Monday, October 22, 2012

Peach Trees

There’s this thing about obedience. I learned about it because of some peach trees. It’s kind of a long story but I’ll share it because it’s stayed with me over the years.

Way back in the day, our young family bought a new house. It was only a tract home, but in a new subdivision, and we were all excited to have a bigger place. This new house was on a cul-de-sac and had the biggest backyard in the whole neighborhood. It was huge. We thought this was a good thing because we were planning to plant lots of fruit trees. The Prophet had recently encouraged the members of the church to grow gardens, berries, and fruit trees wherever possible. We were especially anxious to be obedient as converts often are.

I thought this was wonderful counsel by the way. 

Just think what a difference it would make if everyone who could possibly do so grew some kind of food. Why, even city dwellers could grow tomatoes and herbs in pots on a windowsill. 
Church members were being encouraged to produce what the world needed, not just to consume it. This was an example of the “great things coming about through small means” principle. 
I loved our Prophet. His counsel was inspired.

So, we moved to our new house in September. In the desert southwest where we live, December is bare root tree planting time. This was when we would plant trees. Lots of trees. Our yard was now a barren wasteland but we could see a green orchard in our mind’s eye.

At last the time came when the trees went on sale. If you’re not familiar with them, bare root trees and bushes look a bit like large sticks. At the nursery one gets carried away because they’re so small and are so cheap compared to trees that come in containers. In a frenzy of obedient enthusiasm, we bought 27 fruit trees and berry bushes even though the nursery guy said large sized holes were needed for each of them. “Soil prep is the most important thing,” he cautioned. Well, we weren’t afraid of work. The Prophet had said we were to grow things after all. 

27 holes……. that was a lot of digging for sure…….. but it was the right thing. We’d be blessed.

So we hauled the trees home and soaked the roots in wheelbarrows, buckets and tubs as instructed. Then we headed out into the wasteland to start digging.

Larry is a big, strong man and he started in the corner of the yard on the first hole. After a little while, I looked up to see that there was some kind of trouble. He wasn’t pushing the shovel into the ground as he usually did when digging. He was teetering on the top edge with both feet, kind of bouncing around a bit. The blade was about an inch into the ground. I called out to him, “What’s wrong, Hon?” He called back, “They must have spilled cement over here when they were building. I’ll have to try a new spot.” He moved to a place at the end of the fence. After a minute or so I looked up to see that same, strange, bouncing with both feet on the shovel thing. He moved again. Same bounce. He tried all over that great big yard. The shovel wouldn’t penetrate more than an inch anywhere. He tried soaking with the hose. After the water finally soaked in, the shovel went an inch to the dry part and hit “cement” again. He came over to me and said, “Call someone. This isn’t right.”

I called the builder. He said that no cement had been dumped in our yard. I called the nursery guy who’d told us we had to dig large holes. He was no help. Finally I called the University of Arizona Agricultural Extension Department. A very nice and knowledgeable man said he knew exactly what our problem was.

“What?” I asked gratefully.

He said, “Caliche.”

“Caliche…. What’s that? I asked.

“It’s a type of soil mineral common in some areas of the desert.” he replied. “Sometimes it’s called “calcrete.” That’s your problem.”

“What’s the solution?” I asked.

“Move,” he replied. (I swear he really said that!)

Of course we couldn’t move so we bought some soil additives which he said might help. This was very expensive. Then we headed out into the wasteland armed with picks, shovels and the hose. We developed a system. Use the pick to create a hole about an inch deep. Fill it with water and expensive additives. Wait for it to soak in while working on the next hole. Use the shovel to dig out the inch of mud. Use the pick again, repeat.

Several days later we were still out in the wasteland digging holes. Every spare minute was spent with a pick or a shovel in our blistered hands. We were now trying to get these dang trees and bushes planted before the soaking roots rotted. I stood up to rub my aching back and wipe the sweat that was running into my eyes…… in December……when I had an experience that’s stayed with me since. As I stood up my eyes went over our fence to the horizon. The next block of houses were still in construction so I could see a long way off. I noticed that I could even see the top of our new ward’s meeting house clear over on Thunderbird Road. That must be miles away, I guessed. As I saw the church I began to think heavy thoughts. “We’re trying to be obedient to the Lord. Why is this so hard? This shouldn’t be so hard! We’re only trying to do what’s right. We’re only trying to do what the prophet asked us to do. When people are trying to do a good thing it shouldn’t be this hard! Every time I try to do something just because the Lord wants me to, it’s just plain too hard! It’s just not worth all this trouble. People shouldn’t have sweat running in their eyes in December! All of us would rather go in the house and watch a movie instead of digging these dumb holes!” The heavy thoughts in my head grew to a loud wail that I could almost hear.

That’s when it happened. As I looked across to the church it seemed as if a little white cloud came drifting across the desert. It came right over to our fence and just hung there. In the cloud there was a scripture written like words are written in a comic strip. It said, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake.”

Cursed is the ground for thy sake? What in blazes is that supposed to mean? Why did that come floating over the desert to hang in the air over our wasteland? Why now? Where had I read that in the scriptures anyway? I began to recall…for one thing I thought this was something that was said to Adam after he had disobeyed in the Garden. “Cursed is the ground for thy sake.” That’s an interesting way to put it for sure. Adam was in trouble for not obeying Father as I remembered. He could have been told……..You never listen! Now you’re going to be punished…….. or……..You’re bad! You’ll be sorry now…….or…. When will you ever learn! This’ll teach you! Adam could have been told any of those things but instead he was told that the ground was cursed for his sake. For his sake.

Usually when something is done for a person’s sake it’s to help them, isn’t it? How could ground cursing help anybody? I thought hard……. leaning on my shovel…… over the 18th miserable hole of my patch of cursed ground.

After a long while I reluctantly thought, "Well, maybe the right thing isn’t supposed to be easy." Could that be it? 

These darn holes had sure developed the muscles in my arms, anyway. And I wasn’t giving up. I was determined to plant the dang things. So was Larry. Our resolve to do something hard was strengthening. Now it was partly because we couldn’t waste the money, but nevertheless. Our kids had been out here helping. They knew we were trying to follow the Prophet. That was a good thing for them to know. I guess I had to admit there were some positives in this miserable situation.

The right thing isn’t always supposed to be easy? Really? Could that be important? Maybe we develop strength or empathy or patience or some other thing we need when we have to struggle. Maybe obedience and those other qualities are skills that grow with practice, like playing the piano. Was that part of the ground cursing thing? Could this be Heavenly Father’s plan? I know He loves us….He wants us to be strong and determined to do right……could cursed ground help? It was something for a raggedy old convert to think more about. Ponder even.

Well, many of those bare root trees and bushes didn’t survive in our caliche infested soil. But a few peach trees did. I remember some years later working in our backyard and having to devise a support for one branch of a peach tree because it was so heavy with peaches that it threatened to break. That was the year that I made my first jar of peach jam. The peaches for that jam came from our own tree.

New blessings from old obedience.

Who knew? Maybe it’s not supposed to be easy. Ponder on it.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tips for Working Teens

Sometimes I really miss the classroom. Now is one of those times. 
All the grandkids are headed back to school, two daughters are again teaching teenagers, and I don’t get to go. 
Just when I have some really great ideas that would revolutionize modern education, my body poops out on me and I don’t get to go. 
Is that right? 
I feel left out, like the last lonely child in a large family who sits waving goodbye as the school bus pulls out with all the brothers and sisters inside. 
I actually saw that happen once.  I'll never forget it.
A poor, despondent 5 year old sat perched all alone on a little, front yard fence. Mom was on the porch watching and smiling, as the excited gang of kids pulled away on that magic yellow bus. 
The sad slumping shoulders on that little one is an image that’s stayed with me.  Now I know how he felt.

One class I used to teach was my favorite.
The class was called “Lifeskills.”  It was directed to teenagers with learning disabilities, who are, in my opinion, the most underestimated group of people on the planet.
Topics included everything imaginable from job interviews to driver safety, preparing for natural disasters to parenting, to how to manage credit and basic cooking.

In one lesson we even went over the importance of not mixing bleach and ammonia when cleaning a bathroom.
This was a little lifeskill which none of my male students knew. And since in that lesson we also learned that “Housework is the Work for the People Who Live in the House,” it may come in handy for them someday.

"Lifeskills" was the most relevant high school class I’ve ever seen.
These were things that really mattered. I was in favor of making it a requirement for all students.
Here was knowledge I wish someone had passed on to me when I was 18.
For instance, who knew that I’d be a millionaire today if I’d started as a teenager and faithfully saved just $20 a week in a savings account and never touched it until now! Why didn’t somebody pound that into my head instead of some of the useless stuff we had to learn?

Happily, one of the things we studied in our Lifeskills class made an immediate impact on the life of a student. This young man earned a raise at his first job because of a Lifeskills lesson. He was excited to tell us all about it and great for a teacher to hear.
(I actually made a difference with that one! Yeah!)

The lesson was this. When on the job always do these three things.

1. Check first impressions.

2. Go the extra mile.

3. Don’t stand around.

Check first impressions means always check your work before anybody sees it, from where they’ll see it.
Actually stand in the exact place that your boss will stand when they first see the job you’ve done. Look hard. Look under stuff. Look in corners. Is it perfect? If it’s a paper or a report what does the cover and title page look like? Are there peanut butter or onion dip stains anywhere? If so, do it over!
If it's a yard to be mowed does it look perfect from edge to edge?
First impressions need to be impressive.

Go the extra mile means that you do something that you weren’t told to do.
If you were to bring the box of office supplies into the back room it means that you put them neatly on the shelf and straightened the shelf below them.
If you’re the hostess at the greasy spoon it means that you brought crayons and coloring pages for little kids and that you ask all adults their names and say “Hope to see you again soon, Mr. Newspickle,” when they leave.
If it's that yard you mowed it means you swept the sidewalks and driveway and rolled the hose.

Don’t stand around means just that.
Never wait to be told what to do next. Find something useful to accomplish until further instruction is given.
If you’re clearing tables and finish, go wipe the fingerprints off the front door until the next table needs bussing.
If there’s a lull in your line at the bank, start wrapping coins in between customers.
If you're babysitting teach the kids how to count to ten in French, which you just learned in class this week yourself. That really impresses parents, believe me!
Whatever seems needed to help the cause of your employer.

Back when I was teaching this class I remember a conversation I had at a big family gathering.
I was talking with three relatives who were all bosses at the time. I asked them what they thought was the most important skill that teens needed to succeed on a first job. I was half expecting to hear “math skills” or "people handling." Boy was I was wrong.
All three of them said virtually the same thing very emphatically.
“We need kids who know how to work! We can teach them how to do the specifics of the job but none of these kids know beans about how to work!”
My son-in-law, a restaurant manager, said he’d just promoted a busboy for doing that fingerprint cleaning thing, as a matter of fact. He was shocked to find a young employee who didn't just stand there waiting to be told what to do next. Other busboys who’d been there longer protested when they heard of the raise, saying that cleaning the front door wasn’t their job. Scott just told them, “My point exactly. You do just what's on your job description and that's what I pay you for. This other kid does more so he gets paid more."
My sister said she wished her young employees showed up to work instead of to make social connections with other workers on company time.
Son Dane said he longed for employees who didn’t think they had 10 absent days allowed each semester like they had in school. Show up. Everyday. On time. That’s what he longed for.
The others agreed. They said I should add that to our list.
So we made that number four.

4. Show up. Everyday. On time.

This means If you have a headache, cramps, or your girlfriend invited you to the lake when you’re scheduled to work…..Go To Work!  No matter what. No excuses.
And be there on time. On time means 10 minutes early not 10 minutes late.

So teenagers, remember these four simple steps to success in the workplace. Make them all habits and you’ll go far in life. I promise.

A last word to parents. Unfortunately, unless your child has a disability, he probably won’t learn about these important principles in school. Since they could be the difference between success and failure in every job your child ever holds, you might have to teach him yourself.

I think teaching “Lifeskills” is actually in the parent job description, by the way.
Better get going.