begin adapting my behavior to match that decision. I may develop building skills, and learn over several years how to build a bigger home than I have for less cost.

This goes for behaviors, personal challenges, and attitudes, too. Some studies show that stress is bad for your health. More recent studies show that stress tends to be bad for you only if you think it’s bad for you. The same studies show that those who believe stress is good for them tend to develop powerful stress resilience and grow in the field of that stress. Here’s a powerful TED Talk about this idea:

My point in sharing it here is to say that you can choose your attitude, you can choose your reactions, and you can choose your decisions. If there’s something in your life that you don’t like, think hard about whether or not that thing is really outside of your ability to choose, and make a proactive choice of something to do about it.

I Will Never Become Angry Again

I read a really good blog entry yesterday by a mother who was unhappy with the kind of parent she’d become, and how she was able to change. Her story is touching, and got me thinking.

Our family has a tradition of giving something to Christ each Christmas—such as a resolution or change that we know the Lord would appreciate. Last year, Jenni and I both independently decided we wanted to give up our anger towards the kids. We’d both been shouting at them more often than we knew we should, and we were determined to stop. So we decided that we’d give up our anger. Obviously, there would be feelings of frustration and disappointment, but we wouldn’t allow ourselves to become visibly angry. I should say up front, we’ve never laid hands on our kids. We don’t even spank (and no, I’m not making a statement about whether or not spanking is okay—we just don’t do it at our house). But we have been known to get unnecessarily loud and use mean voices. I don’t think we’ve been verbally abusive, but we’ve been bad examples of how to handle a negative situation. It has only ever exacerbated the problems we’re reacting to.

This last Monday for family home evening we talked about last years gifts to Jesus, and Jenni and I just looked at each other and laughed. We both failed. We’d become visibly angry almost regularly lately.

But then I read the blog entry and it got me thinking more about it.

When I was a teenager (mind you, the quintessential time for emotions to get out of control), I didn’t get angry with people. I got frustrated with stuff, but never people. I had a teacher in college who laughed when I said regarding some negative current event that had taken place, “That makes me so mad!”

I turned to him, and said, “What’s so funny?”

“Sorry, it’s just that I can’t imagine you mad!”

Then I laughed, and realized that I didn’t show anger in public anytime that I could remember. I do remember thinking, “I wish that were so in private, too.”

Jenni was told similar things when she was young, and even someone in our ward said that they couldn’t picture the two of us angry.

My first thought was that I must be quite the hypocrite to make my public life so drastically different than my private life. But that too, got me thinking. If I can choose in public to not become visibly anger, why should I be unable to do it at home.

There’s a talk by Elder Lynn G. Robbins, called Agency and Anger that is an absolute masterpiece. One line of that talk is,

“Understanding the connection between agency and anger is the first step in eliminating it from our lives. We can choose not to become angry. And we can make that choice today, right now: ‘I will never become angry again.’ Ponder this resolution.”

I highly recommend you read the whole talk, but that paragraph sums it up pretty well. Anger is a choice. It’s true there will be frustrations, disappointments, and unmet expectations, but how we react is still our choice.

So I decided to renew my gift to Christ. The way I figure, I was setting out to overcome my anger, and it’s not the next year’s Christmas for two more weeks, so I have two weeks to fulfill my effort.

And I’m going to do it. Especially toward my kids and Jenni. I won’t become visibly angry. I’ll be firm with the kids as necessary, and I’ll see that there are consequences for bad behavior, but I won’t shout. I won’t let my temper flare. I simply won’t do it.

I’m doing this for me, I’m doing it for my family, but I’m mostly doing it for the Lord (after all, it was His birthday present, right?).

And just to keep myself accountable, I’ve created an anger calendar. It’s a simple PDF with Elder Robbins’ quote and three pages laying out every day of the year. I’ve taped it to my bedroom wall, with a multicolor pen stringed to it. Every day that passes that I don’t get angry, I’ll X out in black. If I become visibly angry, I have to X it out in red. My goal is to first make it a week (I’ve already made it one day-WAHOO!!!), then a month, then the full year. If I can make it a year, I think I can make it a lifetime. Maybe I’ll even reward myself for each progressive state.

And, just in case you’re interested in trying it out yourself, you can download the PDF for yourself. I’ve long known that no change ever happens in the future—resolutions start today or they don’t start at all, so the beginning date is the first day of this week.

What do you think? Want to join me, and try it for yourself? If you’re not ready to commit long term, start with today. Just try for a day. Then try for a week. If you can make it a week, maybe you can keep it going.