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For Future Missionaries and Their Parents

6 October 2012

When do they go?

How do they prepare?

Read on…

Today we heard the announcement that the age requirement for full-time missionary service has been reduced to 18 years for young men and 19 years for young women (they must still be high school graduates).

It’s been interesting to see the reaction so far, just in my little corner of the world. I already know of two young women who are excited about the option to serve sooner. I also know of some surprised parents who are a little less thrilled (oh it is hard to let go of our children sometimes, isn’t it?). Personally, I found the news exciting. I loved the delight in the faces of the young women in the audience when the announcement was made.

My two oldest boys, ages 13 and 11, had differing reactions. My 13-year-old immediately said, “That’s what I’m going to do.” President Monson wasn’t even finished with his announcement regarding missionary service and my son was already on board. My 11-year-old had a different reaction. He was, in his words, “freaked out.” He wasn’t sure if he’d be ready when he turns 18. I assured him he doesn’t have to serve when he’s 18. It’s still his choice when to serve.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

I watched the news conference that followed the Saturday morning session and there was some good information in there. Parents may want to check it out. If not, I think the things we need to remember are these:

1. Going on a mission at these younger ages is optional, not mandated. That was stressed again and again during the press conference. Even before the change, there are missionaries who serve later than the minimum age, for whatever reason. That option is still there. There has been no change made to the upper age limit for young missionaries.

2. Parents need to take a “strong” hand in helping their youth prepare to serve missions. These young men and women really need to be ready for the hard work of spreading the gospel.

I refer you back to two excellent talks on this matter. The first is the great “Raising the Bar” talk given by Elder M. Russell Ballard in 2002 (actually titled “The Greatest Generation of Missionaries”). It introduced the higher morality standards, and outlines exactly what that means. It’s a great talk.

The second talk worth revisiting actually is titled “Raising the Bar” by L. Tom Perry, given in 2007. In addition to spiritual readiness, this article discusses things like physical, mental, and emotional preparation. These young men and women need more than a testimony. They need to be prepared in lots of ways. I highly recommend reviewing this talk.

While the decision to serve a mission and the effort required to be ready for such service ultimately rests in the hands of the potential missionary, the Church has made it very clear that parents have responsibilities too. If you’re raising young priesthood holders, as I am, that responsibility is a given.

One last thing, as food for thought. I had the opportunity of chatting with a mission leader about missionary readiness. He thought it important, when possible, for young men to have the experience of living on their own before going on their mission. When these young men go from their mothers doing their laundry for them, to living completely on their own, that creates a problem during those early months of a mission. He said those young missionaries lose several months of usefulness, just because they’re trying to adjust to something as basic as self-care and independence. He said missionaries who have lived on their own first hit the ground running.

It made sense to me. I know sometimes people keep their kids home between high school graduation and a mission so they can keep a better eye on them. My feelings are that by the time a person is that age, they’re going to do what they want anyway. But my kids are young, and I’m sure every situation is different, so what do I know. It may be less of an issue now that the age requirement has dropped to 18. My boys will no longer have a full year between high school graduation and their mission, if they go when they’re 18. It may be a moot point, but I thought I’d share this man’s observations anyway.

As my children get older, I feel less worried about preparing them. I think it’s because we’re now in the early preparation stages, and I’m starting to feel the guidance of the Lord. I think He helps us in our responsibilities, and as long as we do our best and follow counsel and promptings, we’ll be fine. Our young missionaries will be fine too.

My Favorite Talk from the Saturday Session

6 October 2012

Where I Get My Conference Packets

6 October 2012

For those of you who have asked, my go to place for General Conference packets is the ever-vast Sugardoodle. She has packets for kids, youth, and adults. Last conference I used the packet for adults and loved it. Check them out HERE and happy Conference!

Five Minute FHE’s

7 August 2012

Need last minute FHE ideas? Only have five minutes to pull your Family Home Evening together? If you have children in one of the LDS youth programs or in scouting (or even if you don’t), bookmark this post and make it your go-to list for quick and easy FHE ideas. Below is a super-duper master list of requirements from the various programs that make for a great family chat.

Pop some brownies in the oven, play a game after your chocolate-enriched discussion, sign off a requirement or two, and consider your FHE a success.

Faith in God:

Memorize one of the Articles of Faith. (All articles must be memorized to earn Faith in God.)

Review “My Gospel Standards” (located on the back of the Faith in God booklet). Take turns reading the 13 standards and say one way you can live that standard. Or focus on just one or two and talk about what they mean to you. (Fulfills a general, ongoing requirement.)

Just about ANY requirement in the Learning and Living the Gospel section is suitable for FHE’s, and don’t necessarily require a lot of preparation. Read the applicable scriptures and discuss. Easy peasy. For example, requirement #3 wants you to mark, read, and talk about the following scriptures: John 14:16–17, 2 Nephi 32:5, and Moroni 10:5.

Write an appreciative letter to a parent, grandparent, or teacher. (Serving Others #2) NOTE: if you have a Cub Scout, see below for other letter-writing requirements that can be met at the same time.

For other quick and easy requirements, see Serving Others #3, #8; Developing Talents #7; almost all of the requirements in Preparing for the Priesthood (Boys); Preparing for Young Women (Girls) #1, #4, #5

Personal Progress:

The beauty of the Personal Progress program is that, when done sincerely, it encourages personal pondering on a deeper level. I don’t recommend walking your daughter through any of these requirements by turning it into a family discussion. However, there ARE requirements that specifically require young women to share what they learned with others (such as in a family home evening). While you’re planning tonight’s FHE, see if your daughter would like to select one of the requirements below and be in charge of a FHE in the next week or two. Now you have that one planned too. :)

Requirements that call for sharing what’s been learned: Faith #3, #6; Knowledge #4, #6, #7; Good Works #4.

Duty to God:

Like the Personal Progress program, Duty to God requirements take more effort than can be accomplished in one evening, and should involve a lot of personal pondering. This is when these young men can really build and strengthen their testimonies. Every section of the Duty to God program involves a final “Share” requirement. Almost all of them are perfect for FHEs. Talk to your young man and see if he can select a requirement and set a date for sharing his experiences in an upcoming FHE.

Cub Scouts:

Tiger Scouts elective 3 and Wolf Scout requirement 10g call for playing a game with your family. Relatedly, with some more specific requirements, see Bear requirement 10b and 17b.

Wolf Scout requirement 11 “Duty to God.” This requirement is filled with great questions for discussion.

Ditto for Wolf Scout requirement 12 “Making Choices”, Bear requirement 1 “Ways We Worship”, Bear requirement 3 “Character Connection for Citizenship.” Pair that last one with the 12th Article of Faith for a spiritual angle.

There’s a whole slew of letter-writing requirements that are great for writing elderly or sick family members, or a missionary from your family or ward. See Bear requirement 18b, Communicating Belt Loop requirement 2, and Reading and Writing Belt Loop requirement 2. See Faith in God above for an appreciation-showing letter requirement you can fulfill at the same time. Webelos can do this on a computer and fulfill Communicator requirement 11. For cub scouts of all ages, these help fulfill Communicating Belt Loop requirement 2 and Reading and Writing Belt Loop requirement 2.

For a great discussion-prompting questions, see Bear requirement 18h, Character Connection for Honesty, and requirement 2f, Character Connection for Compassion.

For discussion questions for your Webelos scout, see requirement 8 Faith and Webelos Citizen requirement 1 Citizenship Character Connection (tie in to Article of Faith #12 for a spiritual connection).

Webelos scouts can talk about families to fulfill Family Member 1.

**In all cases, please see actual handbooks to make sure your activity fulfills all requirements desired.

Gift of the Phoenix – My novel set to launch in September

22 July 2012

UPDATE: The Kickstarter campaign was a wonderful success and the book is now available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble, as well as Smashwords and many other eRetailers. Gift of the Phoenix is available in print and ebook format. Go to my website for information: www.giftofthephoenix.com

My first novel, Gift of the Phoenix, releases this September!  I am so excited about this and just had to share it with my America Jane followers.

Pre-release orders are available through my Kickstarter campaign. The Kickstarter campaign is (as of this writing) ranking number FOUR on Kicktraq’s Fiction Hot List!

To learn more about the book, view the short book trailer below. To read excerpts of the novel, go straight to my Gift of the Phoenix Kickstarter page and click the Updates tab. So far you can read the Prologue and first two chapters, but there will be more posted before the campaign is over. Which, by the way, is August 4, so hurry if you’re interested in getting an early copy of the book.

Below I also added a blooper reel that’s pretty funny.

View the book trailer:


View the Outtakes:


Gift of the Phoenix on Kickstarter, Facebook, and YouTube. Or go to giftofthephoenix.com

Unique Value Project Idea: Presidential Active Lifestyle Award

1 July 2012

If you’re not familiar with the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award challenge, it is worth your time to check it out. Geared for citizens of all ages, this is a great way to encourage physical fitness by setting and meeting goals appropriate for your current level of fitness.

A fantastic idea for the Young Women Knowledge Value Project.

Also not a bad idea for mom and dad, or younger and older siblings, or leaders, or… well, you get the idea.

Because it’s what I do, here’s a handy list of how this award can help children and youth fulfill requirements in other programs:

Webelos Athlete Activity Badge.

Cub Scout Physical Fitness Belt Loop or Pin, not to mention the multiple athletics-oriented cub scout belt loops and pins.

Boy Scout Personal Fitness Merit Badge, not to mention the multiple athletics-oriented merit badges, Varsity pins, and Venturing awards.

Deacon Duty to God For the Strength of Youth Physical Strength.

Must-Do Merit Badges

10 June 2012

When you’re a new scouting parent, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It may not help that there are currently 130 merit badges scouts can earn. Where to begin?

First of all, recognize that boy scouts is different from cub scouts in that boys should (and will) take more responsibility for their own progress. Much will be done without you, and that’s a good thing! Keep in touch with the scout leader to find out what support they may need you to offer.

Second, understand how blue cards work and why it’s so important to keep track of them. You may leave this in the hands of your scout, but it’s not uncommon for parents to make sure completed blue cards are in a safe place. For more about blue cards,  how merit badges work, and how to avoid becoming the next blue card horror story (seriously), see my post here.

Now, on to the point of this post. With so many merit badges, which ones are on the must-do list?

1. Family-Oriented Required Merit Badges:

These are required for Eagle (see #2 below) and have requirements scouts must fulfill at home. Offer encouragement as a parent but let them be in charge as much as you can.

Family Life

Personal Management

Personal Fitness (this could be done with the troop, but a parent will need to arrange the doctor exam to fulfill requirement #1)

2. Eagle Required Merit Badges

Scouts must earn these required merit badges to earn their Eagle, and will work on a number of these as they advance through Star and Life. They’ll do many of them with their troop or at camp, but as a parent, it’s good to be aware of this list.

In addition to Family Life,  Personal Management, and Personal Fitness (above), Eagle-required merit badges are:


Citizenship in the Community

Citizenship in the Nation

Citizenship in the World


Swimming OR Hiking OR Cycling

Emergency Preparedness OR Lifesaving

Environmental Science

First Aid

3. Whatever Merit Badge Interests Your Scout

Merit badges are a GREAT way for scouts to explore new interests. Let him go with what interests him, not what would interest you. If he chooses a topic not likely to be covered in his troop or at camp (say, Aviation) get a hold of the merit badge counselor list for your area and hook him up with a counselor. His scout leader or the office of your council can get you the list. (Don’t be afraid to call the council office. They’re there to help.)


Before your scout works on any merit badges independent of his troop, check with his scout leader. The troop may already have plans to work on one or more of these in the near future, there may be upcoming merit badge clinics (hopefully good ones and not the dreaded merit badge mills), or there may be certain merit badges that are good to work on during scout camp (such as Environmental Science or First Aid).

America Jane Gets Brave: My Adventurous Plein Air Painting Workshop

15 May 2012

I began full of vigor. Never mind that I’d never taken a painting workshop before. (Never mind that I’m not a painter!) Here was an opportunity to try something new, to feel adventurous, to seize the day! I had my canvas tote packed with soft paint brushes, untainted watercolors, a new watercolor pad full of promise – even snacks! Oh yes, I was prepared for a bold, new experience. Carpe diem!

As you may recall, I like to foster my fantasies about being an artist (see my posts here and here). So after the instructor (who I happen to know) encouraged me to take his two-day Plein Air Painting Workshop at Saguaro Lake Ranch (I also happen to know the family who manages the Ranch, one of my favorite places locally) I decided to go for it.

Did I mention I’m not an artist?

Well, you’ll want to take note of that.

Day One:

After the introductory formalities and opening instructional lecture, we were told to pick a location to paint. This was, after all, a Plein Air workshop. (Plein Air is the French term for painting outdoors. Of course, doing anything in French automatically makes it more adventurous, right? Carpe diem!)

I went right for the crown jewel of Saguaro Lake Ranch. I chose a scene with the famous ridge mountain (yeah, okay, I don’t know the actual name of said mountain), framed by a sweeping mesquite tree and rustic fence line.

Praise the gods I decided to leave out the horses.

The beginning stage went well. Frame out the underpainting with a quick sketch and wash of color. Blues, greens, and browns filled the paper with ease.

This isn’t going too badly.

I started to add detail: the black, twisted trunk of the mesquite tree; a few more shades of greens and yellows in the foliage to add interest. I kinda liked it.

Then came the hay bales.They weren’t coming out quite right. I decided to come back to it.

I painted in the fence. Looked a bit, urm, juvenile (even more so than the rest of this amateur’s painting). That’s okay. I’d fix it with some highlights later.

Then came the mountain. Such a beautiful, peace-inspiring mountain. Unless you’re trying to paint it. Then it becomes the bane of your existence, the blob of lifeless brown on your formerly pristine watercolor paper.

The instructor came over to check on me. He liked the tree too. He gave me some guidance regarding the mountain. At first he wanted to demonstrate right on my painting! Oh no. This was my painting. So he humored his inexperienced, A-type personality of a student and demonstrated on a spare piece of paper. I marveled at his technique, tried to retain what he’d said and done, and went back to work.

Fast forward 20 minutes.

Those mountains were still a mess. This time, when the instructor came to have a look, I gladly handed over my brush and painting.

Paint on instruction...

He completed one section of the mountain, explaining as he went, and I tried to duplicate it elsewhere. It wasn’t great, but I learned something and had a better concept of what I could try.

The class took a break for lunch and the scenery went from a challenge to be mastered back to a source of serenity. I especially enjoyed visiting with Charles, a retired Navy man who never lost his taste for traveling (he’s been to Indochina, southeast Asia, the Caribbean, all over) but now he sometimes adds in his penchant for painting. He’s taken workshops all over the country, looking to paint “places I’ve never been.”

He reminded me why I was there. Here was a man full of adventure. I want my own adventures too.

After lunch we hauled our stuff down to the river and selected new scenes to paint, this time sheltered by the shade of the trees lining the banks. Having learned my lesson, I switched from a broad landscape to a smaller-scale water study.

Again, the drawing and under colors went on easily. This felt familiar and I didn’t take as much confidence from it this time around.

I painted in the rocks and a few reeds and decided I needed to darken the water. Big mistake. One bold stroke and it was way too dark. When I saw what I’d done, I didn’t know how to fix it. I was desperate for the instructor to come save me.

In due order, he did. He didn’t think it was a mistake at all, and carried the color through the central section. He gave me courage to be bold and add movement and color to the water, along with how to paint the reeds on the bank.

I was resisting the urge to say “Don’t you just want to finish it for me?” After all, he was doing such a good job.

But I didn’t say it and he left me, alone with my painting. I guess I’d have to finish it myself.

I sat down on a rock to get my brain back in the game. After a few quiet moments, I studied my painting from afar. I looked at the river and reminded myself what I originally liked about the scene I chose.

Isn't it lovely?

Despite my lack of developed skills, I still really wanted to try to capture what I saw.

I thought about what the instructor taught me. I focused on a corner of the painting and decided I could try to add a group of reeds there. I can do that much. So I did. And it was fun. I moved to the other side of the painting and added more reeds. I liked the top, but didn’t know what to do with the bottom. Some grass perhaps?

That was when I discovered (shock) that I don’t know how to paint grass.

I abandoned the blob – I mean grass – for the thing I knew. I pulled my leather journal and pen from my canvas bag, returned to the rock, and began writing about my day. Ahhh. What a relief! Maybe the instructor wouldn’t notice.

I got away with my truancy for a good 15 minutes before he came back, declared his pleasure at my improvement, said “It’s starting to look like a painting now,” and made me trade in my pen for a brush.

He turned my blob into grass and I decided the painting looked good just how it was. No further tinkering required from this girl!

He saw I was done – mentally at least – laughed, and dismissed me to my rock.

I sat for awhile, listening to the instructor talking quietly with Navy Charlie. The river was flowing soft that day, gently soothing away any agitation I’d felt. My little alcove under the shade of the trees shielded me from any thought of the outside world.

The painting called to me.

Perhaps a little more grass…

And Now, the America Jane Angle You’ve Been Waiting For:

Talk about a unique value project idea! For youth interested in art, workshops like these or ongoing classes offered at school or in the community, are a great way for youth to expand their knowledge. Painting, drawing, pottery, glass (oh, Boise has an amazing art glass center I’m so hoping I can afford one day!), sculpture, photography, fiber arts, or what have you. The arts are great! Even for those of us not necessarily gifted or looking to make a career out of it.

Creating art, even mediocre art, can be strangely fulfilling. I guess it’s that desire we all have to express ourselves.

So whether you’re a Young Woman looking for a unique Divine Nature or Knowledge value project idea, a Scout planning on earning one of the many arts-oriented awards (merit badges are offered in Art, Graphic Art, Photography, Pottery, Textile, and Wood Carving), a Venturer working on the Arts and Hobbies Bronze Award, or an adult just looking to be brave, go ahead! Gather your courage, and dive into the arts.

As for me, I’ll be diving in again this summer for a workshop at the Grand Canyon. Oh yeah.

Carpe diem, my friends.

Super-Charged Activity: Throw a Party!

30 April 2012


As my three boys have advanced through the cub scout program, this easy activity has become a beloved tradition. If you have a Wolf Cub Scout, I highly recommend this activity. You’ll knock off several Wolf requirements and a few Faith in God requirements in one fell swoop – and have a blast doing it.

Thus, Super-Charged!

Though not structured like a traditional Family Home Evening, we’ve always done this as a family party and consider it a fantastic FHE.

Tips: Use what you have and keep it simple. This is meant to be easy and fun, and certainly doesn’t need the “polish” you tend to see when the grown-ups are in charge. If you make this a family party, it’s much easier to let go of the reigns and let your kids truly make this party their own.

Let the Party begin:

Let your Wolf scout help plan the party. The party can be indoors or outdoors, but outdoors fulfills more requirements.

He should help decorate, help prepare a treat, and help prepare your picnic lunch or dinner. Our youngest boy just threw his party, which actually fell between lunch and dinner. His menu consisted of popcorn and rice krispy treats (both of which he helped make), peanut butter crackers, mini marshmallows, and juice boxes. As you can see, he was in charge of the menu. However, if the meal is “nutritious” it will qualify for an additional requirement in the Faith in God program.

If the dinner is something that he cooks outdoors, that fulfills yet another requirement. Hot dogs or hobo dinners are easy ideas.

Have him plan and help set up the following games (see pg 128 of the Wolf book for illustrations of these games):

Pie Pan Washer Toss (Each player tosses five washers at a pie tin. Score 1 point for each washer that stays in the pan. You can also use buttons.)

Bean Bag Toss (Have him make the beanbags for each person to use and keep as a party favor and knock off another requirement. If you don’t have time for that, use tiny stuffed animals for the beanbags.)

Bean Bag Archery (This one is on page 90 of the Wolf book. My sons draw the targets on paper.)

Marble Sharpshooter (Each player rolls five marbles at glass bottle targets. Score one point for each marble that rolls between the bottles and misses them. We’ve substituted empty plastic jars used for freezer jam.)

Ring Toss (Use rolled up newspaper shaped into rings for this traditional game.)

A Game of Marbles (See this fun site for a refresher on how to play marbles.)

Obstacle Course (He can make up his own ideas; here are the ideas from page 197 of the Wolf book – jump across an imaginary river, crawl through a cardboard tunnel, jump up and ring a bell, toss a ball into a can, do one forward roll, walk like an elephant for five steps.)

The Super-Charged Super List:

That’s it! Depending on what you did, your wolf cub scout just fulfilled 2 requirements and 8 or 9 electives, along with some of his Faith in God requirements! Here’s the complete list:

Wolf requirements 8c or 8e, and 10b; and Wolf electives 4a, 4b, 4c, 4d, 4e, 9a, 9b, 18a or 18b, and 18d. Faith in God, Serving Others 4 and 7 (plus part of requirement 5 if you have younger siblings at the party).

Looking for more activity ideas for your party? Check out Wolf requirement 1, and Wolf electives 18c or 18e.

Special Eagle Scout Patch for 2012 Only

5 April 2012

Following the hugely successful run of commemorative patches for BSA’s 100th Anniversary, young men who earn their Eagle Scout Award in 2012 can receive this commemorative patch marking 100 years since the first scout earned the rank of Eagle.

That scout’s name was Arthur Eldred. Check him out:


Here’s a photo of his medal, after quite a few years:

If you want to read more about Arthur Eldred, BSA’s first Eagle Scout, go HERE. The link also has a cool photo of Arthur’s merit badge sash, which includes now-retired merit badges such as Business, Civics, Firemanship, First Aid to Animals, Interpreting of French,  Poultry Farming, and Dairying, alongside our more familiar Horsemanship, Electricity, and Cycling, among others.

Since its inception, over 2 million young men have earned their Eagle Scout Award.

How many more will join those ranks in 2012?

I don’t know, but they’ll have a pretty cool patch to mark their achievement.

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