Thursday, June 29, 2017

5 Tips for Developing a Synergized Family

I wrote this article for Deseret News back in 2011. I thought I'd re-post it here as a backup. Enjoy!

In 2008 the New York Giants were not supposed to win the Super Bowl. The undefeated New England Patriots were considered the favorite team. But after the dust settled, the Giants were the first wild card team to take home the trophy. What happened to tip the scales in their favor? Some analysts feel the Giants were able to synergize their determination and talents to beat the odds.

In today’s society, families appear to face odds similar to the New York Giants. Drugs, pornography, and numerous other hurdles make raising children particularly difficult. How can parents lead their family to the same kind of success? Here are five practical ideas to help parents overcome the odds and develop a synergized family.

1. Increase Family Interaction: Communication is essential for family success because it enables family members to share thoughts and opinions, make decisions, solve problems, and develop interpersonal relationships. And the best way to heighten communication is to increase family interaction. Cutting back on individual activities in favor of family time, eating meals together as a family, having a family night, and scheduling regular family vacations are some of the best ways to increase interaction.

2. Establish a Common Goal: Unity in any group is usually based on the desire for a shared purpose. Whether it is called a goal, objective, purpose, or vision, parents can increase family synergy and unity by frequently discussing what it is they want their family to achieve in life. Making a family goal board, for example, is one way the Neujhar family has worked to instill greater unity and purpose.  (Find instructions for making your own family goal board here – link to

3. Recognize Interdependence: Family members are affected and influenced by the actions of each other. A successful, cohesive family teaches every member to be responsible for doing his or her part. And that failure for doing one’s part can adversely impact the rest of the family.

One of the best ways to help family members to recognize interdependence is to teach cooperation and teamwork by playing together. Jeff Spiers, father of four from Englewood, Colorado, expresses it this way: “My boys learn it on their baseball teams. When a throw is bad from short to first, the first baseman offers encouragement. In this way, the boys help coach each other and learn their reliance on each other.”

4. Work Together: Physical and mental efforts required to work together to accomplish something can be one of the more rewarding ways to synergize a family. As a child growing up I remember many family work projects that brought our family closer together. One of my favorites was an annual service project setting up luminarias on our street on Christmas Eve. The sense of accomplishment we felt as a family when all the candles were lit was incredibly rewarding.

5. Demonstrate Love and Compassion: Unity and synergy in the family rely heavily on individual members feeling as though they are understood and loved despite their personal flaws. Use kind words, caring tones, and a gentle touch. Look for opportunities to praise one another, even when behavior is not exemplary. And, if children are whiny and complaining, take time to actively listen to them and restate back their reasons for feeling frustrated. Acting with love, patience, and compassion toward each other builds the long-lasting positive atmosphere required for successful family life.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Home Again

It's good to be home again after my three week vacation to Amsterdam and England. If you were not aware, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary recently. As part of their celebration we went to Europe. It was a great experience! Here are some of the pictures of the trip.
There really are a lot of canals in Amsterdam. We stayed in Osdorp, on the west side of the city. This canal was right behind our hotel.

Here are the girls taking a selfie in Dam Square.

It was cool enough to enjoy hot chocolate. This darling café, Small Talk, was right near the museum district. We liked the café so much we went back a few days later for lunch with the whole family (see below).

One day we took a visit out to see these windmills. It was super windy and cold this day, but the tourist village where these windmills were was darling. So much to see and do all in one place. I wish the weather had been more conducive to staying longer.

Another one of our favorite activities in Amsterdam was renting bikes. The bike shop had a special one for my nephew Harrison, who is in a wheelchair. He LOVED that. We had three hours to go around the city. Vondelpark was beautiful. We also accidentally went through the red light district. Oops.

After a week in Amsterdam we flew to England. I served a mission in England, so it was amazing to get to go back. We stayed near the London temple and enjoyed the countryside of Southern England.
One of the things we did in England was to visit Redmarley, a small town where the some of the Spiers heritage is from. Near Redmarley is the Gadfield Elm Chapel, which is where John Spiers was converted and baptized by Wilford Woodruff.

Of course, we did lots of touristy things too. Above left shows us at Hever Castle. Center, at Buckingham. And right, at Harrod's to go shopping.
We also spent a day seeing the White Cliffs of Dover. The castle and the military tunnels there were really fun. And I think this was really the first time in my four times in England seeing the ocean.

After a week in London, we had to fly back to Amsterdam to catch our flight back to the US. In total we had four flights to get us home. The jet lag was not fun, but I think my sleep schedule is finally back on track. This really was a trip of a lifetime, especially for my girls. Such an amazing visit! I can't wait to go back some day!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Ask the Editor, Okay?

It's been a while since I posted an Ask the Editor video. And since I am still out of town, I thought this would be an easy (but enjoyable) post to tide you over. Have fun learning about the etymology of word 'okay/OK'!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

FHE: Christlike Attributes #3

Note: This month I am highlighting some of the Christlike Attributes lessons from my book MTC at Home. Although this book is primarily designed to help prepare future missionaries for service, the lessons--all based on Preach My Gospel (PMG)--work really well for FHE. Earlier lessons can be seen here. Want to receive notification of future lessons to be posted in this series? Like my Facebook page.

Christlike Attribute #3: Charity and Love

Purpose: To illustrate the importance of developing charity and love for all.

Scripture: “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

Hymns: “Have I Done Any Good” (Hymns no. 223), “As I Have Loved You” (Hymns no. 308)

PMG Quote: “When you are filled with charity, you obey God’s commandments and do all you can to serve others and help them receive the restored gospel” (p. 118).

Key Term: Charity – “The highest, noblest, strongest kind of love, not merely affection; the pure love of Christ” (BD).

Lesson: The “first and great commandment” is to love God, while loving our neighbor is the second (see Matt 22:36-39). From these commandments it is clear the importance of developing love and charity is one of the highest priorities of life on earth. In fact, the prophet Moroni taught that without charity we “are nothing” (see Moroni 7:46).

We can gain love for God and charity for mankind through prayer and service to others. Latter-day prophet George Albert Smith was born to a family devoted to loving God and others. From his youth he was an extraordinary example of love and charity. President J. Reuben Clark, said of President Smith: “His real name was Love. … He gave his love to everyone he met.”[1] Once, George A. arrived at home in winter without his coat. His wife, noticing he was chilled and shivering, asked him why he did not wear his coat, only to learn he had given it to a man in need.

“Let us evidence by our conduct,” President George A. Smith encouraged, “By our gentleness, by our love, by our faith, that we do keep that great commandment that the Savior said was like unto the first great commandment, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’”[2]

Exercises: Prayerfully select one or more of the following exercises to supplement the lesson.

Ñ Teach: Explain virtue in your own words why it is important to pray for and develop charity.

˜ Testify: Describe a personal experience or feelings you have about the importance of loving and serving others.

? Invite: Practice inviting those you teach to make commitments related to exercising charity (i.e., giving service, expressing love, etc.).

® Role Play: Use the following question to role play a gospel discussion with a friend or family member. “What are some good ways to show love to strangers?” 

Open Your Mouth: In the upcoming week, start a gospel conversation with someone by asking them, “How would you define virtue?” Probe to learn what specific behaviors they feel are necessary to lead a virtuous life.

Activities: Arrange a simple service project for FHE. Help weed a neighbor’s yard, take a treat to someone new, write a letter to a missionary, or visit someone who is ill or lonely.
Additional Resources: 1. Visit the website for LDS Charities ( and read the page describing “Why We Help”. Watch a few of the short videos on Mormon Channel about service given through LDS Charities. 2. President Monson’s speech in the 2010 General Relief Society meeting, “Charity Never Faileth”, discusses the importance of not judging others. 3. “The Coat: A Story of Charity” is a children’s story taken from the life of Heber J. Grant. A beautiful cartoon version (2:08 min.) of the story can be viewed on

[1] Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, 2010, 11
[2] In Conference Report, Apr. 1949, 10

Friday, June 2, 2017

Book Review: The Devil in Beauty

One of my favorite authors, Heidi Ashworth, has released a new book! And she is braving new territory in this work, The Devil in Beauty: A Lord Trevelin Mystery. If you are not familiar with Heidi's work, she is known for writing regency romance. Her writing style is more period authentic than modern (I truly envy her extensive vocabulary); more Austen or Heyer than the vast majority of other contemporary authors writing regency. The Devil in Beauty is still a regency era story, but is mystery instead of romance.

I have to admit it had been a while since I had read mystery. I grew up loving Agatha Christie and some other well known mystery writers, but for the past ten years have not kept up on the genre. So I am pleased to report I really enjoyed the change of pace. Although it was definitely darker than what I have been reading, it was not overly scary or gratuitously morbid. And I was really excited to see Heidi is already working on another Lord Trevelin book. I am hoping she has it well under way, because I am interested to see what happens next with the main character, Lord Trevelin.

Lord Trevelin, who's mouth is scarred after a duel over a married woman, has had his reputation damaged in the eyes of the ton. However, the murder of a neighbor's son results in several members of the (everlastingly hypocritical) ton asking Trevelin to look into the matter. He does so, aided by Rey, a short of stature Spaniard visiting London. Trevelin and Rey methodically interview a number of key witnesses, gradually discovering a gruesome scheme afoot.

I particularly enjoyed Trevelin's character. He has many strengths, but his flaws offer many layers of insight into his personality. His flashbacks to his injury and the devastation he feels at the loss of a close friend are particularly well written. Additionally, the up and down relationship with Rey was a nice addition to the overall plot (I would like to see Rey in the next book too, as he almost serves as the Watson to Trevelin's Holmes).

Heidi's years of research into regency era society shine in this book. She knows her stuff and gives fascinating glimpses into Newgate prison (so sad) and a workhouse of the day. Without giving away too much of the plot, I also enjoyed the motive/back story of the murderer. Very interesting and fun to read.

If you are looking for a great summer read, I highly recommend The Devil in Beauty. And right now it is only $4.99 on Amazon -- a great deal!

Book Blurb: "Stab the body and it heals, but injure the heart and the wound lasts a lifetime." 

Julian "Trev" Silvester, the Marquis of Trevelin, once had everything a gentleman could want--fortune, good looks, and enough charm to seduce the beautiful young ladies of the ton.But after a duel with a jealous duke leaves him disfigured, Trev is ostracized by those who once celebrated him. Though his life is irrevocably changed, Trev is still loyal to his friends. When Willy Gilbert is accused of murder and Lady Vawdrey's diamond necklace is stolen, he jumps at the chance to help them.

As the two cases merge, however, Trev finds an unlikely ally in Miss Desdemona Woodmansey. She's the only young lady who doesn't seem put off by his scar and the scandal of the duel. But as their investigation into the murder reveals just how treacherous the mask of polite society can be, both Trev and Desdemona are placed in grave danger. Trev has already lived through the disgrace of a scandal, but can he survive a murderer who will do anything to protect a sinister secret?

Other books by Heidi Ashworth, all of which are linked here:
Miss Delacourt Speaks Her Mind
Miss Delacourt Has Her Day
Lord Haversham Takes Command
Lady Crenshaw's Christmas
O'er the River Liffey

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Benedictine Mesa: Congrats Grads!

A year ago this fall I started teaching Communication Law at Benedictine University in Mesa, which is an extension of the main campus in Illinois. Several of my students were seniors in that 300 level class. They are part of the first graduating class of the campus, as shown in this fun graduation video. I love teaching and it is exciting to see these great students start out in life. I can't wait to see all they accomplish!