Writing My Own “Small Plates”

Years ago as a busy mother of young children, I found I had limited time and even less energy to concentrate on the important task of developing my own spirituality. Then I heard a directive given by President Spencer W. Kimball in which he urged all members of the Church to keep a personal journal. His counsel has proven to be the answer I needed to keep myself spiritually in tune.

Now each evening before going to bed, I write in my journal. As I write, I reflect on the day, sometimes rejoicing when I feel I’ve handled a situation well, at other times wishing I’d reacted with more patience and humility. My entries aren’t often long; in fact, one entry states simply, “It’s been a long day.” Usually, though, I write a paragraph or two, and sometimes an entire page.

Recently I added a most important dimension to my journal writing when a friend challenged me to make my own “small plates.” This separate record is a spiritual history, similar to Nephi’s small plates on which he wrote “the things of my soul” (2 Ne. 4:15). On my “small plates,” I include the sacred events and feelings—such as personal inspiration, special feelings about my family and friends, and overcoming temptation—that may otherwise be lost in my “large plates” account.

Keeping a journal does not automatically solve all of life’s problems, nor can it change me when I am unwilling to admit my mistakes or resistant to improving. However, my journal chronicles my progress as I try to do better, and it provides encouragement when I am depressed about my weaknesses. As I reread past entries, I realize that much of my life evolves in cycles, each presenting its own set of challenges. My journal, especially my “small plates,” allows me to keep those challenges—and myself—in perspective.Jane McBride Choate, Loveland, Colorado

Save for the Unexpected

Many people have certain periodic expenses throughout the year as well as regular monthly expenses. Periodic expenses may include insurance, property taxes, automobile and home maintenance, and replacement of major appliances. In addition are the unexpected expenses, including medical bills and car and home repairs. To meet these occasional expenses, most people either withdraw funds from their permanent savings or, in times of urgent need, incur high interest debt from loans. If you are caught in the cycle of paying for periodic and unexpected expenses and then trying to catch up with the monthly bills, an occasional-expense account could work for you.

Begin by making a list of your occasional expenses. Then project the amount of these bills for the next year. You can estimate this amount by using canceled checks and credit card statements from the previous year and adjusting as necessary. Deposit one-twelfth of the yearly total into a separate account each month. Perhaps you can make a large initial deposit from a tax refund or a salary bonus so you will have a nest egg at the beginning.

By allocating for occasional expenses on a monthly basis, you will have adequate funds set aside to pay for these expenses without disrupting your regular savings program or having to withdraw from your permanent savings.

Having the discipline to use this account to pay for only irregular expenses is the key to the account’s success. Although this account will never make much in the way of interest, over time it can save substantial amounts of money that could otherwise be lost to unnecessary spending or to interest charges for a loan.

As we free ourselves from financial worry and debt, we will have greater peace of mind and security. This, in turn, will allow us to focus on strengthening our families and building up the kingdom of God.E. LaMar Johnson, Topeka, Kansas

Voices from the Past

How can you capture the excitement of a memory without also acquiring a big bill? Photos can be inexpensive, but they lack the sounds of life. And not everyone can afford a video camera.

Five years ago we went on a vacation with my husband’s family to Orlando, Florida. Brian and I were newly married, and the money for a video camera was nowhere in our budget. So I took along the next best thing—a miniature tape recorder.

No one shied away from me when I’d whip out my tape recorder, since the only thing I was recording was their voices. And we were able to take it everywhere: in the car, in elevators, and even on roller coasters! People would sing, tell jokes, make profound statements, and even talk to their posterity.

“So, do you have anything to say to your future children?”

“Yes. For my posterity: Please note that I once was young, just like you, and that at one time I actually enjoyed riding on roller coasters.”

At home after the trip, I played one of my tapes.

“Dad, what words of wisdom can you share with us?”

“Well, I predict the family line will go on for a long, long time.”

Suddenly I was back with the family. And no airplane, VCR, or TV was needed. All I needed was a tape player; my mind filled in the rest.

Another benefit is that if I get homesick, I can play a tape almost anywhere: at home, in the car, or even while I go jogging.

“So, Mom, what is the meaning of life?”

“Hmmm … good question. To me it means family.”

I find that family memories are enhanced by tape-recording as many family get-togethers as possible—for my posterity’s sake and my own.Jalaire Foote Hickman, Sunnyvale, California

Take Your Marks!

The inside of my friend’s kitchen pantry door is covered with pencil and ink marks. But these marks will never be washed off or painted over. They are a three-generation record of her family’s growth.

A favorite activity at family gatherings is for younger members to “make their mark” on the door and then compare their height to that of aunts, uncles, and cousins at the same ages.

We move too frequently to have a “measuring door,” but, inspired by my friend’s tradition, we have a portable “measuring board.” It is a wide piece of molding, painted white and cut to clear our baseboard. Whenever we move into a new home, we tack the board upright to a wall, measuring carefully to make sure the bottom edge of the board is the same distance from the floor as it was in its previous location.

Each family member’s height (including Mom’s and Dad’s) is recorded on his or her birthday. Even our exchange student was measured on her birthday. The children love to compare their current height to the previous year’s mark—and to the same-age marks of older siblings. But best of all, when we move, our board goes with us.Kathleen P. Whitworth, Ferndale, Washington

One-Quote Gospel Lessons

We wanted to help our children get more out of general conference addresses, talks at sacrament meeting, and Church publications. Because the ideas presented in those forums can be difficult for children to grasp fully, we decided to start a new family home evening tradition that would give our children consistent contact with those ideas.

Early in the week my husband and I choose for each of our children passages from Church books and magazines. We select quotes such as this from President Hunter: “The Lord’s invitation to follow him is individual and personal, and it is compelling. We cannot stand forever between two opinions. Each of us must at some time face the crucial question: ‘Whom say ye that I am?’ (Matt. 16:15.)” (Ensign, Sept. 1994, p. 2.)

Early on Sunday morning we hand out a quote to each of our children. They are to read and ponder their quotes throughout the day. At family home evening the children read their quotes to the rest of the family and explain their interpretation and understanding of the passages. Together we discuss what the children have learned.

It is amazing to find how much our children can understand when we give them the opportunity to really think about the ideas and gospel principles taught by latter-day prophets. By this simple weekly exercise, our children are learning to appreciate and understand more about the gospel.Stacey Child Weeks, Carson City, Nevada

[photos] Photography by Maren Younce; lettering by Bryan Lee Shaw