Thursday, February 27, 2014

Do I Feel Welcome In My Own Home?

I love to entertain.  Normally, I really do love having dinner guests and movie nights and football watching parties and all kinds of stuff.

A couple of days ago I was bemoaning to Derek that we never have company.  Even his sister won't come to our house... we have to always go to her.  And it bugs me.  Immensely!  I mean, the road IS the same distance either direction.  He finally admitted that she doesn't like our dogs.  She's upset because sometimes they don't have the best of manners.  Okay, quite often their manners are kind of atrocious.  And that makes her feel like she can't bring her dog.  As if he has to go everywhere she does?  Don't get me wrong - I love her dog!  I think Boudreaux is darn near as awesome as my boys!!  But he's not perfect and making him a scapegoat still kind of sits wrong.  I guess this is just another one of those times when I have to breathe deep and remind myself to be a duck (as in water runs right off a duck's back) because my discomfiture at the situation isn't going to change... her.  It's a simple fact of life I can only change my side of things.

Photo from
I share the above little hurt to my pride only to give you an insight into my frame of mind when I tripped over this blog post on Cottage in the Oaks on how you go about making people feel welcome in your home and one of her first questions, after voicing excitement about hosting a group of 8th grade girls for the coming weekend, was: "Do you feel comfortable in your home?"

I've admitted here before that I don't.  Our finances have been so tenuous the whole time that I've never allowed myself to relax and feel like this house is mine.  It's never been home because I've constantly felt on the edge of having it taken away from me and that's fostered an attitude of it's not worth the effort to even try to make it my own.  Rather than being less than comfortable because I've been trying to be someone other than me as folks writing for Cottage in the Oaks suggest may be a hinderance, I've made it less than comfortable because I've been no one.  Not even myself.  The sentence "It's hard to welcome others in... when you may feel that YOU don't even belong." just about jumped off the page and slapped me across the face!

The advice to walk up to the house approaching it as a potential guest was great!  I did that. And oh my... do we have some work to do!

Which is not to say that appearances are everything.  I've been in some very aesthetically pleasing houses that still didn't exude that comfort of being home and I've been in the homes of very poor people and been completely at ease.  I need to work on me as much as I need to work on the house inside and out.  And I am doing that!  And I probably need to just cut everyone some slack and realize that it's going to take time to get comfortable and feel like it's a real comfort.

I genuinely want a home that's both comfortable and a comfort.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Home: Heaven on Earth?

"We  have been trying to impress upon parents the need of paying more attention to their children, having a little more of the spirit of the gospel in their homes, a little more unity and a little more faith; a little more responsibility religiously, spiritually on the part of the fathers; also, of the mothers; more of the teaching of the gospel in the home.
"To parents in the Church we say: Love each other with all your hearts.  Keep the moral law and live the gospel.  Bring up your children in light and truth; teach them the saving truths of the gospel; and make your home a heaven on earth, a place where the Spirit of the Lord may dwell and where righteousness may be enthroned in the heart of each member."   (Joseph Fielding Smith)
This is a direct quote from last Sunday's Relief Society (the Women's Auxiliary in the LDS Church) lesson.  So much stands out in my quest to create HOME in a new place and I thought I'd share some of those thoughts.  The quote is from a talk given sometime prior to President Smith's death in 1972.  That it's still relevant and repeated in current counsel today speaks to the enduring nature of family as central to all we are and hope to be!  And besides I love a list as a way to both check up on myself and organize new ideas for how I can do better, so here are the key points as a bulleted list:

  • Pay attention to your children (and your spouse!)
  • Have more unity and faith
  • Take more responsibility for the spiritual welfare of your family
  • Love each other
  • Keep the moral law
  • Teach the gospel in the home
  • Really live the gospel (every single day)
  • Make your home into your own "Heaven on Earth"
  • Create a home where God's Spirit will be comfortable
  • Enthrone righteousness in the heart of every family member

Angel by Jim Shore
 Being a practical person I can appreciate the practicality of the gospel and know that many of the things that make a good spiritual home are the same as make it comfortable and comforting and beautiful and desirable in the worldly sense, too.  I want my home to be a haven from life's problems... a place where we want to spend our time... a place where others feel welcome and safe and wanted and cared for.

With that in mind, I'm drawn back to President Smith's list.

Pay attention.   Who doesn't love to be heard when they speak?  Is it not the epitome of feeling loved when someone takes the time to actually listen to you and pay attention to what you want and need?  Who better to spend that energy on than your family?  Get to know them.  Get to know what they like, what they are doing during their days, what their goals are.  Show your love by being involved!

Show unity and faith.  Things are so much easier when you're pulling in the same direction...  Sometimes when Derek and I have argued, more than once because I felt unheard and assumed he wanted something different because he was ignoring me, I've said that.  We really need to have a united front - to give the same message of love to the world and each other.  When everyone else sees you as rock solid it gives you more reasons to be rock solid and not disappoint their faith in you.

Take responsibility for the spiritual welfare of your family.  This is a tough one because you can only teach so much and then you have to realize the other person, be it a child or a spouse, has the agency to make their own choice about what they believe and how they express that belief.  But no matter what, you can lead by example and live what you believe!  And you can always provide opportunities for all members of your household to experience the spiritual.

Love each other.  To me this isn't so much about the big overt acts as the small simple things that make the other people in your household feel loved.  The random text or email or phone call just to say "I'm thinking about you" is a welcome demonstration of love.  And I feel very loved when Derek indulges my appetite for Mexican food even though he dislikes 99% of what a Mexican restaurant serves.

Keep the moral law.  Rules create boundaries meant to keep us safe.  And safe is a much happier place than when you are hanging over a precipice ready to take a death defying plunge into the unknown.  We all have an innate sense of right and wrong.  And sadly, a lust to test boundaries and see just how much we can get away with.  We need to recognize them, instead for what they are, and be happy to play by the rules.  Sustained joy is far superior to moments of adrenalin rush!!

Teach the gospel in the home.  If family is the central unit of Heaven, as I believe, then it makes sense that it is the central unit of our earthly societies.  And it makes sense that home is the best place to teach the gospel.  Take it, not just as a responsibility, but as a joyful right to teach your children, spouse, extended family and friends how to really live the gospel.

Really live the gospel every single day.  Maybe I'm just simple-minded... but it's too hard for me to be one person on Sunday and someone else during the week.  That's just too many details to keep straight and remember who knows what lie and what's the next one that will sound congruent to that storyline.  Because if you live as a religious person on Sunday and then go out to lie and cheat and steal during the week you are lying to yourself and everyone else you come in contact with.  I know what I believe.  And that's how I live, or at least I try my best to live up to that ideal, every day.

Make your home into "Heaven on Earth."  Imagine what Heaven is physically like.  Is it clean and orderly?  Are the "many rooms" in Heavenly Father's mansion comfortable, well arranged for conversation, and beautifully decorated?  How are they decorated?  Maybe I'm overly imaginative, but that's where I try to draw inspiration in pulling my home together.  I ask myself "Is this a room that invites a little bit of Heaven onto Earth?  Is it a haven from my worldly cares?"  When I lived in Utah, I knew a family who took that even a step farther and patterned their living room on the Celestial Room in the Salt Lake Temple.  They used similar furnishings, had custom millwork created to bring the moldings and wood details to scale for their home, lovingly kept it immaculately clean and they treated it as a most special and sacred place... one where they felt God would be comfortable joining them in a conversation.

Create a home where God's Spirit will be comfortable.  Along the same lines as imagining what our future Heavenly home might look like and trying to duplicate it, I think the art we choose to display can either enhance or detract.  In some way, I'm trying to display a scripture quote (and it might change from time to time) and an artwork piece depicting Jesus in every room.  Some of them might be small and visible only if you know to look for it, but I know it's there and it's a reminder to me.  I have portrait style pictures, figures like a carved olive wood piece a friend sent me from Jerusalem and even a pewter collector spoon with a nativity on the handle.  I also choose to play gospel-oriented music.  There are many Christian radio stations to choose from now, as well as playlists you create for your iPod or even just on  I think it's calming.  So much so that when I'm suddenly exposed to a Top 100 station I often feel assaulted and disoriented.

Enthrone righteousness in the heart of every family member.  When the rest of your family sees that you are happy, they wonder what you are doing and will ask and try to do the same things themselves.  They want to share in your happiness.  You have to lead by example, provide opportunities to learn about God's ways and always, no matter what, love people.  What you can't do is force them to live a set of rules you impose.  Remember each person is meant to be 'an agent unto himself' and he (or she) has the right to choose what they believe and how they act on it.  It's ok to hate the sin, but always love the sinner!

(Kind of as a side note, I wanted to share this tribute given by his wife, Ethel:  "You ask me to tell you of the nam I know.  I have often thought when he is gone people will say, 'He is a good man, sincere, orthodox, etc.'  They will speak of him as the public knows him; but the man they have in mind is very different from the man I know.  The man I know is a kind, loving husband and father whose greatest ambition in life is to make his family happy, entirely forgetful of self in his efforts to do this.  He is the man that lulls to sleep the fretful child, who tells bedtime stories to the little ones, who is never too tired or too busy to sit up late at night or to get up early in the morning to help the older children solve perplexing school problems.  When illness comes the man I know watches tenderly over the afflicted one and waits upon him.  It is their father for whom they cry, feeling his presence a panacea for their ills.  It is his hands that bind up the wounds, his arms that give courage to the sufferer, his voice that resonates with them gently when they err, until it becomes their happiness to do the thing that will make him happy...

"The man I know is unselfish, uncomplaining, considerate, thoughtful, sympathetic, doing everything within his power to make life a supreme joy for his loved ones.  That is the man I know."

Wow!  If you're looking for an example of someone to emulate (or searching for the greatest husband ever!) he sets the bar pretty darned high!!)

Friday, February 14, 2014

For she loved much...

In my internet wanderings I happened into a scripture that set my heart to pondering.  So I thought I'd share those thoughts with you today.

Luke 7:44-48
44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.
45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.
46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.
47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.
48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.
 The key phrase that really jumped out to me is in verse 47.  "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much."

During the exchange that follows in the scriptures, Jesus uses a parable about a debt collector who cancels the amounts that two different people owe him.  One is forgiven a large amount; the other something lesser.  And then He poses the question "Which loves him more?"

Of course, someone who has been forgiven much loves much.

Those who've been forgiven, or accepted forgiveness for, just a little may be guilty of basing their faith on rote routine more than real relationship.  On the superficial and easy stuff not the nitty gritty hard part of making it through life where relationship is key.  A relationship with my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is important to me.  I view Them not as some nebulous concept, but as real beings with whom I can have real conversations and share real emotions and real problems.  I want Them to be the central part of my life.  Even when it's messy.  And if it's a real relationship sometimes it will be messy because, face it, sometimes I'm a mess.

Thankfully, God is big enough to handle me when I'm a mess.  And he doesn't stop loving me when I stomp my feet like a petulant child because some part of life has become harder than I think it should be.  And if you think I wear my emotions on my sleeve for you to see... well, rest assured that I really don't hold back with God.  Whether it's good or it's bad, I let Him know about it full force.

I think it's a hard thing after an episode of streaming hot tears and loud foot stomping to find my way back to center... to bring my focus back to God being the central figure in all that I do, want and think.  Sometimes it takes time.  Time for me to forgive Him.  And to forgive myself.  And even more time to accept that He forgives me in all my foolish pride.  Sometimes I ask how He can forgive me because it just seems so illogical that He would love me that much.  I think most people would give up and call it too difficult.

Maybe that's the key?  He is God, not a person like you and me.

He doesn't try to be like us.  We try to be more like Him.  We try, imperfectly, to pattern our lives after His example of selfless loving service.  And, I think, it's in that giving of ourselves in service that we both demonstrate our love for Him and learn to know more about His very character.

If you are serving someone, it's impossible to hate them.

If you know the whole backstory, it's impossible to critically judge someone's choices.

If you give all you have toward loving someone, you see love only multiplies.  It doesn't divide.

And in this we begin to learn the economics of Heaven.  Hopefully that leads to wanting to use that same math here on earth.  Hopefully that brings God back to the center of everything we do, think, and say.

Hopefully that helps me be...
...a little kinder.
...a lot more humble.
...more willing to listen and learn.
...more open to seeing the good in hard situations.
...less quick to jump to an angry conclusion.
...more brave about sharing my faith with others.
Hopefully it leads me along a path where it can one day be said "she loved much!"

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Celebrating Mother Eve

We are studying the Old Testament this year in Sunday School and today's lesson focused on The Fall... the event that began when Eve succumbed to temptation and partook of the forbidden fruit. Throughout recorded history Eve, and by extension all women to some extent, has been labeled as vile, sinful and inferior for that act.  And that has always bothered me.  It doesn't ring true.

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden courtesy of
Adam and Eve were given two command-ments in the Garden of Eden.  They were told to "be fruitful, multiply and replenish the earth."  (Genesis 1:28)  And they were told not to eat the fruit of the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil."  (Genesis 2:16-17)  Those commands are in opposition to each other.  Had Eve, and then later Adam, not eaten the fruit they would have remained in the garden in a state of eternal innocence... in effect as children and not as the head of the human race.

We know that during the time they were in the garden, they had daily access to God's presence and direction.  I like to think that He was teaching and preparing them for that great day of choice.  And I believe that it was something Eve did not enter into lightly.  I believe she had made it a matter of much study, thought and questioning and while she may not have understood all that was entailed she did not do it blindly.  Think for a moment about the order of God's actions.  He created the earth, and all of the things needed to sustain life here before He placed man in the garden.  These were not random acts, but show that there was an ordered and well thought out plan in place.  Did God's planning for His human family suddenly stop?

Photo courtesy of
Detail of a piece thought to have been carved by the Flemish sculptor
and medalist Guillielmus Paludanus in 1567 as part of a chimney mantle-
piece in his Antwerp, Belgium home.  Adam and Eve are being attended
by God, the Father. It is described as espousing the virtue of love.
That it would defies reason.  We trust the He is eternal and unchangeable.  The things He has created are orderly and harmonious and show great thought and intelligence.  I believe Eve's actions were part of His grand plan and part of what He schooled them in during their daily walks and talks in the garden.  Had they not partaken, the gift of mortality would not have come to them, they would have had no posterity and therefore the the greater of their commands from the Lord would not have been fulfilled.  Yes... The Fall brought pain, sorrow, and death to Adam and Eve but it also brought them the blessings of knowledge, mortal life, family and the opportunity to have a close relationship with Jesus Christ.

A portrayal of Adam's and Eve's family courtesy of

Had they remained in the garden they would have known no sin, no pain, no sadness, no death...  Maybe that sounds pretty great until you consider that without these things there would have been no joy, happiness, pleasure, fun or relief because without the opposite to compare and contrast they would not have known what those things are.

And we wouldn't be here (unless God had a backup plan for that!).  Notice it's after they have left the garden that the Bible tell us "Adam knew Eve."  The word translated as 'knew' is a euphemism for the acts that lead to conceiving a child, which she did, (Genesis 4 speaks directly of Cain and Abel but we know they had many children.)  AFTER they had been expelled from the garden.

In light of all the she did, maybe we should start looking at Eve as being a righteous and courageous helpmeet to Adam!  Someone, even, that we should give serious study and consideration as we choose heroes to emulate.  She gave each of us some pretty great gifts... and I find myself awed and reverenced by her role in bringing about my eventual salvation.  And I feel a new sense of gratitude toward Mother Eve!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

I Am Not A Vacuum Murderer!

Remember awhile back I said I'd killed our vacuum?  Derek, claiming "I told you I'm not very handy" ran right out and got us a new one.

Ok, so I went along and helped pick it out and I really, really, really like the new one.  I love that the canister lifts off so you don't have to fight the whole beast up and down the stairs to vacuum them. I actually like it a lot better than the old one.  But that's beside the point and I digress...

You see, I didn't really kill the old one.  Yay!  I am not a vacuum murderer!!

(In my my mind I say that in my best Richard Nixon impression.  Apparently I'm either really weird or easily amused because I imagine it to be quite hilarious!  I'm going with easily amused, ok?)

Before pushing the old one out to the curb I decided to give it one last shot and started cleaning up the filter and checking for a clog in the hose and stuff like that.  Thought I'd done all that at the time, but I guess in my frustration that night I missed some stuff.  Turns out, it wasn't broken so much as terribly dirty inside.  Cleaned up, it works just fine.  In fact, it sucks the dirt and hair right up.  It really sucks!

Wouldn't that be an awesome tagline for a vacuum commercial?  I always thought Dyson should use it when they have that hottie Aussie guy on there carrying on about the strength of their brand's suction power and he's lifting a bowling ball with it.  Wouldn't it just be fall-off-your-chair funny if at the end of that silly monologue he said, "Dyson... our vacuums really suck!"

Photo courtesy of
No, my resurrected vacuum isn't a Dyson.

It's a Hoover.

A Wind Tunnel one made to handle pet hair.  Something we have abundance of...  I don't know if it would pick up a bowling ball or not.  And I don't have one to try that and find out so it's going to have to remain one of life's great mysteries.

This one might be a slightly newer model, but mine looks pretty much the same.  And it gets the job done.

I really hate having to admit this because now I'm going to get no help with the steam cleaner I've been begging him to unclog since... oh, October!  I've been holding out on principal.  But I guess I might as well give that up now, too, and just take care of it myself.

This vacuum does really suck!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Greeting Card Organizer & Storage

Ok... so this is one of those projects where you're going to smack yourself side the head and ask "Why didn't I think of that?"

I started by making a template for the dividers out of copy paper.  I cut about
1-inch off the long side and then cut that in half and then cut out for my tab
and finally, just because I like it that way, rounded the top corners.
Then I made my list of what kinds of cards I am mostly likely to send and
would want to keep in my new organizer.  (In the end I left off Valentines
Day... I may do some but they can take up space in the Other/Misc area.)
And I did make the tab for Stamps/Stickers/Labels to keep a ready supply
of those items and thus, hopefully, increase the chance I will actually become
one of those people who are thoughtful enough to send greeting cards.
Next, I cut the amount of tabs I needed from cardstock.  This shows how
I cut 2 from each sheet of paper.
Using my handy dandy Dymo label maker, I put labels on each tab.  Now
you'll set these aside until you're ready to put them in the pretty new box.
I used the box from our horrifyingly bad habit of noshing on Mrs. Freshley's
Original Jumbo Honey Buns.  It's approximately the size of a men's shoe box;
a little shorter maybe but about the same width and depth.  I used this box
because it's what I had and part of the idea behind my project was to use
stuff that would otherwise be thrown away to make something that's both
beautiful and useful.
I measured (mostly by laying the box on top and wrapping it around) how
much contact paper I needed to cover the outside of the box and trimmed
away the excess at each corner so I didn't have a lot of bulk from the
unneeded extra material.  I love the grid on the back to help me cut straight
lines and keep the paper square to the box!
This shows how I oriented the box on top of the ConTac paper.  Then I very
carefully peeled off the backing on just that little tab that's going to wrap up
and cover the words "Jumbo Honey Bun."
After that tab is finger pressed into place.  From here I tore the backing off
down the center and did the same to the other end.  Then I worked it off the
side pieces and put them in place.  ConTac paper is somewhat forgiving and
will allow you to move it a few times while straightening and smoothing.  I
just wish I'd had better color and pattern choices... not really grooving on
the green.  Hopefully it will blend when I get it in on that open shelf in
the finished room!
I also covered the inside of my box.  Same process of measure, cut, carefully
peel the backing away and work slowly so to get smooth results.
With a little time and patience...
Put the tabs in... and now I just need to go find all those stray cards.  You
know, the extras from every holiday that you save thinking you'll use them
next year when that package is just 2 short and then you can't ever find them
again and buy even more?  I got some of those tucked away here and there.

Now see... wasn't that just a crazy easy way to make something pretty and organized for the office/hobby room/woman cave?  And since the box was destined for the recycle bin and it was just a few sheets of paper I already had on hand and some labels, also from materials on hand (you could write them, too, if you have pretty handwriting) my only cost was the $5.35 for a roll of ConTac paper.  And there's plenty of it to cover several more boxes for the open shelving that I have planned for that room.  How coordinated, huh?  Now if I just loved the color and pattern...

You could also use this same idea in your pantry - and I have every intention of doing so - to organize those little mix packets.  The ones you have for ranch dressing, taco seasoning, onion soup mix, chili seasoning, chicken gravy... yeah, that kind of stuff.  I admit I have them and use them because it's something convenient and shelf stable.  Right now they are scattered all over my cabinets.  Wouldn't this be a better way to contain that clutter?  And, hey, I might even find what I want already here and not just go mindlessly buy another one!!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Forgotten Skills

Photo credit:  Village Green Network
One of the Facebook/Blog pages I follow started this morning off with these words:  "Amazing how a decision to start growing your own food cascades into so many different things in your life. New friends (invaluable support), baking your own bread, making your own taco seasoning, making your own laundry soap. The list goes on and on..."  (Karen Taylor of Old Pa Farm) Not sure my list of mostly forgotten skills would look exactly like that but the words and sentiment got me thinking about how many old and [by many people] forgotten skills I use in my day.  Some things I do because it's how I learned to do it growing up and some is a conscious choice for either thrift or to leave an environmentally softer footprint on the Earth.

I garden.  Most years I do anyway.  And I will be when this coming Spring finally gets itself underway.  In the past I've used much the same methods I learned from my Dad - organic for the most part but willing to bring in a chemical for limited use if I found myself dealing with a pest I couldn't otherwise control.  In the past, I've hired someone to rototill the ground but this year I'm going to experiment with creating permaculture beds.  That's something I'm pretty excited about!

I preserve garden produce for later use.  This summer I want to make red and green salsa, dilly beans, apple pie filling, applesauce, spaghetti sauce, garlic preserved in vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, refrigerator dill pickles, strawberry freezer jam, frozen diced tomatoes, and several dried herb blends.

I cook from scratch.  Well, sometimes.  I admit a lot more boxed stuff has slipped in during the past 18 months.  It's been a time of big adjustments that affect all parts of my life and that's part of the reason that real cooking has fallen by the wayside.  It's something I laugh about now and then, but Derek loves the TGI Friday's(TM) Tater Skins from the freezer isle and would eat them 3-4 times a week... I about had a heart attack right there in the frozen food section when I saw the price and started making them at home.  Mine are so much better he tells everyone that they "are the bomb!" And I want to get back to even more real cooking over the coming months.  One of the first things I plan on doing is getting my sourdough starter going again and making our bread.

I make many of my own cleaning products.  Again, I've slipped a little in doing this but getting back to it more and more.  I've found that I can make my own product that is very effective for much less money. Some of my forays in cleaning products have been laundry soap, dryer sheets, and a concoction (I hope I can replicate) that did an awesome job getting puppy stains out of our carpets.

I create things.  For Christmas I made Derek an afghan in his favorite sports team colors and since we have serious lack of bedding (thanks, in part, to puppy chewing) it's been helpful in keeping him warm on some of those unusually cold nights we've had lately.  Over the last year and a half I also made some of the items we've gifted for birthdays and Christmas, cards, our potholders and some of the decor on our walls.  Several items have used recycled or re-purposed materials.  I love that it saves money, but even more I love that it is unique, kind of quirky and very personal.

I do my own home repairs and upgrades.  Inasmuch as it's safe and I have the skills to do a reasonably good job, I do my own repairs and upgrades.  A recent example was replacing a burned out breaker in our box.  Calling an electrician would have run around $100.  A few friends telling me it was an easy do-it-yourself job and a Youtube tutorial later, I did it myself.  The new breaker cost $11.84, including tax.  Money savings aside, it was a powerful feeling when I flipped that switch and everything worked!

I get to know my neighbors.  For me, a sense of community is important.  I am a naturally friendly person and I like finding people nearby who can share information and skills and, sometimes, garden tools.  Besides, being sociable is a good skill to have... so many of us suffer from nearly unbearable loneliness these days.  I also want to try and barter for things I can't do on my own like get our one neighbor who co-owns a dog grooming business with his daughter to cut the dog's toe nails.  I've talked to him a number of times about gardening and learned that he's diabetic and baked goods won't appeal as a trade off... so I'm hoping this summer to woo him into a barter arrangement with lots of fresh garden-ripe tomatoes!

Could I do more?  Sure.  Will I?  In time, probably.  I've already started a list of upgrades and additions for the 2015 garden...