Monday, July 30, 2012

How to write to full-time missionaries

Sending letters/packages to missionaries serving in the field is a common service activity. As a returned missionary myself, I can tell you that mail is a vital part of a missionary's life. What seems like a simple letter to us is a big deal to a missionary. It is their link to home, friends/family, and support. They may go weeks without anything in the mail, so when something finally comes (no matter who its from), they may read an re-read the same letter many times.

When I was a missionary, I received mail from relatives and friends, and occasionally from ward members. But I would have loved more -much more- mail. Once I received an envelope of letters from a family in my home ward who had obviously written letters to both me and their grandma for a family home evening activity. I only know this because I received the envelope with letters meant for grandma (thanking her for the birthday presents, etc), and I imagine that their grandma received an envelope with letters meant to encourage a missionary. :) The point is, any mail is better than no mail.

Me, serving a mission in Minnesota (1997)
While any mail is welcome, you do want to consider what you say in your letter, especially since it is so important to the missionary. An innocent question about the number of baptisms they've had might be painful to a missionary who is struggling to even find someone to teach. A letter with hints of romantic intentions might be really distracting to a missionary who is trying to focus on their work.
Our good friend, Elder Heiden, currently serving in Brazil

There is an excellent post on a blog called "Young Women Who Know," which has a chart that shows what you should/should not write/send to a missionary. I've copied this over from the "Young Women Who Know" blog:  

"Are you writing to a missionary?  Do you wonder what to say or write about?
Here are some ideas.  The most important thing to remember is to keep your letters light and  positive.  Your missionary needs encouraging, uplifting, even spiritual letters that make him or her better after having read them. 

Things to ask about
  • The work
  • Their schedule
  • The culture
  • Their experiences
  • Who are the teaching?
  • When they tell you about an investigator, follow up and ask about them
Things to share
  • Insights you’ve gained in the scriptures, seminary or Church lessons
  • Testimony building experiences you’ve had
  • News about mutual friends who are also serving missions
Things to avoid
  • Asking how many baptisms they have had
  • Don’t complain or criticize them if they haven’t written back to you
  • Mentioning problems that arise at home. There are some problems they should know about, but many that would only distract or worry them unnecessarily
Good Things in small packages
  • Missionaries love receiving thoughtful packages but make sure to honor the guidelines of their mission
  • Remember to keep your gifts simple. Include an extra item for their companion
  • Check before sending off a box to a missionary abroad-due to custom fees
Messages from Family and Friends
  • Tell them the important things that are happening in your life with school, family, and the gospel.
  • Encouraging, friendly, non-romantic letters
  • You can help them focus on the work of the Lord with uplifting letters and reassurance that they are where they need to be.

  • Avoid gossip stories or what party you went to last week
  • Do not write “I love you” “I miss you” “I can’t wait to see you again..this is very distracting.
  • Avoid romantic allusions

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Meal Planning / Budgeting for Groceries

(or, how to eat better than the top-ramen-diet when you move away from home)

I frequently see meal-planning/grocery budgeting listed as a suggestion for YW activities, but I had a hard time finding any basic information for how to present this to the girls. Most of the sites I looked at were just plans for make-ahead freezer meals (or they were trying to sell me some software program for meal-planning). 


What I want to teach the young women is how to feed themselves on a limited budget when they move out on their own, go to college, or go on a mission. The same general principles will apply when they must budget for meals for their household as a wife and mother, so building on these basic ideas will benefit each young women's future family as well. So while it might seem like a stretch, I am including this as part of my "Divine Nature" theme activities because nurturing a family (one of the divine attributes specifically listed in "The Family, A Proclamation to the World") includes providing for their needs.


When I moved away for college, we didn't have a cafeteria. My idea of meal-planning was to plan what I wanted to eat and then buy it. And then eat it. It did not go well.


It took me a while, but I finally 'got it'....You can stretch out your grocery budget by using the same ingredients for multiple meals. Like when you buy a whole chicken to make enchilades, then you use the other 1/2 of the chicken to make soup the next night. And then use the rest of the tortillas for bean burritos the next night. And so on. Otherwise you can end up with a fridge full of leftover ingredients that are wasted.


So I compiled a list of cheap meals. They are a step above Top Ramen, but they aren't exactly fancy. There is not a lot of meat involved, but there is a good amount of other protein sources like beans, cheese, and eggs. Most of these meals aren't exactly gourmet - they're more the kind of thing that I would have made in college or on my mission. But I tried to combine things with like ingredients so that everything gets used. Of course you could change the meals to other things, these are just suggestions.


I think that before we talk about this meal-plan, I will talk to the girls about the ingredients and ask them to think of ways that they could combine them into different meals. You could also make a trip to the grocery store and see if you can get all of the ingredients for less than $20.00.



Buy 18 meals worth of groceries for $20.00

Grocery list with approximate prices:
Loaf of bread @$2.00
Can of tuna (in water) @80 cents
Package of spaghetti noodles @$1.00
1 can of tomato (or chicken noodle) soup  @75 cents
1lb brick of cheese @$3.00
1 can of refried beans @$1.00
1 jar of salsa $2.00
1lb of rice @$1.00
1 can of spaghetti sauce @1.00
1 dozen eggs @$2.00
1 package of tortillas @$2.00
1 can of kidney beans @$1.00
1 small bag of frozen broccoli @1.00
1 green pepper @50 cents
1 tomato @50 cents

Meals You Can Make: 

Grilled Cheese and Soup  CHEESE, BREAD, CANNED SOUP  (2 meals)

Sandwiches  BREAD,  TOMATO,  TUNA (2 meals)

Beans and Rice  KIDNEY BEANS (CANNED), RICE, SALSA (2 meals)


Spaghetti NOODLES, SPAGHETTI SAUCE (2  meals)




Omelette EGGS, SALSA, CHEESE (4 meals)


Quesadillas CHEESE, TORTILLAS (2 meals)





UPDATE: When we did this activity, I wanted it to be a little more interactive, so I considered bringing in each of the types of foods that we would be talking about, but after I pictured having to make 10 trips to the van with all the stuff, I decided to just use drawings instead. I just drew these by hand on white paper, but you could also find clipart or magazine clippings to use if you have the time to do it. 


When I talked about using what we already have on hand to create meals (instead of buying all new ingredients for every meal), I set out several random pictures and challenge the girls to think of what they could make with them. This was their favorite part of the activity. 

PURPOSE: Help the girls recognize how they can save money on food by planning meals before shopping.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Temple Wedding Planning Activity

I read a post on "Jeanius Ideas for YW"* with ideas for an YW activity centered around planning for a temple wedding. She did a whole big activity with food, decorations, invitations, etc. It looks great, but you wouldn't have to do an all-out decoration activity to do something like this. Most of our activities are much more simple, so I was thinking about doing something like this on a smaller scale.

I kept thinking how much my daughter (a beehive) would like the part where they work on their "wedding binders". There is a page for them to draw what they want their wedding dress (and bridesmaids dresses) to look like, what temple they want to be married in, what they want their husband to be like, what they can do to prepare to be married in the temple, wedding colors, decorations, temple & marriage quotes, etc. Just receiving a binder and drawing wedding dresses would be fun!

Here is a sampling of some of the pages:

*Its been brought to my attention that the Jeanius Ideas for YW blog is either no longer functioning or is possibly now only a private blog. I just tried doing a google search to see if I could find another way into the blog, but I can't even locate it now... Sorry about that - hopefully you get the idea from the photos above.

Parents and Personal Progress

Working with parents to encourage Personal Progress:

One way to encourage Young Women to work on their Personal Progress is to get the parents involved. Specifically their mothers. Many mothers don't realize that they can also work on the Personal Program along with their daughter. (The requirements for mothers are slightly different than for the girls, but all of that information is in the Personal Progress book - All they need is a Personal Progress book, or they can do it all online at -go to the youth section, click on personal progress - they just need to be registered for the site and have a daughter who is in YW - the website will automatically recognize mothers of YW and let them start (and keep track of) their own Personal Progress on the site)

Whether or not a mother wants to participate in Personal Progress herself, involving parents in Personal Progress is a way to encourage working on Personal Progress values and experiences in the home. How can we involve the parents?

A submission on The Idea Door website gave this idea:

"We have a weekly reminder in our ward bulletin.  It usually includes the value we are focusing on for the month and any challenges we may have given out.  Sometimes it is just a question, like..."How are you and your daughter doing on PP?"

Also, about once a quarter we've been giving a treat and reminder to the mothers.  For example, the last one was...Small package of donuts attached to a note that said "Do-not forget to help your daughter with her personal progress".  The mothers seem to enjoy it and often times parents will ask us questions about PP when we catch them in the hall to give them their treat"

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Temple Handkerchief

In my previous calling, I was a Ward Missionary for 3 years. Some of the women that we worked with are preparing to go to the temple,  so I have made them temple handkerchiefs to help them look forward to that time. I briefly considered making my own handkerchiefs, but I'm not the greatest seamstress and pre-made white ladies handkerchiefs are availble to purchase. I bought mine from the official LDS online store (through These handkercheifs are pretty and only cost $1.50 each. And shipping is free.

I decorated the temple themed handkerchief above (top photo) using a very thin layer of sparkly fabric paint and drew the temple freehand and then added a gold "Moroni" on the top. There are lots of temple patterns available online that you could use if you wanted, and instead of using fabric paint you could embroider the design on instead. Embroidery would be fancier, but one thing that I like about using the fabric paint is that it doesn't show on the other side (my embroidery skills are not great - they would not have turned out cute on the back side!).

I thought this would be a cute project for girls to work on to help them look forward to their temple marriage, or your presidency would make give these as a gift for the girls for Christmas, for graduating Laurels, or as part of a temple themed activity.

Link to the handkerchief in the official LDS online store, via