My Teacher No-Spend Challenge: Why I won’t spend my own money on my students

Simply Kinder recently shared on their Facebook page an article about how 94% of teachers report spending their own money on their classroom. The article was a tale as old as time, but what truly caught my attention were the comments. Simply Kinder had asked everyone how much they usually meant, and the answers were astounding.

Thousands. Thousands of dollars. By my reading the majority of teachers on the post said they were spending two or three thousand dollars each year.

I confess I’m not entirely sure how much I usually spend as I don’t always keep receipts and I have an addiction to TeachersPayTeachers, but at most I would say a couple hundred, if that.

I think I may be luckier than most. I have been in three different teaching positions over my career. The first, the bread and butter basics of pencils, glue, crayons, etc, were in a cupboard for the taking. The second, while there was a robust parent donation tradition, we usually just requested anything else we needed. The third and current, while placing most of the ordering burden on the teachers, is also quite nice, with accounts to order directly and urged use of Class Wallet for our legislature money. The PTO was also very good about taking teacher needs into consideration.

Oh, I still spent money. I still used Donors Choose for big things out of my allotted money. I still justified nickel-and-dime spending here and there on classroom supplies. But at the end of the day, I really did have sufficient money provided by the school/district/state that comfortably covered the basics.

But I wasn’t spending thousands of dollars and I didn’t ever feel I had to spend thousands of dollars.

So who is spending thousands of dollars and why?

Well, more than a few teachers I’ve run into online say they simply don’t have a budget. Supply money budget? Not a thing. The schools don’t provide anything, the states don’t provide anything. Therefore, it’s either rely on donations or buy it. Others have budgets in name, but not enough to do anything with. I have heard teachers speak of getting $50 for the year and any teacher knows that’s not enough to do anything of consequence. Indeed, many a teacher on that Simply Kinder post wondered just where these %6 of teachers worked.

Others find it happening out of accident. They love their jobs, they love their students, they love their classrooms. They want the best for them–Pinterest-worthy decorations, snacks, holiday gifts, wondrous projects. And the best costs money. Sometimes they are of the best of hearts and go above and beyond–one teacher confessed skipping her children’s daycare bill in order to buy a student a prom dress.

Others consider it just part of the job. In fact, the greatness and love of a teacher can be known by how much they spend on their students. In the words of one teacher, she “mentions not spending anything and the other teachers look at [her] like she has three heads.” You’re a teacher? You spend money on your classroom, darn it.

But I am a teacher. And I really don’t see why I should be spending money on my own classroom, especially to the tune of thousands of dollars.

I tried to think of some scenarios where it just didn’t make sense, but they all boiled down to one main question.

“What if I don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on my classroom?”

And if the answer to that is “Just do your job and spend the money for the sake of your studens!” I respond with the variation of

“What if I don’t have thousands of dollars?”

I can imagine the answers to that. Borrow it. Beg for it. Put it on a credit card. Do a fundraiser.


Now we not only want teachers to do the traditional and state job of teaching as well as extreme data collection and analyzation and act as liaisons for community services and in some cases personally provide for basic needs, we want them personally raising funds for basic school and classroom supplies. (Again, I’m not opposed to a wild Donors Choose project for something above and beyond, but I have seen Donors Choose campaigns for the bare basics).

No wonder so many teachers are bone tired and burnt out.

So this year I am giving myself a personal challenge and I hope others teachers will do the same: I’m not going to spend my own money on things the students use. My own Teacher No-Spend Challenge.

I will use the few hundred dollars of my budget to buy what will be useful for my classroom. I will consider what I did last year and what I plan to do this year in order to decide what to buy. I will be prudent in my purchases with focus for the year and what’s important rather than frivolities. This includes paper, crayons, pencils (though the universe seems to provide these to me) and other such. I will find the best bulk option for dry erase markers I can. I may even create a teacher wish list.

And that’s it. Once my hopefully thought-out budget is done, it’s done.

Any for-my-desk-only teacher needs I just gotta have? I will purchase those for myself.

But while my school, district, and state are good about making sure I have some funding, I will still not fall into the trap of just paying of pocket for classroom necessities. Not after reading the account of one teacher who had $200 in funding last year and none this year.

It has become an expectation that teachers pay for supplies and this is a dangerous expectation. How many teachers have lost budgets for the simple reason they seemed willing enough to pay out of pocket? 

Teachers generally get into the profession due to a certain tolerance and maybe even love of youth. They are giving and caring by nature, and this is wonderful quality has been abused. Enough teachers have been willing enough to see to it their classrooms have what they need no matter what, and the powers that be have used that to their financial advantage. Again, why give teachers money for their classrooms when they can just use their own?

For some teachers this pouring out of money has become a feather in the cap. The more a teacher spends, the more devoted they are to their students.

So what of the teachers who can’t pay? What of the teachers on strict household budgets? Do they care less of their students for not finding thousands of dollars of personal money?

What would happen if a teacher absolutely positively could not purchase materials?

My question is why the powers that be don’t care enough about the students to find money for classrooms.

Allow me to wax potentially cruel here. It is not my job to see my students have everything they need and it’s shameful teachers have been put in that position. I should not be the one paying out of pocket for their school supplies, let alone the food and clothing some teachers purchase. My purpose is to teach. It is the school administration’s job to make sure I have what I need to teach, whether handing it to me outright or giving me the funds to buy it. It is the job of parents, and in greater hardships other agencies and charities, to provide food and clothing to their children.

Ah, some of you might say. If I put my foot down this year, the students will suffer.

Yeah, well, my brother contributed to helping students in Liberia and let me tell you he has seen them learning with a lot less. My point is, sticking a bandaid on the problem by using our own money is going to make the problem even worse.

On a teacher forum an administrator confessed that there is almost always money, just that it is discouraged from being used. Again, why use it if teachers will spend their own? 

Teachers need to take a stand, to stop the martyrdom, and behave as professionals who expect other professionals to do their job. A message needs to be sent that classrooms need supplies and it should come from official sources, to fulfill the duty of educating our children.

Which is why I would love it if more teachers also refused to spend personal money.

But how to survive?

Indeed, some of this may mean some level of suffering. But also imagine what would happen if an entire department or school just up and demanded some money for basic supplies? What legal danger is there if administration actually officially instructed teachers to buy their own supplies without contracted responsibility?

So, group together if there’s a strong culture in your school. Explain simply and professionally and with expectation that you need money for supplies. Ask if it’s in the contract to do so.

Pool resources. Not all teachers use all funding. Help each other out.

If the norm in you area is families buying supplies (though I also have some issue with this) work with it.

Be prudent with any funding you do have. Look for good deals.

If you’re helping out a student on a personal level with food and clothing, do it from the place of a good person, not a facet of your job.

Use grants or fundraisers for those big extras. That’s what they’ve always been for.

Avoid overdecoration. That means different things to different people, but the focus should be on learning. Don’t blow money on superfluous décor.

Don’t be anything but practical about the matter. Most businesses provided what is needed for the business to run. It’s a professional norm. There is no need whatsoever to feel guilty for not shelling out for the classroom.

I am a mother and wife as well as a teacher, and certainly before I am a teacher. I have a duty to help provide for my family. They come first always, even before my students. By putting my family first I set an example of a healthy family attitude for my students. My family knows I care for them. This is why I won’t spend thousands on my students.

The school districts have a responsibility to see the students are taught. That means they need to do so and put forth a good face for the community. This goes for any and all government officials responsible for budgets. I will not shield them from the responsibility of doing their job. This is why I won’t spend thousands on my students.

I am a professional. I love my job, but it is a job that is supposed to pay me, not a hobby I throw money into. It should be treated as a professional job. This is why I won’t spend thousands on my students.

I will begin this year. I vow to do my best to avoid purchases of pity or desperation, to be more responsible with the money I am given.

Next time that question of “How much do you spend on your classroom?” rolls around, I’ll be ready with $0.









Hanging the garment out to dry on the line

The garment is one of the most peculiar pieces of our Latter-Day Saint religion. We are urged to wear them in thought of our temple covenants, treat them respectfully, be mindful of their sacred nature. We also may get a lot of flack and confusion from others outside the faith.

In recent years, while the garment’s sacredness still remains, it seems to be less secretive. The shock value of sneaks tossing photos of garments on the internet has been lessoned by the Church doing pretty much the same thing. We all know those Mormons wear them, let’s move on.

And yet, for good or for bad, some funniness remains. By all means, I am in favor of respecting my garments and treating them well, but I also raise an eyebrow at excessive weirdness. I once met a faithful man who said that if he were told to remove his garments at gun-point, absolutely he would in a heartbeat.

This isn’t about threats of life, but of something more daily: laundering the garments and, in focus, drying them. Today on Facebook (which I’m trying to avoid) the question as asked in a Latter-Day Saint group if it were okay to dry them outside on a clothesline. While it wasn’t the nastiest debate I’ve seen (quite tame, really) I was still shocked at the divisiveness on the subject. Absolutely it was okay. Absolutely it was not.

To give my own view, I have few qualms about drying garments on the line. We have a fairly private backyard and I doubt our neighbors spy so much anyway. Line drying freshens and in my imagination even whitens them. I get to pretend I save energy. It all seems to wholesome and natural.

Then I saw comments trying to play the middle. Paraphrased, it’s okay if it’s what you got to do. To me, this was implying that line drying was the lesser choice and other such comments supported that: Only line dry if you absolutely must.

Some of this perspective came from some alleged advice and instruction given in yesteryear. Folks had anecdotes of being told by someone or another they shouldn’t line dry the garment.

Yet the only proper source given was from the handbook:

Handbook 2

“The garment is sacred and should be treated with respect at all times. Garments should be kept off the floor. They should also be kept clean and mended. After garments are washed, they should not be hung in public areas to dry. Nor should they be displayed or exposed to the view of people who do not understand their significance”

So… the case seems to be that we shouldn’t be hanging them to dry out in public. Agreed.

But my backyard is hardly public. Once again, fairly private, my clothesline pretty much blocked by trees. Surely this is okay?

Yet there still remained those who said there was an issue that had nothing to do with the privacy/publicity: Hanging garments outside was disrespectful.

To what? The modern invention of the dryer that seems more particular to the United States?

Now I get convenience: I may love the ritual of hanging clothes out to dry, but the dryer is an awesome invention. I use it when it’s more convenient. Those who love the dryer are more than welcome to dry clothes and their garments in the dryer.

But let’s not pretend the dryer imparts the blessings of heaven to its contents. Let’s not pretend lying them over furniture is more holy, or even an indoor rack or line. The clothesline has experience a comeback in popularity. It does not mean poverty nor trashiness. It is not regulated to those poor Saints in third-world countries who must do the best they can until they receive the spiritual blessings of a clothes dryer.

I must confessed I chuckled at some of these insistences, these little rituals over what is appropriate with the garments, the lengths some will go to in protecting the garment. I respect and admire that dedication. I know I’m particular about keeping them off the floor, respectfully folded, and such.

But I also love drying them on the line. No one’s looking, they’re not out on the main road. They’re getting dry, deodorized. My method isn’t lesser, and I just can’t see it as disrespectful.


Camping with CF

Husband and I, early on in our relationship, wanted to be more outdoorsy. We were more outdoorsy than many people. I worked five summers at Scout Camp and he grew up on a ranch. We enjoyed camping and hiking and the like, though were far from the extremes some people were at. Still, we thought getting out and about would be good for our family.

And, yeah, we did stuff, though work and kids mostly got in the way. But we have renewed our goals and went camping earlier this week. Nothing fancy, just two nights at a campground up the way.

Jade and I came the second night, Ruby and Layne having gone up the first night for a daddy-daughter date. Ruby has been quite enamored of the concept of camping.

The trick was, how were we to do Jade’s cystic fibrosis treatments? Jade uses the InCourage airway clearance system, which needs power. At one clinic in anticipation, we asked about and were trained on how to use those cup things. And… never used them.

Our choice was to buy a generator (something we still meant to do in the future for good sense and emergency preparation and all that) or use a power inverter, the latter of which we already had. 750 watts, which did prove enough to be able to run the vest system and the nebulizer with nary a problem. I was somewhat worried as someone in a group recommended at least 1000 watts, but this seemed to do the trick.

Backpacking is out of the question for the time being, but we were pleased with the results. Layne opened the hood, we hooked up everything, and the girls sat in the passenger’s seat, the InCourage system in the driver’s seat, somehow navigating ABC Mouse on the old phone that no longer recognizes its SIM card in a place with no data signal (we suspect the ranger had WiFi).

It wasn’t bad at all, in my opinion. True, Jade’s treatment stuff overshadowed the rest of the stuff, it seemed, but I feel up for going camping again.

Yard Sale Site Selling: What to do when someone asks “What’s the lowest price you’ll take for this?”

I have a few friends who practically have a second job or even a full-time job selling stuff via Craig’s List or Facebook yard sale groups. They are shrewd and clever, speedily turning random objects into extra crash. I am nowhere near so crafty, but when I’m working on the old decluttering tasks I sometimes try to see if I can’t get a few bucks out of certain items.

And sometimes, more than I’d like, this leads to a text with the dreaded question “What’s the lowest price you’d take for this?”

Now, I have never posted anything for a firm price. I’m not in the yard sale business, I’m trying to see if I can get money out of something I’m going to get rid of regardless. Of course I am willing to negotiate. Haggling ought to be part of the territory of such a market. But that question “What’s the lowest you’ll take?” put me at a standstill.

I don’t know what would be the lowest I’d take. I looked at similar listed items and tried to price mine to sell while still getting me a decent deal. Make me an offer.

I once participated in a heated Facebook Mom group argument about this, people irritated by the question and people irritated by those irritated at the question. Whilst delving into the interweb for this question, I found a number of online forums with similar views. In the end, everyone, buyers and sellers, are just trying to get a good deal.

So how does one respond to the question?

Image result for money

I’ve narrowed the people who ask this question into three general groups:

Group A: These are good people who probably want to haggle to some extent, but honestly don’t know how. They are unaware or clunky with the time-honored tradition of making an offer and playing the game from there. They figure their honest question of “What’s the lowest you’d take?” is an acceptable start.

Group B: These are people who just don’t like haggling, negotiating, or wheeling and dealing. The dance of the sale is one they’d rather not participate in. The best of them don’t exactly want to cheat you, they just don’t want to waste time with e-mails or texts back and forth or even that face-to-face conversation. They’re interested in buying the product and want this to be like a traditional store front. “I’d like to buy your product, what will you sell it to me for so we can both be on our way?”

Group C: The time-wasters, the tire-kickers. They might not even be looking seriously to buy, they just want to score a great deal. They’re hoping to find someone desperate for money and/or to get rid of an item.

Keep in mind, I’m just a gal who sells stuff occasionally on a yard sale group. I am not an earnest salesman. But here is what I picked up on how to respond from scouring over the thoughts and experiences of those wiser than me.

You’re still the seller. You can still dance the dance of the sale. That delicate art of haggling is not necessarily lost just because some guy seemingly smashed your action by asking your lowest price. Of course, due to this type of market being more art than science, responses depend on the situation. Some people, especially if they spell Group C, simply don’t respond. Others sign to themselves and respond with “Make an offer.”

But my all-time favorite response I’ve found?

“So you’re interested in buying Item if it were the right price?”

There! You just did the old sneak of answering a question with a question. It’s polite, diplomatic, and starts a dialogue. You’ve possibly frustrated Group C, maybe convinced Group B to work with you just a little bit, and likely have Group A more comfortably into the negotiations.

Even if they were trying to sidestep the haggling process by trumping your stated asking price, this line can be used to put the ball back in your court with a dialogue.

From there, the conversation can go many ways. If they want the item, they will say yes. Perhaps they’ll still be stubborn and again want to know your lowest price.

At that point, those wiser than me give several options, usually including a break-down of the item and why you were thinking your asking price.

From there, here are some tried-and-true methods:

  • Ask them what they’d like to offer or can pay. Kindly worded, this gets the deal back on.
  • Decide on what, yes, you’d accept if this guy would just take the item now and give you money–and, unless you really just want money/the item gone, give it a nice padding.
  • Decide on that low price… and name a figure half-way between there and your original asking price.
  • Knock off a bit of a percentage from your asking price. If this is your preferred strategy, it’s a good idea to post your asking price higher.

The lesson was, there is little use in getting upset over what from many people is an honest question they don’t find rude. Perhaps the art of haggling is getting lost, perhaps people just want to find that good deal. Getting upset rather than figuring you’re still the seller in possession of the item could lose you a sale.

Again, the Group C tire-kickers will be a pain, but it might be worth it to relax and give Groups A and B a break.


Decluttering: When space is taken up by space

One of my goals this summer break is to get some serious decluttering done in my house. I’m not the neatest person by any stretch of the imagination, but oh, how I admire those who are. Might it be said decluttering is ultimately important to me.

As I worked, I found some nuggets of tidiness horror, things only seen on those television shows–you know the kind. For background, I have a small house and to a certain degree space is premium, particularly with my desire to cut away the clutter. I thought things were bad some years ago when I was bemoaning the lack of drawer space, only to find out my husband’s Army uniforms, which he was only using once a month, took up three damn drawers.

But then I discovered the girls’ room. They possess a dresser, the type that usually functions as a diaper changing table but I don’t believe was ever used for such.  Three big drawers, a little cupboard to the side. We had purchased it, all pretty and painted, from the local classifieds. After a couple of years, I wondered if it a bit of toy and clothes culling would allow us to get rid of it. Spoiler: We still have it, it continues to have too much use. But we still had so much stuff in the girls’ room! So in a spurt of organization… I discovered the little cupboard held… boxes. Empty boxes.

Maybe not the volume of three drawers, but at least the Army stuff could be worn. This was a cupboard being taken up by boxes to various toys.

The other was the laundry room. I use plastic totes to store betwixt-girls clothes, and somehow I had them piled high to the ceiling, covered with other paraphernalia. A disaster and an embarrassment. When I went through them, I found one of them was mostly empty. Another two held… Army uniforms, which my husband said I could send to the thrift store. Other surprises were cloth diapers, random maternity outfits, and baby stuff I could have sworn I gave away.

So, I pared it down. The off-size girl clothes? One tote. The cloth diapers? Sadly, one tote. (I need to get rid of those). Which meant I had, again, wasted space, and two broken totes just screaming to be turned into tomato planters.

Little things like this occurred all over the house and I’m still finding them. I admire those people who don’t, who aren’t bemoaning a lack of space when available space is being wasted by empty boxes and meaningless totes.

It saddened me. What was I storing this for? Especially the stupid boxes? Perhaps I am the last person who should be saying this, but it would behoove us all to really look for that wasted space.

Imagine it. Boxes, boxes filled with the forgotten odds and ends of your life, just piled about your house. Would this not be an eyesore, an obvious testament to your need to cut the fat? Yet those things hide, and it’s only when we’re dragging them forth for examination do we toss them in a box and watch those boxes fill and multiply.



The day I became that crazy no-bathroom-for-you teacher.

I made a little kid cry the other day. I teach 1st grade, and while I think I’m decent at what I do I’m actually not the super-cute type of teacher. I rather always fancied myself teaching upper elementary or even jr. high and I haven’t quite pegged down the usual lower elementary personality traits. My point being, it’s not entirely unheard of me for to wind up with a crying kid. They’re kids, they cry.

What I do feel bad about is why I made this little kid cry. A reason my deeper soul has made apparently meaningless claims about.

The stupid bathroom.

What is it with schools and young students using the bathroom? Google the subject and you will find pleas from parents and doctors for teachers to not be so rigid and anal about the matter. You will find teachers sharing their bathroom control strategies.

Really. Bathroom control strategies.

Now, in fairness, I don’t teach upper grades. I know little about this secret world of teenagers feigning to use the bathroom to such scales high degrees of classroom management must be slapped down upon these rebels.

I teach in a little world of early literacy and mathematics with to-the-point lessons where I really don’t care if someone needs to use the bathroom. While sneaking off to play isn’t completely off the table, the vast majority of my students upon requesting bathroom access need to use the bathroom, or need the walk to and from the bathroom.

Yet my school is weird about the whole situation. No, there is no official school policy on bathrooms, but the culture is one of bathroom control. It would seem all the other teachers have strict policies and procedures for using the bathroom. Paying classroom money. Using a token representing a strict quota of daily bathroom sojourns. It’s not that I’ve been told to stop letting kids go to the bathroom outside of recess in so many words… but the implication is there.

Do I believe using the bathroom at recess is a good idea? Oh, yes. I encourage it. I even ask, when we are nearing that recess time, if they can wait. It’s a good habit when used reasonably and responsibly. Ah, but how quickly does that reason and responsibility turn into anything but?

Without being told to not let my kids use the bathroom, I was told. The pressure fell and it fell hard.

And next thing I knew I had a crying kid in my classroom.

Of course I apologized and let her use the bathroom. She was a good kid for the most part, like most first graders. If she threw a rave in the bathroom, we would address that. But she didn’t. She left for the bathroom and returned a short time later. There was no evidence of chaos.

So why do we put such bizarre emphasis on controlling students’ bathroom habits, especially in elementary school to such a degree we’re exchanging cutesy bathroom patrol ritual ideas?

Mine? I have the hand sanitizer bottle. It is placed on desk and the kids can even sanitize their hands afterwards. I hate the culture of hand sanitizer, but it works for this purpose. There’s other simple methods. I even heard once of a teacher who just let the kids go…

In this data-obsessed world, does a bathroom break interfere with the flow of the lesson? Does it encourage a plight of sympathetic urination? Does it cause a headache when enough kids request to go in a certain timeframe?

I personally don’t think it’s worth the headache of attempting to control or worrying about it.

They’re little kids. They have small bladders. They have small attention spans where a jaunt down to the restroom may be precisely the break they need. If problems arise, address them as they go.

I saw myself become that crazy bathroom-obsessed teacher when I told a little kid she couldn’t go. I didn’t like that me.

I pledge to return to being a little more reasonable about the bathroom.

Relief Society Lesson: Gather Together All Things in Christ

Gather Together in One All Things in Christ

by Elder Bednar


We are at a time where it seems church changes are happening regularly. It’s a rather exciting sort of news feed, but it may also leave us wondering of what is important, what was important but no longer, and questions of just what we ought to be worrying about. We may have heard others frustrated with changes, or perhaps experienced those frustrations ourselves. This all leads to that greater question of just what is the purpose of all these changes. To take the thought even further, what is the purpose of all we do in the gospel?

Elder Bednar quotes the scripture Ephesians 1:10 “That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him”. We have been given a modern dispensation where the fullness of the gospel is revealed. It’s a wondrous and exciting time where living prophets teach us, works of knowledge and inspiration are easily available, and in many ways this can greatly help us move on the work of our Heavenly Father.

Elder Bednar also mentions a rope. During my time working  Scout Camp, I spent a lot of time with ropes and they became near and dear to me. We tied knots to serve all sorts of different purposes, generally with some degree of securing some item, be it a boat, a fence, or a person. Ropes are quite powerful and useful in that security. Ask anyone whose profession or hobby involves knots, and they will likely wax on about the important of a strong rope and good knot.

Rope Ladder, Mesh Ladder, Rope, Knot, Rope Mesh Ladder

But, what makes a rope? A rope is a collection of a whole lot of individual strands that work together to make that mighty rope for whatever your purpose.

So, consider all the changes and even all the long-term yet-to-change policies and procedures of the church. Do they exist independently for their own sakes entirely? What is their end goal?

Elder Bednar said “Interestingly, substances that may be quite unexceptional can be woven together and become exceptionally strong. Thus, effectively connecting and binding ordinary materials can produce an extraordinary tool….Much like the braided strands of a rope produce a powerful and durable tool, all of these interrelated actions are part of a unified effort to better align the focus, resources, and work of the Savior’s restored Church with its fundamental mission: to assist God in His work to bring to pass the salvation and exaltation of His children. Please do not focus primarily upon the logistical aspects of what has been announced. We must not allow procedural details to obscure the overarching spiritual reasons these changes now are being made.”

Take a moment to consider all the ins and outs of living the gospel in this modern dispensation. What are some that stand out to you? Have a particular meaning to you? Are these merely foolish traditions or do they have a purpose in helping the gospel move forward to our salvation and exaltation?

Think of a checklist. Some people love checklists with the satisfaction of meeting a goal, of completing a great project or even something as mundane yet important as a day. Others despise the tediousness of them. Others, and their camp regarding checklists may not even matter, may even speak of them in certain contexts disparagingly, that a desired goal is best not met by such tasks that only exist to “check off a box.”

Consider a nice, strong rope, and then consider the worst to-do checklist you’ve seen. What is the difference? Then, especially for those of you who love checklists, compare that rope of little individual fibers with the best checklist you’ve done, the one that consists of important tasks great and small that all work toward a single purpose.

What do you think might happen if we become preoccupied with the changes, or perhaps even long-standing aspects of the church? Would it be possible if we approached the gospel in a merely a checklist fashion to eventually lose focus of the ultimate purposes of the gospel?

I want to share a change that I found particularly meaningful to me in a way I didn’t anticipate. I really do appreciate the two-hour church time. And it’s not necessarily about having “more time” on Sundays. I honestly felt, and still feel, that the church could have given us whatever schedule and I would have dutifully and happily accepted it. The movement toward a more home-centered gospel struck a cord with me. I have rubbed shoulders with people of other faiths who had shorter church services than us. Some who didn’t even attend any sort of actual church, but practiced their faith entirely within the home. And while I certainly feel there is a lot of benefit to the greater community of a church congregation, that feeling comes from my belief that such community is in its way an extension of the family. Anyway, those Christians who had less congregation church and more home church were always admired by me and I thought of them when the schedule changed. I liked that reminder that church is not something we go to on Sundays, but is something we ought to be living daily. I thought of those who had challenges with the schedule, listened to their thoughts, and still in the end came away with the hope that they would be able to meet such challenges. And, even though it is probably overstepping my bounds, I couldn’t help but wonder if the process of meeting such challenges would offer great blessings to themselves and their families, even if it was nothing more than greater communication and understanding between family members.

I’ve been in situations where for one reason or another, a gospel event had to be severely focused. To share another Scout Camp story, one Sunday morning we somehow found ourselves in the situation with way too many people planning to attend church down at the bottom of the mountain and not nearly enough cars. A phone call was made, and we wound up having a quick sacrament meeting ourselves. One way to look at this was that we managed to do what seemed most important, but I bring up this story as a reminder that we still cannot discount everything else just because of the importance of the sacrament. Even the sacrament itself is a way to bring us further along in the gospel.

Elder Bednar said “Our desire is that faith in the Father’s plan and in the Savior’s redeeming mission might increase in the earth and that God’s everlasting covenant might be established. Our only objectives are to facilitate continuing conversion to the Lord and to love more completely and serve more effectively our brothers and sisters.”

All that we do in the gospel ought to be with this mission in line.

Think of the Pharisees, strictly following the letter of the law without proper understanding of just what the intent and purpose of the law was.

These days in education, a common practice we use in deciding what to teach is “unpacking the standard”. We take the educational standard, or the goal of what we want students to know, and start breaking it down. We can in the end get quite a few lessons from a single sentence standard. It occurred to me that instead of worrying about all the little fibers that make up a rope, it may be better to look at a whole rope, and then look at all the fibers that make up. We begin with knowing we want a nice strong rope—how will we get there? What do we need to make up that rope? Or, what is in that rope that makes it so very strong?

In his talk, Elder Bednar makes an excellent project of “unpacking” the 4th Article of Faith. Many of may be able to recite it by heart, a quick paragraph that nicely hits the main key ideas. “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” But we know that we can take each one of those and intricately study and ponder on their meaning… and yet they all lead back to that key idea of The Gospel and the importance of relying upon and trusting in our Savior.

Consider all that you do in the church and in the gospel. Do you do them without any thought of Jesus Christ or Heavenly Father? Likely not, or at least not all the time. If we have developed a testimony in those things, that testimony is very likely not just in those, but in our Savior and our Father in Heaven. That gospel is the focus of what we do.

A few more questions to ponder:

What blessings have you seen from either recent changes or long-standing components of the church?

What do you think is their end goal?

How can we help ourselves and each other from getting caught in single ideas?

How can all these individual things help us?

MLMs and the Desire for “Abundancy”

I’ll begin by being perfectly clear–I have nothing against financial success and wealth. If I found myself making oodles of cash, I would be pretty darn pleased. I daresay most people desire some form of financial security and what is the American Dream if not to create that sort of stability?

But Latter-Day Saint culture seems packed with multi-level marketing and, according to my Facebook groups, aimed particularly towards wives, often those who want nothing more than to be a stay-at-home mom. For whatever reason related to this difficult economy, these women often want to be helping out with finances. I’m a working mom, I totally respect that. They want to be at home, or working outside the home isn’t financially logical, and money is still needed for basic bills or desired for making things easier or even just more luxurious. Once again, I respect that. There’s a reason we aren’t scrimping by in my grandmother’s basement but rather I’m working. Avoiding my grandmother’s basement isn’t the only reason I’m working, of course, but I understand the desire to not be living in such circumstances when you’re adults with a family.

I recently mused about those Facebook groups.  One of the regular posts was ways to earn money from home, and inevitably MLMs would pop up. A recent incident of memorability was such a request with a specific NO MLMs tag attached to it. The next day had an apology post from one of the group administrators complete with a note that every woman who had brought up her MLM anyway had been removed from the group.

People in MLMs LOVE MLMs. And despite not being immune from making purchases, I can’t help but be a little frightened of the zeal. Let’s be real: it can be flat-out freaky.

I don’t really want to talk about the figures and numbers and data of MLM success and failures. My question here is, why?

Why is there such a heavy focus and celebration of making so much money?

Once again, I do not intend to slam the rich. I do not intend to slam those who work high-paying careers. I do not intend to slam those who enjoy their money. But I also confess that as a school teacher living in a little house who clearly did not go for a high-paying career for whatever reason, such intense chasing of money is hard to understand.

With high-paying careers, you’re hopefully doing something you enjoy. Something that interests you, challenges you–and also happens to pay pretty decently. You like your career. Maybe you wouldn’t do it if the pay wasn’t worth it, but you are generally happy doing what you’re doing.

But the most I hear from MLMs is about the money. Dazzling phrases of Financial Freedom! Be Your Own Boss! Have All you Desire! Live Abundantly!

Since when did abundance fall into limited terms applying only to finance?

Suddenly an MLM goes from a fun side-hustle that may pay a few bills to meaning untold wealth. The message isn’t about the product, it’s about what the product will hopefully get you.

So a relative of mine made millions in an MLM. He had a beautiful home on a mountaintop. It was pretty cool. One day, some guys from the company came to take video of his house and property–for the purpose of using it to entice potential consultants. Who cares about the product? Do this and maybe you’ll become rich!

I confess I’ve actually perused sites like PinkTruth and such, or even just random MLM disaster stories on the interweb. I find them fascinating, like a car accident. So much of the talk given to these people involved vague promises of wealth!

And while wealth is probably very nice, why is this money side such a focus? Why is it all about the money? The big houses? The vacations?

To stay on the PinkTruth/Mary Kay angle, Mary Kay is a Christian sort of company. Yet I scratch my head at the focus on so much material wealth. Same goes for my own specific religion. How many of these moms in my Latter-Day Saint mom groups are looking for a way to bring in some fun money and how many of them are looking beyond the mark of caring for their children in the home towards lavish lifestyles? I already know several woman who still wound up having to put their kids in daycare in order to work many hours on their MLM businesses that were supposed to allow them to stay home. To go further on that thought, I already see a lot of desire for the finer things in life that go beyond simple wishing and toward what I would consider for myself unrighteous greed.

When I went looking for more information on MLMs, the supportive sites also failed to mention their actual businesses and only spoke of the potential millions to be made.

None of it was about the work. It was all about skipping over something someone may or may not enjoy and getting to the millions of dollars.

Why isn’t it about the joy of selling if you’re a salesman type with the income to make it worthwhile? Why is it just about the end result, like the MLM is a magic genie come to make all wishes come true?

Instead of living godly lives on whatever income your family has or can reasonable obtain and being happy in such lives, why must there be so much strife toward extreme wealth?

Relief Society Lesson: Our Campfire of Faith

Our Campfire of Faith by Elder Gerrit W. Gong


For five summers during and after college I worked at a Boy Scout camp. It became addicting, a major aspect of my life. I had a gaggle of friends from these summer camps and we developed out camp identity. I look back at that time as a camp counselor with fondness. There was so much to love. The program, our mountain campground, our friendships, our traditions, including campfires. Oh, what a part of our little camp culture were campfires. Sure, every camp around has their campfires, but until you’re working fire day after day and week after week you can’t possibly know what a big deal campfires are. We had programs we dubbed campfires (as there was usually a fire going). On weekends we would gather around campfires and sing. Yes, we had created our own giant bonfires. We regularly taught people how to build and maintain and care for campfires.

So when Brother Gong compared faith to a campfire, I immediately understood. Campfires encompassed or represented so much of our camp life. Why should not our faith and the experiences with it be so powerful? You may not have been in my nerdy camp experience, but imagine a campfire. What feelings does it bring to mind?

For me, it’s warmth, it’s community, it’s the feeling of something greater than myself. It’s safety and comfort. And yes, it’s strength.

In his talk, Elder Gong speaks of a time when he was invited by Elder Richard G. Scott to… paint. They used a model Scott’s painting “Campfire at Sunset”. Gong was interested in expanding his skill, doing something creative, a reasonable purpose for watercolor. One can take from this experience that Gong was inspired and wanted to grow in his talent and even celebrate the beautiful God-created world. Compare this with faith.

Gong describes faith and this painting experience as such As we painted, we talked about faith—how as we face the light and warmth of a campfire, we leave the darkness and uncertainty behind us—how on sometimes long, lonely nights, our campfire of faith can give hope and assurance. And the dawn does come. Our campfire of faith—our memories, experiences, and heritage of faith in God’s goodness and tender mercies in our life—has strengthened us through the night.

The metaphor of faith as a campfire is meaningful for me. It shows us the power, warmth, and brightness of faith. Whether our faith is a raging bonfire or nothing but warm embers, it gives forth that power. The campfire is a reserve, something that often maintains its power no where it is. It’s something we can build and care for, and in turn it gives us so much strength.

Gong describes five ways in which this reservoir of faith can help and encourage us through our lives.

The first is helping us in finding joy. It is easy to find joy when things are going right and following our ideals. It may not be so easy to find that joy and happiness when things are difficult.

Think of a time when things did not go your way… yet you survived. How did you manage to get through those hard times?

Gong says Our Savior knows our circumstances. As we exercise God-given agency and engage all our faculties in humility and faith, our Savior, Jesus Christ, can help us meet life’s challenges and joys…God’s love is stronger than the cords of death—temporal or spiritual. Our Savior’s Atonement is infinite and eternal. Each of us strays and falls short. We may, for a time, lose our way. God lovingly assures us, no matter where we are or what we have done, there is no point of no return. He waits ready to embrace us.

Trials will come upon us. I imagine that each of us in this room has had our times of trial, likely are going through a trial at this time. While it may be asking too much for us to be completely Pollyanna-esque in this regard, faith can help us remember that no matter how hard things are God has not forgotten us, that our Savior did have the Atonement for us. It is in this knowledge that we may be able to look beyond our trials to perhaps find other blessings and beauty in the world and other opportunities for us. How has your faith helped through times that were difficult?

The second way this helps is in our ability to minister. We can use the knowledge and faith we have to help and love others. You may have heard the metaphor of pouring from an empty cup—in this regard we may think of our cups as filled and ready to be poured out to others. Perhaps we may even feel inspired to minister, to seek out those we can serve. Has there ever been a time where someone who served you seemed to have inspiration with them?

Gong says Third, creative gospel joy and blessings come when we seek to love the Lord and others with all our hearts and souls. This is where I find that we truly find joy. We have our hearts changing and we are becoming more Christ-like. This will manifest in how we treat and love others. How might you go beyond yourselves to love others and serve God? What things can you do to grow in your talents and your faith?

Next, Fourth, our campfire of faith encourages us to establish regular patterns of righteous living that deepen faith and spirituality. Recently in my life I’ve been part of conversations discussing the importance of various aspects of righteous living. They have been interesting in their own right. What is culture? What is best for our own personal growth? What I find most important of Gong’s advice is putting into place regular patterns. What is the difference between half-heartedly making a change we don’t necessarily stick to and working in faith to live more righteously? We aren’t picking and choosing aspects of living we don’t feel strongly about but rather we are seeking truly changing our lives for the better. If you have made a long-term change in your life for the better, what blessings have you found?

Last, Fifth, as we keep the best of familiar patterns while seeking new and holier ways to love God and help us and others prepare to meet Him, our campfire of faith can encourage us to remember perfection is in Christ, not in ourselves or in the perfectionism of the world.

What does this mean to you?

For me, I feel that when I trust in my faith and have taken the time and devotion to build it, I better understand what matters in this world. We can aim to separate the comparatively smaller matters in our lives and the eternal significance of the gospel. We can work with greater strength at building our faith and testimonies.

Perhaps this may be a Primary sort of question, but what are we doing in our lives in order to grow our faith, to build and tend that campfire of faith? Is it something we put little care into and then forget? Or is this truly a fiery sort of faith, something that we build our lives around, something we turn to, something that defines our experience, something that is ultimately useful to us?

In conclusion, please remember that faith ought to matter. It is something we work on and in turn it is something that truly benefits us.

So I read an vaccine package insert…

I consider myself pro-vaccination. I believe in vaccines. No, I’ve not been specifically trained in deep medical science but I have taken a number of classes in college. I was not aware I “wasn’t supposed to vaccinate my kids” until a few years ago. Since everyone and anyone was calling me “crunchy” I decided I might as well look further into this community of people. Yes, by many proper accounts I fit the crunchy bill–cloth diapering, yoga, line drying clothing, dabbling in essential oils, herbal teas, composting, a desire for minimalism–I, unfortunately, vaccinated.

Curious, I looked into it. Was I doing wrong by not vaccinating?

Except… except I didn’t really like what I was reading. The vast majority of the information on Facebook and various blogs seemed suspect and even of the fear-mongering category. I knew what I knew about medical science from college, despite being far from an expert, and none of the bold claims seemed to fit.

Then there were the declarations to me to “do my homework”. What, pray tell, homework was I supposed to do? I wasn’t currently attending any advanced courses on vaccines, immunology, or biology. Heck, I wasn’t attending any courses. Oh, I was supposed to use the interweb.

Now, I do believe that the interweb, properly used by a knowledgeable hacker, can reveal all sorts of accurate information. I do know medical journals and studies can be accessed. I believe that yes indeed, someone smart and discerning enough, could likely do an excellent interweb-only research.

Yet how many of us are skilled to do that properly?

The “approved homework” seemed to come in the form of blogs, and blogs are as only as good as the writer. Oh, many claimed to have done more, actually looking at CDC reports and speaking to doctors, but the information still struck me as rather second-hand.

Some thoughts began to creep into my head:

  • Did So-n-So’s dad who worked in pharmaceuticals really interview each and every upper being of the company to confirm their children weren’t vaccinated? Did he confirm his findings by digging into their private medical files?
  • Did the 22-year-old mom with a degree in accounting really do thousands of hours of research on vaccines?
  • How much can I trust Girl who said her friend said that most immunologists don’t vaccinate? How did they verify this?
  • Why is the small fraction of doctors-who-don’t-vaccinate-their-families so much smaller than the fraction of doctors who do?
  • Why was it so darn easy to find refutations on every claim the anti-vaccine community tossed out but so hard to find refutations to those refutations?
  • How am I, an elementary teacher, more qualified to properly sift through this medical information than the guy who has done it for ten years professionally?

That last thought is what led me to the horrifying devil of the matter… I dared to put my trust in those I deemed wiser than me. But hey, this is where “doing my homework” led me.

But what about the other part of my homework? Reading the vaccine package insert? Well, our family doctor tends to hand us the insert upon every vaccination. Part of the office procedure, apparently. And I do like reading informative things, so I have been reading those inserts for the better part of six years.

Here is me reading a vaccine insert…

Oh, look, here’s the purpose of vaccine. Oh, instructions for the doctors and nurses… this is kind of boring but now I know how to mix a vaccine, I’m so educated. Now we have some dosage forms. Ooh, contraindications! That sounds important! Okay… looks like none of these apply to us so we’re good to go. Precautions! What do you mean I can’t let my toddler drive home? And now what’s next?

Good gravy, it’s lawyer stuff that makes the Happy Fun Ball look like indeed a good time. Government and company trying to cover their butts by listing everything under the sun.


I’m sorry, but I just can’t read the Adverse Reaction section with anything less than a grain of salt. Why?

Because, despite what people would have me believe, it’s nothing more than a list of everything that happened within six degrees of Kevin Bacon when someone may or may not have been on a drug trial.

That’s right. I don’t give it much thought because it is LAWYER STUFF. Most of those reactions have not been clinically confirmed. They are not gospel truth, and I would major most of them never happened to anyone.

So, no, I don’t know all that much, but higher education and those wiser than me helped me learn how to navigate a medical pamphlet.