The few that may know me very well realize that I’m pretty much a homebody. Our family doesn’t really have any outside compelling interests as some do, such as camping, hunting, hiking, etc. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m pretty much an introvert (and I’m fine with that).

One thing that I really appreciate about the church is that it helps me get out of my comfort zone. Home teaching and other callings give me the opportunity to get to know and to hopefully serve people that otherwise I may not have met. Sometimes I may feel overwhelmed by what is expected of me, but then I remember that I’m doing my best, and that’s all that the Lord or anyone can expect of me. The church helps “stretch” me and in the process helps me to be a more balanced person than I would be otherwise.

So I am grateful for a church that requires sacrifice and expects service and involvement from its members. Like Joseph Smith said, “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has the power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.”

In the past, I’ve generally tried to write about topics that are a little more “deep” than bargain shopping, but I will probably try to add a little variety once in a while.

Anyone that knows me very well knows that I love a great bargain and am frugal to a fault. I haven’t done much “extreme couponing” since my local store stopped doing double coupons a few years ago. But I did get some great deals this morning.

The Macey’s here in Utah has a weekly special on Kellogg’s and Keebler products: mix and match any ten of selected products and get $10 off. In addition, I had coupons for $5 off of 5 boxes of cereal, $1 off of three boxes of Poptarts, and $1 off of 2 boxes of Nutrigrain bars.

So this morning, after coupons, I paid the following for 10 items:

$0.29 for 1 box of Cocoa Krispies
$0.29 for 1 box of Frosted Flakes
$0.49 for 1 box of Frosted Mini Wheats (Bite Size)
$0.49ea for 2 boxes of Frosted Mini Wheats, Little Bites (Chocolate)
$0.99ea for 2 boxes of Nutrigrain Bars (Blueberry)
$1.16ea for 3 boxes of Poptarts, 12 ct. (Blueberry)

I was quite pleased to get so much for so little. The coupons alone deducted $17 from the bill. I realize that this is “child’s play” compared to some real bargain hunters out there that spend hours planning, hours more at the store shopping and checking out with their three overflowing shopping carts, and then end up with a bill of something like $14.22 for thousands of dollars worth of stuff. But, this was good enough for me.

What about you? What are your best bargains? Do you have any tips for finding great deals?

I just can’t avoid an attempt at some deeper tie-in to this topic. To me, the most important things in life are knowledge, character, and relationships. I believe these are things that endure and really matter when all is said and done. I may be too hard on myself, but I think that I often expect to make some kind of bargain in these areas too- that my mostly “token” efforts will somehow produce magnificent results. But I believe that “real” life is not like bargain shopping but is more like the law of the harvest- you reap what you sow. I hope to improve in several areas of my life, and the key for me is to start now with specific goals, to periodically evaluate progress, and to keep trying.

This is a Pioneer Day tribute to Martine Larsen, my great, great, grandmother.

Martine was only 5 when she travelled with her family and other saints from Denmark to the United States. Her father, Peder, was a cabinet maker, and her mother, Ane Kirstine Nielsen was a seamstress. Both provided their goods to Danish royalty.

Martine had her sixth birthday on May 27, 1856 while aboard the ship Thornton. She had learned to tap dance and entertained the other passengers with her dancing.

On July 5th, in Iowa City, while her family and others made handcarts and sewed tents, her mother gave birth to a baby boy, Lars Julius. She enjoyed taking care of her baby brother while others prepared for the long trek ahead with the Willie Company.

At Florence, Nebraska, the group determined that they could not stay the winter there, so they pressed on. On Oct. 1st, they reached Ft. Laramie, but supplies there were inadequate. Their rations were cut, and they were beginning to weaken. They were forced to leave bedding and other items behind to make the rest of their trek easier.

On Oct. 3rd, about 21 miles west of Ft. Laramie, Martine’s father died. Two weeks later, near where the Martin’s Cove Visitor Center now stands, her baby brother, only 3 months old, also passed away. Although rations were further reduced and the cold and snow were getting worse, Captain Willie returned on Oct. 21st with the first company of rescuers. Martine’s sister, Anna Sophie, also passed away that day.

In spite of the raging blizzard, the group continued on and climbed Rocky Ridge on Oct. 23rd. This 15-mile stretch required 27 hours for some of the saints to complete, and 13 died upon arrival. Martine, her mother, and her brother survived, but her brother Niels, became sick and weak and died about a month later. Martine cried and also wanted to die, but she pressed on with her mother, and they eventually arrived in Salt Lake and later settled in Manti.

Martine later married William Bench and raised 10 children. She supported the family alone when her husband served a two year mission in England. Martine became a skilled and caring nurse, and while caring for a sick family when she was in her 60’s, she accidentally got some type of poison in her eyes and became blind. She continued attending meetings and working in the temple for the next 24 years and passed away in 1933 at the age of 83. There is a monument to Martine Larsen Bench in Manti, Utah.

Martine and many like her that valliantly press on in doing good and in faithful obedience, in spite of significant challenges, is inspiring to me. Happy Pioneer Day!

My source for information about Martine is a book called Tell My Story, Too, by Jolene S. Allphin.

We returned from our handcart trek five days ago, and I still don’t feel like I have fully recovered. Although I did walk a few miles around Martin’s Cove, it was not the walking that was so demanding for me. I think we were exhausted before we even left. We collected food and packed coolers on Sunday evening, and by the time everything was ready, it was close to midnight. Then we were up by around 4am to get ready to go.

Then, we drove for 6 hours. Along with 5 others, I was responsible for preparing all of the meals for about 70 people. Inevitably we encountered problems with each meal- winds that blew out the flames on our stoves, hamburger patties frozen in a solid block, missing or inadequate equipment, etc. We did our best to improvise, and I think the food in general was very good. It just seemed as though we would run from preparing and cleaning up from one meal to having to start the process all over again. I can’t think of a single meal in 4 days where I actually sat down or had more than a few quick bites. We were basically on our feet all day, every day, from early morning to late at night. There were times when I literally could not think straight or even form a coherent sentence. It was good though to be so busy and engaged, and we were fortunate to have many people that were willing to help when needed.

Many are familiar with Francis Webster’s quote where he defended the Martin Company’s decision to make the trek late in the year, even knowing the likely calamity that they would face. If you are interested in reading the full account, check here (search for “testimony” to find this specific story).

I am intrigued by Francis’ statement that he and other pioneers that suffered gladly paid the price that they did because it was through these trials that they became acquainted with God.

What are your thoughts? Do we need to go though extreme tragedy as these pioneers to come to know God? If not, since few of us will ever experience anything close to what these saints did, how do we come to the same knowledge of God that they did?

I have my own ideas that I am happy to share but would love for others to give their thoughts about this.

Our ward’s youth conference this year is a pioneer handcart trek at Martin’s Cove in Wyoming. I am not exactly sure how it came about, but my wife is in charge of buying, storing, and preparing food for this 4-day activity with close to 80 participants.

Trek has consumed our lives and is now taking over our home. Fortunately many ward members are loaning us coolers and other items that will come in handy while we attempt to feed hungry trekkers in the middle of nowhere, but those items are now stacked up in our living room, which is now a maze of several Igloo coolers large enough to sleep a family of four, pots and pans, canned food, large bins, etc.

I have been to Martin’s Cove a few times, and I know what a special place it is. I recognize that this can be an important event in the lives of some of these youth, and I hope that I can contribute to the activity’s success. But even though our conditions will be luxurious in comparison to the pioneers, I find myself murmuring and looking forward to the end when I can be back at home rather than looking forward to enjoying my time there.

What most impresses you about the pioneers? What to you are the characteristics that define a pioneer?

For me, the pioneers’ perseverance is amazing. Even in good conditions, it is incredible to me that they could keep going day after day. In my next post, which will most likely be after I return, I plan to discuss the source of this perseverance and hope that others will share ideas on how we can develop pioneer strengths.

(Picture taken from pacificreader.com; it was the best one in google images when I searched for "power outage")

One evening a few weeks ago, our power went out.  This isn’t unusual where we live, but normally the power is restored within a few (or sometimes several) minutes.

This time, the power outage was on wider scale, and it took several hours for the power to come back on.  Side note:  if you go to bed before power is restored, be sure to turn off all the light switches, especially your bedroom, unless you want to be wakened in the middle of the night when the power comes back on.

Since we could not watch TV, use the computer, or spend time individually doing things that we normally do, we actually had some quality time together as a family.  All four of us were on our bed, talking, joking, and playing 21 questions (whch was really more like 200 questions) for a few hours.  The whole time we were thinking that the power would come back on any second, but we finally went to bed quite late while the power was still off.

It is easy enough to turn off the TV or the computer and spend time doing things together, so why don’t we?  That hour or two where we had no distractions will be one of my all-time favorite memories.  Is there any TV show or anything on the internet that could be as important as really enjoying one another’s company?

I don’t think our family is much different than most.  It seems like each family member has their own agenda, and it rarely is to set aside time to talk and really be together without distractions.  I am looking forward to the next big power outage (or maybe we can break old habits and replace them with better ones!).

Do you ever stop to realize how wonderful it is to have electricity?  During a recent storm, our electricity went out for several hours, and I was reminded (again) of the tendency to take blessings for granted.

What are your thoughts about taking things for granted?  Is this something that most people do, to some extent, and if so, why do we do this?

As I consider my own life, it seems that after a period of time, a blessing can become too common, and until that blessing is somehow jeopardized, we may begin to overlook the blessing’s significance in our life.

I suspect that we are never so grateful for a car, for example, as after it has broken down, we have been inconvenienced for a while, and then it is working again.  The same could be said, I think, of electricity, our health, relationships, or many other blessings in our lives.

It is ironic to me that in some cases, we may, through neglect, contribute to the demise of the blessing that we once cherished.  Rather than investing the time and effort to maintain our health, a car, or a relationship, we may focus on other endeavors that may appear to have more immediate rewards.  Eventually, without the proper care, what we once valued may be put at risk.  Then the cycle begins again.

I am going to try to be more mindful of the many little things that can make life joyful (even electricity).

I just read this interview with Sahar Qumsiyeh, a Latter-day Saint in Palestine.

This was published nearly a week ago, which seems like eons in internet time, but for anyone that may have missed it, it is well worth reading.

The faith and diligence of pioneers like Sahar is inspiring to me. As I consider the struggles that such saints have faced and overcome, it makes me feel spoiled but grateful to have a church meetinghouse within walking distance of my home and to be surrounded by many other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

At the same time, it reminds me that my blessings also bring added responsibility.  The very same blessing of living in a very active LDS community can easily become a stumbling block to personal progress if I allow myself to become slothful and complacent.

I have had a dilemma in my mind now for quite some time.  One of the main reasons I started this blog was to generate dialogue on different topics, and although thus far there the dialogue has been rather sparse, I hope that any and all that might read this will share their ideas on this topic.

Here’s the dilemma:  how does one strike the right balance between being content with what one is/has and striving to improve, to develop, and to progress?

For some reason I have always assumed that this was an either/or proposition- that by being content I would somehow be giving up on striving for improvement.  Being content to me seemed like a “cop out” and like the lazy way.  So I believe I have generally tried to focus on pursuing improvement, growth, and progress but at the expense of being content.  Although I have all that I could ever want or need, I think my pursuit for a more enjoyable career, for more ideal relationships, and for greater personal growth has robbed me of much happiness.

It is still somewhat counter-intuitive to me, but I am beginning to realize that being content and striving for more are not necessarily mutually exclusive.  My desires are not nearly as pure as Alma’s, but I can say as he did, “…I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.”  I am afraid that I cannot easily relinquish my grasp on striving for progress in different aspects of my life, but I hope that I can at least develop an ability to “strive contentedly.”

So, what ideas do you have about the conflict, if there is one, between being content and striving for growth and progression?  How can one achieve the right balance between these two forces?

I wonder if we sometimes pray  amiss.  In Elder Groberg’s book “The Other Side of Heaven,” he shares a lesson he learned about prayer.

As they often sailed to get to their destinations in the Tongan islands, he would pray for a good tail wind.  But someone else taught him that such a prayer, if granted, would actually be detrimental to someone else sailing the opposite direction.  Instead, he should pray for a good wind.

Elder Groberg concluded:  “Sometimes we pray for things that will benefit us, but may hurt others. We may pray for a particular type of weather, or to preserve someone’s life, when that answer to our prayer may hurt someone else. That’s why we must always pray in faith, because we can’t have true, God-given faith in something that is not according to His will.”

Another example of praying amiss is when we ask for blessings yet do little or nothing ourselves to obtain those blessings.  We may pray for protection, and then drive unsafely; we may pray for health, and then eat unwisely and exercise insufficiently; we may pray to do well on a test or to accomplish something at work, and then neglect to perform the labor that would contribute to the blessing being realized, etc.

I love the sentiment expressed in this prayer by Francois Fenelon:

Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of Thee;
Thou only knowest what I need; Thou lovest me better
than I know how to love myself. O Father, give to Thy
child that which he himself knows not how to ask.
I dare not ask either for crosses or for consolations;
I simply present myself before Thee,
I open my heart to Thee. Behold my needs
which I know not myself; see and do according to
Thy tender mercy. Smite, or heal; depress me,
or raise me up; I adore all Thy purposes without
knowing them; I am silent; I offer myself in
sacrifice; I yield myself to Thee; I would have
no other desire than to accomplish Thy will.
Teach me to pray. Pray Thyself in me.