Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween is Coming

Once upon a time Halloween was a night; now it’s a season. Good grief! We’ve been eating candy corn for a month. My grandkids have made skeletons, pumpkins, and bats at preschool, Primary, the library, and the local Lowe’s Hardware store. They’ve gone trick or treating at preschool, the zoo, and last Saturday night there was a trick or trunk party at the church which included a carnival as well as the traditional round of candy collecting. One smart mom passed out toothbrushes.

The era of witches, scarecrows, hobos, clowns, and ghosts is gone, replaced by Disney princesses, Darth Vader, and Spiderman. Once little kids dressed in costumes, and teenagers dressed in black. For the little kids Halloween was a once-a-year opportunity to snag treats. For teenagers it was a once-a-year challenge to sneak over to the neighborhood grouch’s house to knock over an outhouse and soap windows. A generation later a lot of toilet-papering took place.

The treats have changed too. Once popular treats included; cup cakes, cookies, apples, popcorn balls, and an invitation to warm up in someone’s kitchen with hot chocolate and doughnuts. Now it’s individually wrapped candy and gum. It’s true Halloween is a celebration of deviltry, but it once had a touch of innocence too. Now with the addition of a mean-spirited element who inject harmful substances into children’s treats, parents have to supervise their little goblin’s treats more carefully. Heavy suburban traffic adds a life-threatening element to the excitement of wearing a costume and potential childhood carelessness. Children must carry flashlights and be accompanied by an adult.

Homes and yards were once decorated with candle-flickering jack-o-lanterns on porches and fence posts. Now Halloween competes with Christmas for elaborate decorations including electric lights and inflated yard scenes.

I’ve never been a Halloween enthusiast. My mother never allowed me to trick or treat; she said no child of hers was going to run around the neighborhood begging. My only trick or treat experience came when I was about twelve when our Beehive class went trick or treating to collect money for UNICEF and almost everyone gave us candy along with money for the charity. I did like Halloween carnivals which most of the schools I attended sponsored on Halloween. As an almost seven-year-old I lost my first tooth biting into a caramel apple at the grade school Halloween carnival. I lost my enthusiasm for carnivals, however, when it was my turn to be a parent working in the PTA.

I allowed my children to trick or treat and even made most of their costumes. Their trick or treating experiences were mostly positive and now they’re as excited as their children about picking costumes for their little ones (which have already been worn half a dozen times and Halloween isn’t even here yet), mapping out which routes to take through their neighborhoods, and planning for movies and activities after.

For the little ones there’s still a sense of innocence and wonder about the adventure even if they are attired in Hollywood scripted costumes. And today’s parents are geared for keeping a vigilant eye out for traffic and sadistic spoilers. I’m not sure I want to know what teenagers do instead of tipping over outhouses.

Once the pictures of costumed children were proudly displayed by grandparents after the holiday, but I’m doing my best to be with the times by showing you a few of my pre-Halloween pictures in advance.

Adults get in the act too. Here's a son-in-law followed by my son and his wife.

And some people don't need Halloween to dress up.


Just this morning I was listening to an interview on NPR with an author who wrote about Mary Shelley's "Frankstein." Movie clips were played from both the Boris Karloff version and the Mel Brooks version of the "It's alive! It's alive!" scene. Someone mentioned the monster had an "abnormal brain" and everyone started giggling since the "Young Frankenstein" script gave new meaning to “abnormal.” This was "the" movie to see when I was a teenager--I must have seen it about 10 times and all my friends and I all memorized the dialogue.

Creativity is an absolutely fascinating process, and I love being a part of it, as both a writer and an editor. I love watching the ideas for plot and character develop as writers revise, and I love seeing a revised manuscript, when an author has really worked with it to make it come "alive."

Creativity feels good, probably as good as any drug (not that I'm any expert, although I really, really liked the Demerol when I had my appendix out :-) And although revising + creativity feels just as good, revising is one of the toughest parts of writing and one that, for some reason, some people feel is completely optional. I'm always stunned when I come across (usually new) writers who actually brag that they haven't changed a word since they wrote it. "That's just how it came out," they tell me, when asking for my opinion, and without reading a word, I generally have an opinion.

I’ve had a few experiences like that myself when an idea took hold and the writing flowed and I seemed to connect to this inner fount of words; and later, when I read my article or piece of writing over, I felt like I had done a pretty respectable job (bordering on downright fabulous). In fact, when I was a graduate student working on a thesis made up of creative essays, I took one such piece of writing (it was just a scene but I reverently attached it to the greater piece) to my advisor, who, in response to my exuberant "It's alive!" (metaphorically speaking, that is) said without even reading it, "I can see somebody's still too close to her writing."

What? He doubted me? Didn't he think I had any sense of good writing? He certainly burst my lovely bubble. Well, long story short, I did go back and revise the scene. My creative burst had given me some good material to work with, but it was only the draft, the first step in a longer creative process.

Writers often compare to their work to the act of giving birth, and editors compare their role to serving as a midwife in assisting in the work. We've all heard something like this and may even have experienced it. What I would like new writers to know is that even when the childbirth is accomplished, and the baby is declared perfect and healthy, it still needs to be cleaned up before it (excuse me, he or she) is presentable. Imagine leaving that lovely, perfect little baby all slick and icky as you show your latest accomplishment off to everyone. (I'll say it again, ick, but then again, maybe you new mothers would like to weigh in and tell me I'm completely wrong, it's not icky at all. My only experience is with watching kittens get the cleanup treatment from their moms and the kittens looked much better after their first bath).

As I started out saying, being a part of the creation process feels really good. It feels amazing, in fact. Granted, it can also feel grueling (to go back to the childbirth metaphor, not to mention the morning sickness that’s a part of the earlier process). Writing 10 pages, 100 pages, 300 pages—even an imperfect first draft is an accomplishment to be proud of. But like giving birth to a child, the work is really just starting as you the author, or the mother, begin a long, tiring, frustrating, at times, heart-breaking, stimulating and thrilling journey.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Book Was Better! by Nancy Campbell Allen

There's a reason people say, "The book was better."

When we who love to read get involved in a story we see things a certain way, we experience the book individually. I've heard that the same book is never the same to various readers, and I believe that. Reading is a unique, usually solitary experience and the reader finds herself living that book in her own way until she discusses it with others and broadens her perspective on it. Maybe she'll agree with other opinions, maybe she won't, but she comes away from the book with her own feelings about it.

J.K. Rowling once said that a young girl standing in a signing line was a little upset that there were so many other people there, that she felt Harry Potter was her book. I love that! And it's one of the reasons that I sometimes have a hard time with audio versions- it's like the reader is intruding on my experience or something. I know, weird.

The reason I bring all of this up is because I was thinking the other day about one of my very favorites, The Count of Monte Cristo, and the movie version that came out in 2002. I have loved the book for ages. I suggested it for my local book club, we read it, and then went and saw the movie together. (Should have seen us all, a bunch of married Mormon women, staring at the screen with our mouths agape at James Caviezel).

But other than the eye candy, I was really unhappy with the way the story had been totally altered.

I mean completely.

Why does it have to be that way? Monte Cristo gets a happy ending in the book! Why couldn't Hollywood have stayed true to the story?

It's funny to listen to my kids say, "That didn't happen in the book," when they watch movies. And one of my favorite memories along those lines was when I was first married and my husband had read John Grisham's The Firm. When the movie came out, we sat in the theater with him muttering the that-didn't-happen litany through the whole of it. The reason I was so tickled by this is because my husband isn't a reader.

So, I'd have to say that overall, the book is better than the movie. My Junior English Seminar teacher at Ogden High School once told us that this was true for every movie she'd seen except for the movie adaptation of A Separate Peace. I hated both the book and the movie, so I can't say I agree with her.

What about you? Can you think of any movies out there that are better than the books? Have you seen a movie adaptation that made your blood boil because it was such a shame they slaughtered your favorite book so much?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Simple Lives

George and I have been visiting in Lake Tahoe, California this past week. It is the third anniversary of my mom’s passing, and we came to the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains to visit her grave and celebrate the goodness of her life.

Along with my sister, who still lives in Tahoe, we bought pale lilac colored gladiolas (my mom’s favorite color and flower) and drove over to the Happy Homes Cemetery to place them on her grave. We stood by the graveside in the beautiful Tahoe sunshine and talked and laughed and remembered. My sister remembered how our summer days at the Lake were filled with people visiting from near and far, picnics on the beach, hikes into the mountains, and making room for lots of extra guests. We were awed by how Mom was always jovial and welcoming when the hordes descended.

We also chuckled about how she saved aluminum foil, and rubber bands, and plastic bags—not because she grew up in the age of recycling, but because she grew up in the age of the Great Depression. Both Mom and Dad were good at saving, paying cash for a big ticket items, doing without, and not caring what the “Jones’s” possessed. I have a little Christmas book coming out entitled, “Christmas for a Dollar” which tells of an actual Christmas my father had when he was a boy during the depression, and how he and his family made a joyful celebration out of very little. Retelling the story has made me reevaluate how I approach the season. It’s also made me very grateful for parents who lived such frugal and good lives.

Both my parents are gone now, but I never think of them with sadness. I think of the fun, charmed, and adventurous life they provided while I was growing up, and for the legacy of hard work and simplicity they taught. All the lessons have served me well.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I Vote for Democracy! by Anna Jones Buttimore

Democracy works! I know, I was surprised too, and quite thrilled to have made that discovery this week. Here’s how it happened:

Recycling services in our area are really quite poor. The council collects paper, cardboard, glass and green waste (grass cuttings), but most of us can never remember what is being collected which week, and what colour box or bag it is supposed to be in. And they don’t collect cans and plastic bottles. Being a responsible sort of soul, each time I visit friends in the next borough (where they do have collection facilities for such items) I take along my empties. I’m extremely popular, as you might imagine, arriving with three noisy children and four bin bags full of mouldy tins and festering milk bottles, then eating all the cheesecake and going home leaving the smelly rubbish, and occasionally a child or two, behind.

In May I actually took the time to read through the “Vote for Me” leaflets which came through my door from potential local counsellors. You know the type – community minded individuals who have served on every Parent Teacher Association from pre-school to sixth-form, planted 50 trees, scrubbed graffiti off the village hall and raised £500,000 for the local hospital before lunch. One of them was promising that, if elected, she would improve recycling collections. So I voted for her. So did everyone else, it seems, because she won. And tomorrow I can proudly put out my first pink sack containing paper, cardboard, glass, cans and plastics, all mixed up together. And soon thereafter, I trust, a gleaming yellow truck will come and take it all away to be recycled.

What this has taught me (and I know you knew this already) is that if enough people want something, and are capable of saying so, then it has a very good chance of happening. That's what democracy is about, and why it is such a good idea.

Now, even over here it's diffcult to escape the fact that you Americans have an election coming up. I have no idea who I'd vote for, were I entitled to, because I don't know what they stand for. Which one is going to ban abortion and guns, and give you a free healthcare service such as the one we Brits rejoice in? Well, he'd have my vote.

Elections here - like everything here, actually - are pretty low key. Campaigning starts only six weeks beforehand and there aren't really the big public rallies, theme tunes and excitement that I see on TV reports of the American campaigns. Politics, like religion, is really considered something of an inappropriate subject for polite conversation, so most of us do what I do. We read the leaflets, and we vote for the person promising to do what we want them to do.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have to go and look at my pink recycling sacks and reflect on my awesome power.


My husband and I had the opportunity to go to the Bay area. While there we visited the Oakland Temple grounds. I was in awe of the beauty of the landscape and view, as I had never seen the Temple before other than in pictures.
Upon our arrival, the first thing I noticed was the music of the Mormon Tabernacle choir reverently signing hymns over a speaker. I have never heard of this at the Temple and I was immediately filled with a sense of reverence for the sacred ground in which I stood upon.

This past week, I have taken the opportunity to really ponder and once again realize just how blessed I am to not only attend the Temple but to work in such a Sacred environment.
I enjoy my work in the Jordan River Temple. At one time I volunteered as a receptionist for a few years, but I now work in the cafeteria. It’s interesting to me to see the people who come and go through the doors of the dining room of the Temple. To me, working there is much more than just a job, it’s part of my Temple experience.

The Temple represents many things. It is a House of order, glory, prayer, fasting, thanksgiving, learning, faith, refuge, and so on. With each of these descriptions, a multitude of blessings can be ours.

Seeing how the Temple was a house of thanksgiving for one particular young man touched me. He couldn't have been more than twenty-three years of age or so when he walked up to me and handed me two hundred dollars and said, “This is to pay for their dinner,” He pointed to the long line of people that had formed to get their dinner when he started to turn and walk away. “Wait, I don’t know who you mean,” I said. Often times a family member will walk up and hand me money to avoid confrontation of who will pay for the others dinner in their group, but this time I had no idea where this young man’s family began or ended. He stepped closer and said, “I came into some money today and wanted to show my gratitude. I’m sorry, but it’s all the cash I had on me. I just wanted to pay for as many people’s dinner as that money could buy.” He turned and stepped to the back of the line. He was all-alone. He had come to the Temple to show his gratitude for the blessings he had received that day. With thankful heart, he bought 38 people dinner with that money. Elderly people, single people, couples, and workers benefited from this young man’s expression of gratitude. It made such an impression on me. The outpouring of love and appreciation was inspiring. Tear filled eyes were in awe that a young man would be so generous. When told that their cup of soup and roll had been paid for, an elderly couple said, “Who would do that for us?” They were so shocked and humbled, they just stood there speechless, unsure whether to accept the meal or not. A sister who came alone said, “No, there must be some mistake. No one would pay for me. I came by myself.” She started crying. A couple kept asking, “Really? Really? Just because? Please tell us who would do such a kind thing. We have to say thank you.” They were so impressed. The reactions of the people were incredible. That young man touched so many hearts with his gift of gratitude.

The Temple is indeed a House of Glory. All you have to do is step inside and know it is a place where our Heavenly Father’s Spirit can dwell. I think it’s crucial for us to remember that you cannot enter there with a worldly attitude and expect to have a Spiritual experience.

There are days it is hard for me to go to work. I need to be home getting something done or I feel a need to be with my family. There are days when my job has it’s own unique challenges, but how I love to be at the Temple! The people with whom I work and come in contact with have influenced my life in many ways. As a House of service, my family and I have been on the receiving end of that service so many times I couldn’t possibly list them all here. (In a later blog, I will tell you about the M&M project) As struggles have fallen upon myself or my family due to surgeries and medical conditions, we have been the recipients of meals, money, prayers and fasting. Within the cafeteria, we look for ways to serve each other and it has caused us to bond and become a close knit Temple-family.

The Temple is a House of refuge. It doesn’t matter how frazzled my day is outside of the Temple, when I walk inside, a calmness comes over me and I know all will be well. I love the people I work with, the people I serve, and the environment in which I am so blessed to be a part of.

The Temple is also a house of protection. The Temple is one place on earth where we can go to find peace, solace, and comfort. If you are overwhelmed, with a prayerful heart, you can enter unto the Temple, and find strength from the scripture in D&C 109:22
“Thy servant may go forth from this house armed with thy power and that thy name may be upon them and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them.”

I am reminded of a quote by President Vaughn J Featherstone: “I promise you that all who faithfully attend to Temple work will be blessed beyond measure.
Your families will draw closer to the Lord, unseen angels will watch over your loved ones, when Satanic forces tempt them. The veil will be thin and great Spiritual experiences will distill upon this people.”

My work at the Temple has been a tremendous blessing in my family’s life and mine. As I come in contact with the people who enter the Temple to do their Temple work, in whatever capacity it may be, whether they are patrons, workers, volunteers or employees, I find my life is more richly blessed.
I am incredibly grateful for the eternal blessings the Temple provides us as we make a commitment to be obedient I am thankful I have a constant reminder in my life that in this world we have a greater purpose and that eternal happiness can be ours.
I am so grateful for the House of our Father where I can find peace, solace, inspiration, and learning. The Temple truly enriches my life.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ten More Days!

by Stephanie Black

As a child, I loved Halloween. My sisters and I were expert trick-or-treaters. When we arrived home after our eager trek around the neighborhood, we’d dump our candy out and sort it—Three Musketeer bars here, Tootsie Pops here, Bit O’Honeys—yuck, Mom and Dad can have those for “tax”.

Unfortunately—but naturally—I outgrew trick-or-treating. I was twelve, going on thirteen. My older sister and partner in crime wasn’t going with me that year. I hadn’t even bothered to plan a costume in advance—I was rummaging through the dress-up box on Halloween, trying to come up with some last-minute thing to wear, and I ended dressing as a sort of makeshift alien. When trick-or-treating starts to feel like more trouble than it's worth, you know that's it.

After that, Halloween always seemed to be a bit of a bust. I loved Halloween, so it felt like it ought to be special, but without trick-or-treating, I wasn’t doing much that was special. I wasn’t a party-thrower (possibly having inherited too many party-pooping genes from my father who, when at Disneyland, decided “Nothing is worth standing in line that long for” and left to go work on his talk for Education Week).

To my delight, the excitement of Halloween rose again with all its spooky thrills when my children got old enough to enjoy the holiday. I even get to go trick-or-treating again, at least every other year (sometimes my husband goes and I hand out candy). I still love trick-or-treating and no, it’s not just about the chocolate. At my age, I could buy a bag of candy if I'm so all-fired desperate for sugar, but that's not the point. Candy is much more fun if you get it by trick-or-treating. I love the scent of trick-or-treating candy, that delectable aroma of a bunch of different types of candy mixed together in a trick-or-treating sack. That's a once-a-year smell. Yum! And I love the decorations—the glowing jack-o-lanterns, the ghosts (the fun stuff, not the gruesome stuff).

Last year, my oldest daughter and her friend were taking my youngest daughter trick-or-treating. My middle daughter and son were going with a friend. That left my youngest son to come trick-or-treating with me. He didn't seem thrilled with this arrangement. "I want someone fast!" he said. He was afraid I'd be too slow and wouldn't keep up with his frenzied pace. Oh my heck. In the words of the villainous Yzma from The Emperor's New Groove, "Does he have any IDEA who he's dealing with?" Son, I could trick-or-treat your little costumed self into the ground. Just try to keep up. Eat my dust.

Of course, I’d probably get some funny looks if I rang the doorbell without him.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Roots in Roxie

I could have been born in the South. It's interesting how I've always had an affinity for that region. It began when I was quite young, after learning that my paternal grandfather grew up in a place called Roxie, Mississippi. I would watch movies like "Gone With the Wind," and wonder what it would have been like being a southern belle. =)

My father was born later in life to his parents; they were in their forties when he bounced into mortal mode. As such, my siblings and I almost skip a generation when we begin looking back toward our ancestors. This means that two of my paternal second-great-grandfathers fought in the Civil War. I'll leave it to your imagination to guess which side. ;)

In the fall of 2006, my husband and I embarked on a trip of a lifetime, spending two wonderful weeks in New Orleans. It was a business trip and each day, while my husband took care of said business, I studied maps and learned all I could of the surrounding area. Then when Kennon was done for the day, we would explore the highlights of this beautiful location.

When we caught on that he would have a couple of days to sight see, and I realized how close we were to my grandfather's old stomping grounds, I contacted a cousin who had been to Roxie, Mississippi and learned the necessary facts and contacts to see Grandpa Jackson's homeland.

It took us a few hours to reach Roxie, and along the way, we saw places like Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Natchez, Mississippi. We stopped for lunch in Natchez for two reasons:

1) It was lunch time and we were starved.
2) One of my second-great-grandfathers is buried in the Civil War section of a cemetery located in Natchez.

Silent tears threatened to descend when we found this grandfather's grave. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to put into words what it felt like to see this site in person. That feeling would increase as the day progressed.

Before I say much about Roxie, I should explain something. There is a reason why a southern boy of 15 left his home and journeyed all the way across the nation to a small town in Idaho known as Lewisville. My grandfather had been primed to become a Baptist minister by his family. At the tender age of 15, he met a couple of Mormon missionaries and began to have stimulating gospel discussions with them. In time, he realized he was hearing truth and he embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ with religious fervor.

This excitement was not shared by his family.
Long story short: my grandfather was asked to choose between joining the LDS Church, or his family. This was a decision that would tear him apart, but my grandfather made his choice and found himself disowned when he was baptized. Since one of the elders was about to return home to Idaho, he invited my grandfather to travel with him, and my grandfather agreed. And that is how Thomas William Jackson Sr. (my father would eventually be named Jr.) ended up living in Lewisville where he would meet and later marry my grandmother, Elsie Clement.

Grandpa didn't talk much about his life in the South. He went home once, shortly after his wedding. It wasn't a pleasant visit. He learned of the death of his mother and saw how his family had fallen apart. As such, Grandpa brought his youngest brother home to Idaho where he lived with my grandparents until he was old enough to be on his own.

Once in a while my grandfather would comment on how much easier it was to grow things in Mississippi than in the deserty realm of Idaho, but that was about all he would say about Roxie.

Grandpa was right. To see how green and lush Roxie was for myself was quite an experience. It is gorgeous.
I contacted a cousin who still lives there and he took us on a tour. As we traveled in the back hills of Roxie, I fell in love with this area. At one point, my newly found cousin carved my initials on a tree, telling me that it would forever record my visit to Roxie.

Among other treasured sites we saw that day, we were shown where my grandfather's boyhood home once stood. Elation collided with tears as I walked around, trying to memorize what I was seeing. I experienced a sense of peace I hadn't expected, all things considered.

A few years ago, I stood proxy for my great-grandmother, Susan Beach Jackson as important temple work took place. From the joy I experienced that day, I sensed she accepted this work with delight. I've felt a closeness to her since that time. She was a woman of remarkable courage and strength. She protested my grandfather's dismissal from the family, but my great-grandfather wouldn't listen to reason. Soon after my grandfather left for Idaho, one of his brothers left Mississippi and joined the Foreign Legion. He later died during a battle fought overseas. Three of Susan's babies died at an early age. Life for her was heartbreaking, and it became worse. My great-grandfather didn't like it when she disagreed with him. As such, he locked her away in a sanitarium where she spent the remainder of her days.

We found a record written by a doctor that stated Susan was perfectly sane and that she had spent the rest of her life caring for patients who weren't. You can understand why my family holds her in such high esteem. She is an elect lady who endured more than any one person ever should. One of these days, I will write her story to preserve it for her posterity.

My Jackson cousin showed us a private family cemetery where Susan's father and her babies are buried. We spent several minutes in silent reverie, then reluctantly left to explore the rest of the mountain.

Along the way we came across wild turkeys who ran for all they were worth down the hillside. I managed to get a shot of them before they disappeared. We also saw a dirt road named after my family. =) I'm still wondering if that's an honor? ;)

It was a remarkable experience to visit Roxie and to see firsthand the beauty that exists in this location. As the saying goes: "Time heals all wounds." I sensed during that visit that my grandfather's family has healed. Grandpa grew up during the final days of the reconstruction era that took place in the South after the Civil War. I believe that same process has occurred with his family on the other side of the veil, and I look forward to meeting them all some day.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Time marches on but some things never change

Some of my earliest memories are of pleasant times spent at my grandmother's house in Headland, Alabama. We knew that when we walked through that door there was no one else on earth more important to her. For the duration of our stay Nana treated us like royalty. Nana was a wonderful cook and she fed us well. She was famous for her daily breakfasts. Bacon, eggs, biscuits with homemade jams, jellies and preserves. Orange juice brought to a froth in the blender. But her signature dish was grits. Nana's are divine. There would usually be a write-up in the Headland paper about our visit and countless relatives and other town residents would amke the effort to come by and 'speak to us' while we were there. Those were wonderful, happy, safe times that were gone almost before I realized it.

My grandmother turned 89 years old in September. She no longer cooks much and while she still makes us feel like the most important people in the world when we visit - those visits are few and far between.

During a phone conversation this summer Nana expressed an interest in going to Paula Deen's restaurant in Savannah, Georgia. I told her that my sisters and I would take her to celebrate her birthday. She felt like a trip to Savannah was too ambitious but suggested that we come to Headland and make Paula Deen recipies. So our Paula Deen Weekend was born.

My sister Julie lives in Elkmont, Alabama (almost at the Tennessee line). She and her husband Larry have four children (three are in Utah attending school and/or working and one is in Uruguay on a church mission). She has a full-time job at Athens hospital, visits home health care paitents and teaches a class at a local college. Amanda lives in Montgomery. Her husband, Jeff, is a radiologist and they have three children (ranging in age from 10-17). She is a stay-at-home mom (I use that term loosely, she runs marathons, plays tennis, collects money for charity, supports candidates for political office and plans luncheons for 700 people - so she never stays in one spot for long).

Nana's birthday was September 22nd - so we cleared our calendars for the last weekend of September and we drove down to Headland. It was the first time the sisters had been together without husbands or children since I got married almost 30 years ago and it was heaven getting to talk and laugh and visit with each other.

When we arrived in Headland we picked up Nana and ate lunch at a nice little cafe on the Headland town square. We each ordered something different so we could share and taste. I got chicken salad. Nana got quiche, Julie and Amanda got little flatbread sandwiches Then we split 2 slices of chocolate chip pecan (as Paula would say PEE-can) pie for desert.

Then we went back to Nana's house and made Paula's peach cobbler. Once it was done we went grocery shopping for the ingredients we needed to make the other dishes. We were able to get everything in Headland's Piggly Wiggly except Chilli Cheese Fritos, Easy Off Oven Cleaner (the cobbler leaked a little on to Nana's oven), leeks and shrimp. From the moment we arrived in Headland Amanda had been running into people she knew. So when I saw her chatting with the meat man at the Piggly Wiggly (when she was supposed to be locating shrimp) I thought she had been diverted from her task by yet another old acquaintance. Then I found out that she was asking the meat man about the shrimp! She told him we needed shrimp but it didn't have to be fresh (meaning it could be frozen). He asked why in the world we would want shrimp that wasn't fresh. Anyway, it turns out they don't have shrimp of any kind available in Headland, so Amanda and Julie dropped me off at Nana's to continue cooking while they went in search of the missing items.

By the time my sisters got back (with FRESH, Cajun seasoned, steamed shrimp) we were ready to cook in earnest. Nana told us that at Paula Deen's restaurant they walk around with biscuits on a tray offering them to the people waiting in line. So when some visitors arrived (Nana's sister Mary Owens, her husband Lee and Nana's youngest brother Jim), we hurried to make the biscuits so we could walk in and serve them on a tray like Paula Deen. But our guests had to leave before we got the biscuits ready and we didn't get to serve them Paula Deen style. That was the weekend's only disappointment.

Our menu consisted of - Shrimp and Grits, Corn Salad, Cheese Biscuits, and Peach Cobbler for dessert. The recipies are all available on Paula Deen's official website ( but I've listed them below for your convenience.

Everything was delicious. After eating we watched the Alabama/Georgia game. Then we stayed up half the night visiting and watching Amanda give Nana a pedicure. On Sunday morning for breakfast we reheated biscuits and ate them along with fresh cantaloupe and some of the pound cake that Nana's brother Sam had sent over. We washed the sheets on our beds (against Nana's strict instructions) and visited until lunchtime. Then we reheated our dinner from the night before and ate it one last time. It was just as good the second time around (thanks to a trick Julie taught us which I'll share in the corn salad recipe). Then we sadly packed up, said our farewells and headed home (after a brief stop to see Uncle Sam - Nana's brother who is 93).

It was a perfect weekend and I hope we get to do it again sometime (my grandfather suggested that we come back every weekend). I feel like after spending time with these three incredible women that I am somehow improved. I've felt like a better wife and mother and person in general all week (maybe I DO need to do this every weekend). I appreciate my sisters for making the necessary adjustments in their lives to make room for a Paula Deen Weekend in Headland. I'm also thankful to their husbands and children for sharing them with me. Life is short, time passes quickly, but some things never change.

Cheese Biscuits

2 cup self-rising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening3
/4 cup grated sharp Cheddar
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 stick butter, melted
Directions:Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt together using a fork; cut in shortening until it resembles cornmeal. Add cheese. Stir in buttermilk all at 1 time just until blended. Do not over stir. Drop by tablespoonfuls, or use an ice cream scoop, onto a well greased baking sheet. Brush dough with melted butter. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 15 minutes Difficulty: Easy Yield: 16-20 biscuits

Shrimp and Grits

4 servings cooked grits
4 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup diced tasso ham* (we used bacon)
4 tablespoons diced leeks
4 tablespoons diced onion
4 tablespoons diced green peppers
20 medium to large shrimp, peeled and de-veined, with tails on
1 tablespoon white wine (we used cooking sherry)
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper
Cajun Seasoning to tasteDirectionsCook grits according to package directions; set aside and keep warm.Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add tasso (bacon) and saute until crisp. Add diced vegetables and saute until onions are translucent. Add shrimp and saute for 30 to 45 seconds, or until pink. Remove from the pan and set aside. Deglaze the pan with cooking sherry. Slowly add the cream and let reduce until thickened. Season with salt and pepper and Cajun seasonings, to taste. (Paula suggests a more attractive presentation - but we opted for what was easy). Pour grits into a casserole dish. Put shrimp and vegetables on top. Pour sauce over everything.

Corn Salad

2 (15 ounce) cans whole kernel corn, drained (I prefer shoepeg)
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup green pepper, chopped
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1 (10 1/2 ounce) bag coarsely crushed Fritos chili cheese corn chips (we used regular and it worked fine)DirectionsMix first 5 ingredients and chill. Stir in crushed corn chips just before serving (if you expect to have leftovers, reserve about a cup of chips and mix them in the next day to provide new crunch)

Peach Cobbler
1 stick of butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup self-rising flour
1 cup milk
1 large can sliced peaches
1 small can sliced peaches
Melt butter in 9 X 13 dish in 350 degree oven until golden brown around edges. In bowl mix sugar, self-rising flour and milk. Pour batter mixture over hot butter in the 9 X 13 baking dish. Spoon the peaches into the batter. Gently pour juice from large can of peaches over the top.Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees (or until golden brown). (One of Julie's patients suggested doubling the 'crust' portion of the recipe and topping the cobbler with cinnamon sugar - so that's what we did.) It's great alone or with cool whip or ice cream on top!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Women Need Women by Michele Ashman Bell

My most recent book A Modest Proposal is the first book in a new series about five women who went to high school together. Each year they have a reunion to reconnect with each other and celebrate their friendship.

The main reason I even came up with this idea was the fact that I’ve learned over the years that women need women. We need men too, I’m not saying that, but there is nothing that can compare to that bond of sisterhood and friendship that comes from other women. As I’ve done booksignings at Women’s Conference at BYU over the years, I’ve spoken to many women who tell me they come every year with groups of friends, or sisters, or neighbors, etc… I realized that this series would ring true for most women because of the support groups we naturally create for ourselves out of the need to have women in our lives for friendship, support and strength.

I have been blessed to have the example of strong, amazing women in my life. For the majority of my adult life I had both of my grandmothers with me. Several years ago I lost my matriarchal grandmother, but my dad’s mom is still alive, at 99! Both of these women were pillars of strength, vital, active women who shaped me and showed me how to face challenges head on and not back down. They taught me that a testimony acts as a life preserver during the storms of life.

My mother has also blessed my life immensely with her powerful example of Christlike love and devotion to family. She’s an amazing woman, who has raised four incredible daughters, and never waivered in her faith, no matter what we put her through. Her example continues to inspire me everyday.

My three sisters are my most valued and important friends in my life. I have to include my niece in that too, because she is like a sister to me. These women provide me with friendship, laughter, support and love. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather spend eternity with than these wonderful, crazy girls. When I think of stories like Little Women, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility it is the element of sisterhood that gives them such a profound and lasting quality to make them the classics they are. I feel this with my sisters, a thousand percent.

My daughters and daughter-in-law have forged this same bond. They are my children, but they are also my friends. Whether we are shopping in New York or watching chick flicks at home, we have more fun together than I can even begin to explain. There is a level of understanding and acceptance that allows us to be who we are and feel safe doing so.

I am blessed to have many friends in the writing community. I have met some of the most incredibly supportive and encouraging people through my career as an author. I can’t speak for the national market, I would imagine the competition is fierce, but in the LDS community, there is a wonderful and special bond we share and I am so thankful for the wonderful people I am able to associate with. The women of this blog are especially dear to me and have always been there for me whenever I’ve needed them. I love them as sisters and definitely as friends that will last for eternity.

And finally, the women I know where I teach aerobics. We spend several hours a week, at six a.m. together, and if that doesn’t forge a friendship, nothing will. I keep saying I’m going to retire someday (I’ve been teaching twenty-eight years), but these women are so important to me, I don’t want to ever lost that connection with them (plus the fact that I’d gain fifty pounds) so I keep teaching and, bless their hearts, they keep coming. We figure, we’re all growing old together so we might as well keep working out while we’re doing it.

And really, isn’t that what it’s all about; experiencing life, overcoming challenges, laughing, crying and growing old together?

To all these wonderful women in my life who bless me more than words could ever express, thank you. My challenge for you today is to take a moment and tell all of the wonderful, special women in your life how much you appreciate them and love them. And even better, eat some chocolate together.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Writers play mind games. I’m sure you’ve heard about the What if _____ game. That’s where many of our stories start. Something catches our attention and triggers our imagination. Suppose a cat suddenly darts across the street. We slam on our brakes and swerve into the next lane, then we find ourselves thinking what if that had been a woman who woke up to find an intruder in her house and the intruder is chasing her with a gun. She . . . But there’s another game writers play. It takes place most often in book stores or when we’re invited to speak to book clubs. Librarians play it too.

This second game is called If you like _______, you should try _______. It’s played like this: I’m sitting at a little author’s table in the local Seagull Book and a lady rushes up to me saying, “I just love your books. I own every one of them and I just wish you wrote faster.”

That’s where I politely thank her for letting me know she enjoys my books, offer her a piece of candy, and sign a bookmark for her. Then I ask, which was your favorite book? Which other authors do you like? If I know which books she likes and why, then I can play the game. “Oh, you liked the Bracelet series because you like books based on Church history and the settling of the West?”
“Yes, those people had a hard time. My ancestors made a lot of sacrifices to get to Utah.”
Okay, here’s where I need to know something about other LDS writers so I can say, “Since you’ve read all of my books, you should try Annette Lyon’s temple books. She’s an excellent writer and has carefully researched the sacrifices our pioneer ancestors made to build temples.”
“Wait a minute,” you may say. “Why are you selling Annette Lyon’s book. Isn’t she a competitor?”
Actually, no she isn’t a competitor; she’s a fellow LDS writer. Few readers buy just one author’s books and none write fast enough to satisfy really avid readers. If that fan walks out of the store with Annette’s book and enjoys it, I’ve gained two things. I’ve cemented my fan’s trust in me because I helped her find another author she enjoys and I’ve done a small bit toward strengthening the LDS market. I’ve also shown interest in her that isn’t linked to buying one of my books. Had I not recommended another author, the fan would have most likely purchased another book anyway, perhaps one she wouldn’t enjoy as much or one that leads her away from the LDS market. Besides I like to help whatever store I’m signing in make as many sales as possible and if the customer has read all of my books, I like helping them find something else they’ll enjoy.

This is a little different from the approach most of us use when signing with another author. When two or more of us are signing together, it’s easy to point out, even brag about, the good qualities of the other writer’s book. It’s sometimes easier to push another respected writer’s books than our own. It doesn’t feel so boastful or conceited. But with the If you like game you need to have a repertoire of match ups in your head.

Here is a short list of some of my match ups. Remember they’re not perfect matches. There’s just a quality I’ve found each pair of matchups share. And some writers such as myself, Kerry Blair, Jeff Savage, Dean Hughes, and quite a few others write in more than one genre so we may have a number of matchups depending on which of our books are liked best by a particular reader. I’ve had readers, librarians, and other writers compare my books to those of dozens of other writers including Mary Higgins Clark, Karen Robards, Lee Nelson, Michele Bell, Jeanne Williams, Anita Stansfield, Clair Poulson, Annette Lyon, and Josi Killpack. I don’t always see the comparison, but it is fun to explore the reasons why someone finds a similarity. Look at my list, then join in the game. Tell me whose books you would suggest if a reader has read all of one favorite writer and you were to recommend another author to that reader.

If you like David Woolley you should try Robert Marcum
If you like Clair Poulson you should try Gary Hansen
If you like Betsy Green you should try Tracy Abramson
If you like Heather Moore you should try Sariah Wilson
If you like Kerry Blair you should try Toni Sorenson (Brown)
If you like Rob Wells you should try Matthew Buckley
If you like Stephanie Black you should try Gregg Luke
If you like Janette Rallison you should try Lisa McKendrick
If you like Anita Stansfield you should try Jason Wright
If you like Michele Bell you should try Rachel Nunes
If you like GG Vandagriff you should try Marlene Austin
If you like Elodia Strain you should try Jennifer Griffith

By the way, I’ll be speaking and signing my newest books at the Murray Library, 5300 South 166 East in Murray, Utah, on Thursday night at 7 p.m. Come on over and say hello.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Not long ago I read a discussion some fellow authors were having about how they see strangers in a crowd and begin to imagine stories about that person. I could relate to this author oddity, which is probably shared by a lot of other imaginative people as well, but I realized that even stronger for me than people is the setting.

How strange! When stories are all about characters, why is the biggest trigger for me the place? I don't really know. All I know is when I see an old Victorian home that could be fantastically beautiful but looks slightly eerie, I imagine all kinds of gothic romance. That slight twinge of scary along with the promise of a brave heroine and a tortured but dashing hero who will be ultimately emotionally saved by that brave heroine...Ah! Such good stuff!

The first four books I wrote are what I call Romantic Adventures. I don't know anyone in real life who would have these things happen to them. But so much of these books, to me, were the settings. I picked places I want to go see. The first, Love Beyond Time, was a Civil War time travel. (A noble enough first effort, but kind of hokey). The second, No Time for Love, takes place in London, Greece and South America. The third, (my personal favorite and is now, ironically enough, out of print), A Time for the Heart is set on an archaeological dig in Guatemala, and the fourth, Echoes, (recently re-released and available wherever fine books are sold), takes place in Savannah, Georgia and the Tuscany region of Italy.

Now, of course, I do extensive character sketching and back story in my personal notes before I ever even begin to write a book. I plot like crazy and make notes to myself to keep all the twists and turns straight. But oh, how I love the setting. And as a reader, with a delicious setting I can almost forgive weak characters or silly plotting. Weeelll, maybe that's actually stretching things a bit, but you see what I mean.

How about you? Where does setting fall in your list of priorities, either as a reader or a writer?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

good memories

We all experience defining moments in our lives that become key to our spiritual progression. They can be stepping stones to the next level of our progression - or send us off on tangents that remove us from the opportunities we need to grow. They can be moments that we remember with great pleasure and satisfaction or bring pangs of regret and sorrow.
Because I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of Young Women on the subject of individual worth, which I always equate to infinite worth, memories came flooding back. Music does that to us, don't you think?
I have a favorite Janice Kapp Perry song because I had such a personal experience with Sister Perry, and with my daughter, Nikki, singing it. When I was stake Relief Society president, I asked Sister Perry speak at our women’s conference. We assigned several of her songs to different people or groups to perform, but I asked my daughter to sing "I Am of Infinite Worth." It was perfectly suited to her range, and though she didn’t have a big beautiful voice, hers was pure and sweet and when she sang this particular song, it always brought tears to my eyes and touched me deeply.
First some background. She was about 16 at the time, and so talented I had a hard time believing she was my daughter!. She could sing, the play piano far better than I ever could, and she could play any instrument Mr. McQuilken, the high school band director, gave her to practice. Every summer she brought home a couple of different ones to learn to play. I felt she had more talent in her little finger than I had in my whole body.
But she didn’t think so. They used to call it an inferiority complex. I don’t know what psycho babble label it has today, but she didn’t feel pretty, (and she was) she didn’t feel she had any friends, (but she did) i- n short - she didn’t feel good about herself at all.
Performing in front of people was never a problem for her though, and she finally agreed to sing this song. Then a week before the conference, she came down with strep throat. My presidency and others on the conference committee counseled me to quickly find a replacement for her, but the Spirit whispered that this daughter of God needed to sing that song that day. She finished her antibiotics the day of the conference, and her voice was still a little fragile, but after a blessing from her Dad that it would hold up, she came to sing.
At the appropriate time in the program, she stood at the microphone and I could see that she was trembling just a little, but when the accompanist began her prelude, Nikki calmed down and began to sing. It was beautiful.
"All I need do is remember If ever I wonder if I am of worth,
Remember my Savior, what He did for me When He lived among men on this earth.
Pain and unspeakable sorrow He bore for my sins there in Gethsemane.
Then He gave up His life as He hung on the cross, And He did it all for me.
For I am of worth, of infinite worth, My Savior Redeemer loves me
Yes, I am of worth..............."
At that point, her sweet voice faltered, and broke, and Sister Perry quietly got to her feet, put her arm around my daughter’s waist, and stood besides her while she regained her composure. Nikki finished the song:
"Of infinite worth. My Savior, Redeemer loves me. Yes, I am of worth, of infinite worth,
I’ll be all He wants me to be. I’ll praise Him, I will serve Him, I will grow in His love
And fulfill my divine destiny, for My Savior Redeemer loves me."
The Spirit was so strong that there wasn’t a dry eye in the chapel. As she turned from the pulpit, Sister Perry hugged her, then spoke into the mike: "This is who I write my songs for. Not the well-trained professional voice, but for these wonderful young women who sing with their heart and soul."
After the opening session, as we were dividing into our workshops, I asked my daughter what happened. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "I guess I really listened to the words for the first time, and the Spirit whispered that this song was about me. The Lord really does love me. I’m important to him."
That was why she had to sing that song that day. So she could receive that testimony and validation.
We need these spiritual assurances that we are indeed well-beloved daughters and our Father knows us, and knows what we need. I'm so grateful that I listened to that whisper of the Sprit that told me not to replace Nikki at that conference, even though there was every possibility that her voice would not have been recoverd enough for her to perform. Faith, a lot of prayer, and the sweet promptings gave us both an experience that became a stepping stone to further spiritual development.
And don't we need those moments so desperately in this troubled world? I guess it wouldn't hurt a thing if we even prayed to have more of them! Lynn

Friday, October 10, 2008

Quick Introduction

I expect those outside the V who are reading this will see my name and think, Hmm, I don't know that name. Is she an LDS writer? What has she written?

I have an unusual place in this group of writers in that I'm the only non-novelist. When I write, I write short. Not short like poetry, but short like articles, essays, things like that. But that's not why I'm a part of this group. I had the very remarkable privilege of working with many of these wonderful ladies as their editor, some when they had already published, like Cheri Crane, Lynn Gardner, and Jennie Hansen; and others when they were starting out, like Michelle Bell, Kerry Blair, Betsy Brannon Green, and Anna Jones. About five years ago I changed jobs, first working with a nonfiction publisher and then teaching, but fortunately have been able to keep in contact with them all through the V.

When people learn I'm an editor, they often say, "Oh that's my dream job, reading all day long." And in many ways editing is the perfect job for a reader, for this reader, anyway. To share in someone else's creation process, to encourage them (while they do all the work), to watch in amazement and awe as they create characters and situations and emotions that are all stunningly real--what a gift that has been.

Publishing is a difficult business, as well, though, and there have been plenty of challenges and even heartaches. It's a competitive business and a subjective one where talent and hard work don't always equal "success." Where the products of the heart are subjected to the machineries of business. It takes a tough person to be a writer, not just to write, but to see the book through publication, and then through its readers, all of whom may respond in a variety of unexpected ways.

When I was an English major in college, I had some rather definite ideas about books, about literature, even about the act of authorship. I had some experience with writing and publishing in the fairly limited world of academia and literary fiction, and I'm glad for that. We all have to start somewhere. But working in the larger world of contemporary/commercial fiction, it's been an educational experience as valuable as my college education.

These days I teach an editing fiction class and try to help prepare my students use their knowledge and love of books and the written word to help writers refine their writing and also to navigate the tricky world of publishing. Another dream job? Just call me lucky.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Driving on the Other Side of the Road--missing picture

Somehow the picture of the enchanted garden went missing from the original blog. I wanted to share this little piece of English magic.

Driving on the Other Side of the Road

by Gale Sears

I had the opportunity recently of traveling with five friends to England. Cheers! We rented two vehicles with steering wheels on the opposite side from those cars driven in Utah, or for that matter most cars of the world. My sister-in-law drove auto # 1 with her two friends as passengers, and I was the designated driver in auto # 2 with my two friends. We were on our way to the Cotswolds! We’d rented a 300 year old cottage with most of the expected necessities and oodles of charm. (I swear our private English garden came complete with pixies and Beatrix Potter bunnies). The Cotswolds is an enchanting area of England about 100 miles North West of London where one discovers lovely little villages with names like Bourton-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold.

We spread out the atlas, mapped our course, and away we went! Oops! First obstacle: finding our way out of the rental car lot. Second obstacle: remembering to look left and then right (or was it right and then left)? Third obstacle: DRIVING ON THE LEFT! Forth obstacle: not losing heart when negotiating Round Abouts! Somehow we found our way onto the freeway and headed—north? Yes, indeed. It was here we discovered another glitch. When you can’t see the sun because of cloud cover, and there are no mountains to serve as mighty unchanging compasses, one tends to lose one’s sense of direction. To be perfectly honest, I never knew which direction I was going. And, if truth be told, it was that way most of the time as we wound our way on the wonderful winding roads of the Cotswolds. Simply put—I got lost—a lot. It actually became a running joke to see how many times we stopped to ask for directions. Often we would stop in one little village just to ask the way to the next little village. On our grand excursion to Stonehenge, I think we calculated 22 stops. At one stop we asked a lovely elderly couple, Richard and Evelyn for directions—and one of us (we won’t say who) used their facilities. It was an emergency.

It actually was a lovely way to meet the charming, gracious, and very funny British people. I think they sort of got a kick out of us too. There are things to learn from driving on the other side of the road and getting lost—a lot. One learns patience, and humor, and the value of good friends who laugh their heads off and don’t make you feel like an idiot when you’re going south and you think you’re going north. We actually found some very interesting and beautiful places during our misadventures. Maybe that’s the best lesson of all. Enjoy the journey!

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Greatest Gift

by Jeri Gilchrist
I remember an experience I had with my mom as if it were yesterday.
It is one I will always cherish as I have relived it again and again over the past few months.

I have noticed at book signings a common question asked is, “How did you come up with this story?” I have a simple reply that actually has a deeper meaning than my answer conveys. I usually reply, “When we learned that my mother had cancer, I recorded as much of her life history on tape as I possibly could. This book, though certainly fictional, came from some of the stories she told me while she was a young child growing up during the occupation of Denmark during WWII.”

Each time I give that answer, my mind flashes back to the time I spent with my mom sitting around a silly tape recorder. Little did I know how much I would come to cherish the moments I spent with her as I now sit and listen to her tell me her life history on tape.

It was during one of our talks that I told her of the things I wish I could give her.
My mother, in her wisdom, told me the greatest gift you can give a person is your time.
Things break, fade, or get lost, but a person’s time can never be replaced. To be there for someone whenever he or she needs you is the most valuable gift you can give.

When I look back on memories of my mother, it’s not the things she gave me that I think of, it’s the time we spent together that is so close to my heart.

I now have a greater appreciation for the time I spend with my dad who will soon be eighty. As I look back through the years, I realize he has always had the time to be there for me. He has helped me through some of the most difficult times of my life. We have done hundreds of wood projects together, canned together, Spring-cleaned his house together, shared numerous talks over a bowl full of popcorn together and the memories continue. They are priceless to me.

There are moments that I wish I could stop time and hold them in my arms forever: marveling at the birth of my sons, looking at my husband across the alter of the Temple, listening to my sons receive Patriarchal or Priesthood blessings, watching my oldest son open his mission call and his Temple marriage, feeling grateful for my youngest son’s successful brain surgeries, and seeing him give a talk in Sacrament meeting and giving us a thumbs up from the pulpit because he did it. I have had so many meaningful moments! Even simple moments are significant; like holding hands with Brad when everything in the world seemed right.

My happiest times in life, or those that have the deepest meaning are spent with my family and friends. They are my most treasured moments as we have spent time celebrating, supporting, helping, worshiping, or reuniting with each other. Playing, laughing, crying, or simply sitting in silence watching a sunset together have come to be some of my most cherished memories. It’s in those moments when I truly realize how precious it is that we, together, have this gift of time.

Autumn Attitude

I just celebrated – if that’s the right word – my 40th birthday. It’s somewhat depressing to know that, when my novel tops the national bestseller list and Spielberg buys the film rights, no one is going to say “And she’s so young!” as I had once dreamed.

I commented to my Dearest Hubby that I felt I was now at the Autumn of my life. Spring is 0-20, the years of gambolling lambs, budding beauty and moments of tentative brightness. Summer is from 20-40, when the flowers are in full glorious bloom, life abounds, and the sunshine is perpetual and confident. (Any fellow Brits reading this, please remember that this is a metaphor, and not in any way based on the reality of the British Summer.)

Autumn is those years from 40-60 when things become colder, plans have to be abandoned because of rain, and inexorable night draws ever nearer. As for Winter – well, I’ll expand on that particular misery twenty years from now.

Hubby Dearest responded to these words by pointing to his full head of hair and saying “Do I look as though the leaves are falling off?” I resisted the urge to point out that they were definitely changing colour.

In order to cope with the awfulness of this milestone, I decided to spend the dreaded day somewhere wonderful. So, on the date in question, I was on the Spanish island of Majorca, where it was hot and sunny, and I spent the day eating too much food, none of which I had to cook or clean up myself, and lazing on sunbeds by the hotel pool, and on the beach. I may even have paddled in the meditteranean sea.

Part - and only a small part at that - of the reason for returning to Majorca was to research a novel I have almost completed. It is set on the island, and I wanted to check that I have all the details right since it has been four years since I was last there. So we hired a car for a day and went to visit the Caves of Drach, where I have set a dramatic chase scene, and the pearl factory in Manacor. Last time I was in Manacor we watched the world's finest faux pearls being made by hand, repeatedly dipped, dried and polished. We walked down the production line seeing the skilled craftsmen and women at work, and at the end there was the opportunity to buy one of those pearls we had just seen created.

I was disappointed to discover that the factory is now little more than two floors of huge pearl showrooms selling what HD described as "Outrageously expensive fake jewellery" beautifully presented in very cleverly lit glass cases. A couple of machines are roped off forlornly in the corner, but it seems that the actual production has been mechanised and is no longer available to entertain the tourists. So scratch that chapter, then.

Even before Mamma Mia made it popular again I always loved the Abba song "Slipping through my Fingers" and I always cried when I listened to the words, especially these:

"Sometimes I wish that I could freeze the picture
And save it from the funny tricks of time."

Things change with time. People get older, pearl factories become showrooms, husbands go grey. It's a sad fact of life, but perhaps I can cope with being 40 by accepting that the best things in life are eternal. And always being beautifully presented and cleverly lit.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Blessings of E-Mail

I consider e-mail to be a great blessing in my life. (I suspect that my husband, when wading through 3,452 business e-mails, might not feel so warm and fuzzy toward it, but I love it).

E-mail allows my family to remain close in a way that would have been impossible in pre-Internet days. My parents and two brothers live in Utah, I live in California, one sister is in Arizona, one is in Pennsylvania and one is in Virginia. Without e-mail, we’d still have the phone and the post office—but how often would we actually sit down, write a whole letter, print six copies and mail them out (in an actual envelope with one of those square, sticky things . . . what are they called again? Oh yeah—stamps). And phone calls are wonderful, but are usually between two parties, not the whole gang. E-mail can be a group conversation. Rather than long letters sent only occasionally, we can fire back little messages and updates and encouragements and pictures on a frequent basis and get rapid responses. We can cheer each other on and support each other through the rough times. Because of e-mail, I got a peek at the darling Halloween ghosts my sister-in-law in Utah created out of pillowcases and hung in her front yard. I know that my almost-two-year-old nephew in Virginia is having a bad morning—major tantrum when my sister wouldn’t let him have chips for breakfast (the nerve!). And despite not seeing my nieces and nephews in person for up to two years at a time, I can watch them grow up in pictures. When my family gets together at our family reunions, we’re not strangers—we’ve been sharing our lives with each other via e-mail.

E-mail has also opened the door for me to become part of the vibrant and incredibly supportive LDS writing community and to make new and dear friends—such as the wonderful ladies of the V-Formation. If it weren't for e-mail, I'd have little contact with the LDS writing community, and I'd have nothing resembling the fantastic support network that I enjoy at the click of keyboard.

I also love e-mail for practical reasons. Administrative/planning issues that would have once taken a jillion phone calls to organize can be dealt with through a few e-mails sent to multiple parties. And e-mail makes being a writer much easier. A decade ago when I wanted feedback on a manuscript, I printed the manuscript, put it in a binder, packed it in a box, took it to the post office and paid to ship it my sister out of state. Now, when I want to send a manuscript to test readers, this involves clicking “attach file” and “send.” Send it next door or send it to Germany, it’s a snap either way. I can get multiple reads on the manuscript without spending a penny for postage or ink cartridges. Love it. Then when it comes time to submit a manuscript to my publisher, it’s the same process—a few clicks and it’s there, with no more fussing over manuscript boxes and printed pages and postage.

The problem I have with e-mail is that I’m addicted. I remember learning that intermittent reinforcement—where you don’t get the prize every time you push the button, but sometimes you do and you never know when it will be—is the most powerful type of behavior reinforcement. E-mail is serious intermittent reinforcement. Even if I just checked my e-mail three minutes ago, there might be something new there. It might just be ads, but it might be a fun e-mail from my mom, an interesting comment posted on a writers' line, or a message from my editor regarding my new manuscript. No way to know unless I check! Sometimes I try to turn my e-mail off while I work, but then when my mind wanders, I think hmm, maybe I’ll open it back up just to see if there’s anything interesting . . .

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Thoughts from a New Grandmother

I hope no one is offended if I submit this blog a tiny bit early. Tomorrow is the day I'm supposed to blog. However, my d-i-l and new little granddaughter are getting out of the hospital tonight and I believe I will have my hands full tomorrow. So I'm going to paste in something I wrote the day before little Aarielle was born.

An Open Letter to my first grandchild (and to all of those who will come hereafter),

I’m a brand new grandmother as of September 30, 2008. To say I am excited would be a huge understatement. Adding to this excitement is the fact that my first grandchild is a beautiful little girl. Don’t get me wrong, I love my three sons dearly and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world, but I always thought it would be fun to have a daughter, too. Unfortunately, my decrepit body was uncooperative when I pondered having more children. So my husband and I have been blessed with three wonderful sons, a marvelous daughter-in-law, and now a gorgeous tiny granddaughter.

As I pondered this first blog on the “V”, I came up with several different ideas. Then it occurred to me that it might be appropriate to share some tidbits of wisdom with my posterity. The rest of you can read along if you so desire. ;) I look at it this way, I may not live forever, but blogs do. I read an article about it online just the other day. So in case the unthinkable happens and I’m not around in person to share these items when you’re old enough to speak my language, they will exist in cyberspace long after I’m gone.

First, Aarielle, and the rest of you cuties (I would call you all by name too, but you aren’t in mortal mode yet), know that your grandmother loves to laugh. All the time. At silly things, and even at things that aren’t silly. Laughter helps us cope with embarrassing moments, stressful situations, and life in general. I learned this philosophy from your great-grandmother who taught us to laugh even when you manage to hit yourself in the face with a piece of pumpkin pie laced with a generous helping of whipped topping. (My mother is gifted like that. Where do you think I get it from?)

Embrace life with gusto. This means enjoy the journey. Don’t sit the corner. Part of why we’re here is to gain experience and that doesn’t happen if you hide under the bed. Besides, that’s where the monsters live. =) Kidding. (Hey, my mother once told me that sliced apricots were the ears of bad little boys and girls. I still don’t eat them.)

Seriously, one day, we’ll be asked to account for our lives. We will have to look our Elder Brother and our Father in heaven in the eyes and share what we did with our talents, our time, and our testimonies. Don’t be like the foolish servant the Savior warned us about—the one who hid his talent because he was frightened that he might lose it. Show up for that final interview with grass smudges, dirt under your fingernails, and maybe even a bruise here and there. Explain that these things happened while you were climbing mountains. Then describe the view from the top.

Be thankful. Appreciate all that you have been blessed with, even if you don’t like spinach. (Incidentally, your grandmother loves that particular veggie, just so you know.) Realize that our Father has given us everything, and express gratitude to Him as often as possible.

Sad things happen. It’s part of life’s test. That doesn’t mean the Church isn’t true or that we aren’t loved by our Father in heaven. It just means we’re learning about sorrow, an emotion we experience here on Earth. The good news is the sadness won’t last forever. Have yourself a good cry, then pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue forward. You’ll savor joyous occasions more thoroughly because of those moments of sorrow. And when you see that someone else is sad, lend them your shoulder because you’ll understand how they feel.

Don’t be afraid to cry. I’ll be honest, I detest crying. But it’s an important part of the healing process. And there are different kinds of tears. Happy tears, like those I shed on the day you were born. Tears shed when we’re proud of someone, and tears triggered by heartache or physical pain. They all make our eyes red and puffy and our noses run. I’m not sure whose idea that was, but that’s what happens. =) It’s still okay to cry.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. You’ll see this statement on t-shirts, posters, etc. It’s true. Too many people get caught up in worrying over things that don’t matter. I know because I’ve done it myself. The trick is to learn to live by faith. Do the best you can each day that you live and don’t beat yourself up over the “What-ifs.”

satan plays dirty. (By the way, I purposely don’t capitalize his name.) he will hit you below the belt any chance he gets. he is miserable and he wants everyone else to be miserable, too. Remember this, we are stronger than he can ever hope to be. And we have the power of heaven on our side. Don’t let him get a foot in the door (this means avoid temptation) and heed the standards and commandments we’ve been given to keep us safe. As the Primary song stresses, “in this there is safety, in this there is peace.”

We all make mistakes, even your daddy. =) Ask him about the time he blew up our toilet in the main bathroom. None of us can be perfect in this world. But we can be happy if we’ll heed gospel principles. When you mess up, confess to the proper person. It may be your parents, your bishop, or those you may have wronged. Do whatever you can do to make things right, and learn from what happened. Then move on. Remember, it’s just as important to forgive ourselves as it is to forgive other people.

That brings us to an important philosophy. It is crucial to forgive others. I recently read a book that stresses that when we deny forgiveness to others, we are denying forgiveness to our Savior, since He already paid the price for that transgression. It’s not always easy to forgive. Sometimes when someone has hurt us deeply, it can take a long time to move past what has happened. Simply pray for the strength to eventually let go of the pain. Peace of heart and mind are possible, regardless of what has taken place.

Never cheat. When I was young there was a saying. It went something like this: Cheaters never win, and winners never cheat. I can honestly state that I never cheated. I earned every grade I ever received in school, even the “D” I experienced in Algebra after moving to Ashton during my freshman year of high school. A former straight-A student, this grade didn’t set well with me. So I worked very hard to catch up with the other students who were pages ahead of where my former class had been. I raised that grade to a “C.” Still not an “A” but I knew I had given it my best, and that I had remained honest. Despite that bad grade, I still managed to graduate in the top ten of my senior class. ;)

This epistle is getting very long. I can see that I may have to write a few of these open letters, since I’ve gleaned so much wisdom during my “Adventure of a Lifetime.” ;) (Ask your daddy about the musical I wrote a few years ago for the YW I taught at the time. That was the name of the play, “The Adventure of a Lifetime,” and it was.)

I will close by stressing these final thoughts: Always honor your parents. You have been blessed with wonderful parents who love you dearly. They went through a lot to bring you into this world. You may not always agree with what they think is important—humor them anyway. They have been where you are, and they understand more than you think.

Know that your grandmother possesses a strong testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was not an easy thing to gain (you’ll have to read my life history for the whole story), but it is something that I’ve treasured dearly. Knowing who I am, where I came from, and where I will go someday (hopefully) has been the glue in my life. You will have to gain your own testimony—never lean on anyone else’s. It is important for you to find out for yourself what is true.

You are a beloved child of God. He sent you here to learn, grow, and experience life tests. Never blame Him when bad things happen. Instead, ask for His guidance and He will never leave you to face dark times alone. It is said that we communicate to our Father through prayer. He answers us through the scriptures. I know this to be true. I have found so many answers to life’s questions in scriptures that popped out at me when I’ve needed them most. Study the scriptures daily and you will achieve peace of heart and mind despite dark and stormy times.

Know that you will be watched over your entire life. My own life has been repeatedly spared on more occasions than I care to count. Several of those experiences were miracles, like the time I was speeding toward a brick building on a motorcycle a young man was teaching me to ride. (I was a college student at the time, attending Ricks College.) I had confused the gas feed with the brake and terrified, I kept giving the stupid thing more gas instead of slowing it down. At the last possible minute, just when I thought my life here on earth was finished, that bike jumped at least five feet sideways. It then went through a narrow open metal gate, and the engine shut off, just like someone had turned off the key. A second brick building lay in front of me. I would have smashed into it if the motorcycle hadn’t shut off. My date came running up behind me, demanding to know how I had jumped the bike sideways. When he tried to pry my shaking fingers from the handlebars, he caught on that I wasn’t the one who had shut off the engine. I wasn’t the one driving either. =) Ask your father about seeing the small piece of brick that is still missing from the corner of the first building. It’s in one of my scrapbooks. The only injury that day was a small gash on the back of my left hand. I still possess that scar, a reminder of my brief patty spank that day. I call it one of my memory dents.

We don’t die until it is our time. So when someone we love passes from this life, it’s because they are needed on the other side of the veil. It’s okay to grieve for them when they’re gone, but don’t remain in that briar patch of emotion. Pick your way out and move on. Eventually that heart wound will fade.

Savor life. Enjoy each day as it comes, and always remember to find joy in the simple things. Money is a tool, not a way of life. Someday, how much money you made will not matter at all. But how you treated people will.

Goodness, I have waxed eloquently (IE: rambled a lot). So I will end this epistle for now. Know that I love you with all of my heart and that I will be cheering you on every day of your life from wherever I am.

Love you tons,

Grandma Crane