Friday, November 28, 2008
After being in five different countries and seeing how people are living today, and how they have lived for millennia, there is, in my mind, no greater blessing. Noting of course that Anna and Sian were privileged to have been born in Great Britain which is our Mother country - so that counts!
We saw literally millions of Chinese, Thai and Cambodians living in the same type of home, eking out a living the very same way their ancestors have done for centuries. Though the Thai and Cambodians' situation is slightly different, the Chinese have always been an oppressed people. First their emperors used them as slave labor, granting them no rights at all, then the Communists have continued that oppression. They know nothing of freedom. They know nothing of making meaningful decisions to improve their lives. If they are of the Han ethnic Chinese (95% of the population in China is Han) they are only allowed one child. The other 5% are divided into 57 ethnic groups, and they are allowed as many children as they want. The government dictates everything, every aspect of their lives: what they study in school, what job they have.
They dictate where you live. If you were forced to move when the Three Gorges Dam was built on the Yangtze River, you were not allowed to choose where you would be relocated. They built relocation villages, but you couldn't choose the one that was near your home. Many were sent to live in cities. They had never lived in cities before. They only knew farming. They were not allowed the choice. In Beijing, the Hutang villages that have been there for 100-200 years are being destroyed to make room for high rise housing. The people being dislocated will not be given a choice. They must move and most will be told where.
The privilege of choice is a blessing to be savored and used well. In this time of economic meltdown, the choices we make will be very important to our economic survival. But the ultimate choice will be how we respond to the counsel of the Brethren. We do have that knowledge and privilege and that choice. So many people do not.
In Armenia they did not. In the Soviet Union, they did not. It is not much different in Russia today, and in those satellite countries that are trying to recover from 70 years of Soviet oppression. Throughout history, few peoples have had the tremendous opportunities of choice we enjoy. For the privilege of being one of them, I am truly grateful - grateful the Lord placed me in this time, in this dispensation, and in this place and gave me the opportunity to choose.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
How lucky am I to be able to blog the day before Thanksgiving? Lucky. I love Thanksgiving. It is one of my favorite holidays of the year. It means I’ve made it past Halloween and I’m on my way to Christmas!
Thanksgiving offers the opportunity to…yes; eat a lot, but more importantly to think about the gratitude stuff in our lives: family, faith, health, security, and dirt. Yes, I’m thankful for dirt.
My love affair with dirt started at a young age. Growing up in Lake Tahoe there was a lot of dirt. My mom took a picture of me when I was three years old, sitting in a mud puddle at the front of our house, and making mud pies. It was heaven.
Our family home was on a dirt road. All the roads in our neighborhood were dirt. The play yard at school—you guessed it—dirt. And when the September rains came down in buckets, man! That dirt smelled amazing!
Dirt, soil, earth, ground—whatever we call it, it’s all good.
In spring we get our hands into the dirt to plant radishes, carrots, beans, squash, tomatoes, corn, and rutabagas’. (I’ve never actually planted rutabagas; I just like the sound of it). We plant and those little seeds snuggle down into the warm soil and transform themselves into a colorful bounty. Ah, the power of dirt.
I even loved dirt in the summer time when my kids would come home from a day of playing, covered in it. When I saw the dust puff around them, like Pig Pen, I felt content that they were getting an authentic childhood, and that dirt was helping them to grow up well adjusted and happy.
Last, but not least, go for a walk in the mountains, or through a meadow, and see what Heavenly Father’s done with dirt! Mind boggling.
So, this Thanksgiving when we go around the table and each person tells the things for which they’re thankful, I think I’ll mention dirt.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The other day, Brad was passing by his room. He glanced in and Bryan, not knowing his dad was looking in, was busy studying the peach fuzz on his upper lip in the mirror. “Wow,” he said, “This bad boy is really coming in.”
--My baby isn’t a baby anymore.
It was only a few days upon returning back to school after a twelve day stay at the hospital with my son Bryan that I received a phone call at work from my husband, Brad.
From his voice, I could tell he was near panic. He said he had just gotten a call from Bryan’s teacher. Evidently, while Bryan was absent, notes were sent home and that that day was the day our son, Bryan was supposed to go to the maturation program at school.
Not fully comprehending the big fuss, I told him it wasn’t a problem. I would be off in plenty of time to make it to the meeting. Brad was suspiciously relieved when he said, “Oh good. So, you’ll take him then?” It caught my attention. I suddenly realized… “Wait, isn’t that for fathers and sons?” I asked. After an impossibly long wait, I knew I had my answer before Brad quietly said, “It doesn’t have to be.” “Oh, but I think it does, Brad.” I laughed. Obviously Brad wasn’t all that anxious to attend the big event. After some grumbling about embarrassing moments and something about Bryan being way to young to hear this kind of stuff, he was finally on his not-so-happy way.
At the agreed time, off my incredibly brave and oh so bashful husband went to the elementary school to meet up with our son. Neither of us had had any previous chance to discuss the “special talk” Bryan was about to have or answer any questions this meeting was going conjure up for him.
Our home has always had an open door, open communication policy but Brad’s vocal chords seem to tighten up a bit with topics of the personal variety. This was to be quite an experience for both of them. We both wished we had had time to prepare Bryan a tad bit, because he was about to get the shock of his life.
At the school, Brad met up with Bryan and all he had time to say was, “Hey Bry, we’re going to learn some things today that might seem confusing and surprising to you so when we get home, we’ll answer any questions you might have, okay son?”
At the meeting, the speaker stood up. Brad immediately slunked down in his chair. Bryan looked up as the speaker began, “You boys have probably heard rumors about this day. You may have heard that today is labeled “Dooms Day” or “Death Day”- -
Brad turned to look at Bryan. His eyes were huge and he had a look of sheer terror on his face. “Are you alright, son?” he asked. Bryan turned and looked at his dad before he slowly leaned over and whispered, “Dad, the Holy Ghost is telling me we gotta get out of here.”
When they arrived home, Bryan ran into the room. I felt I needed to put a spiritual perspective on the whole thing. “So, Bryan what did you learn?” I asked.
“Well,’ he said with excitement in his voice, “They gave me this and told me I ought to use it. Want some?” He proudly showed me the shiny red bottle of deodorant in the sample size container. “Uh, no thanks. I have some.” I smiled. “Did you learn anything else?”
“Well, I should probably use it after I shower because I probably already smell. I ran pretty hard at recess and worked up a good sweat. So it won’t work as good right now”
“Super,” I nodded. “Good idea. Anything else?”
“Yeah, that boys and girls have different body parts, but I already knew that.” He shrugged that little piece of information off before he turned his attention back to the small bottle and said, “ I’m gonna go put some of this on right now. I think it smells kinda cool.” Off he ran, only to return seconds later, shirt off, and with his arms raised high in the air. “Want to smell it?”
Brad walked into the room and announced he had a huge headache.
Needless to say, the big discovery of the day was cool smelling deodorant. All the awkward questions will surely follow but for now we’ll just enjoy Bryan’s innocence and the deodorant for as long as we can.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Our Stake Conference is being held at the end of this month,and those of us who have our ears to the ground suspect that there will be some major announcements. A new Bishop for our Ward, and a new Stake President, for starters.
I'm really happy for our Bishop. He's a very dedicated and energetic man, and I have no idea how he finds the time. He has six children under 10 and it's high time he got to spend the evenings at home with them. I imagine he will welcome his release. Unless he gets called as Stake President, of course.
For many people, release means relief. The prisoner, on being released, naturally finds cause for celebration. A friend recently told me that his wife’s 90-year-old mother had been suffering considerable pain from an illness, and that when she died they were happy that she – and her carers – had found release. On the other hand, there are those who dread being released from callings they love. A month ago I counted myself as one of these, but then I was unexpectedly released as Young Women President, and after a few minutes standing in the Young Women room thinking forlornly about how much I would miss all the girls, I discovered I was OK with it. I get to spend Tuesday nights at home, and Young Women in Excellence, the annual Ward Christmas Dinner for the Elderly, and our miniscule budget are no longer my problem. (And I love my new calling in Public Affairs.)
Hubby Dearest served his mission in St. Petersburg and told me that the church in Russia has an unusual problem. Because of its communist heritage, where you were assigned a job which reflected your status in society, and which you did for life, members faced major problems on being released from callings. Their background led them to feel that release equalled rejection, or that they were being released because they had served badly in some way, or done something wrong. Large numbers of people who had served faithfully in auxiliary presidencies, bishoprics and even stake presidencies became inactive as soon as they were released, because they felt they had lost status, or that they were no longer important or wanted. It is still a problem, and releases need to be handled with considerable care in Russia and other former communist countries.
I hope we understand that our callings are not what makes us important within the church community, or what makes us in any way more necessary or needed than anyone else. Our callings are, in many ways, for our own benefit. I am still grateful for the time I spent as Gospel Doctrine teacher, teaching the lessons on the Old Testament, because the hours of study and preparation taught me to have a new understanding and appreciation for this book of scripture. I don’t know whether any of the class learned anything from my lessons, but I certainly did.
Yesterday I had to explain how the system of callings and releases works to my nonmember parents. And I found I was really inappropriately proud of the fact that we have a lay leadership, and that everyone gets to take part. For anyone who doesn’t know, lay simply means non professional or unpaid. My father is a Lay Reader in the Anglican church; that doesn’t mean that he reads the Bible in a prone or supine position, but that he is an unpaid minister.
My ex-husband was also a minister in the Anglican church. It was a very well paid job, and came with a large house and generous expenses. He was also pretty much unsupervised, and able to spend much of the day in the local pub. When he lost his job, we lost our home and income and he, it seems, lost his faith. One week he was leading services from the pulpit of a thirteenth-century church, the next he was an atheist. As far as I am aware, his final Sunday as Vicar of Bethesda was the last time he went to church. Which rather begs the question, was he only doing the whole religion thing because he was paid for it? I am thankful for the fact that in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, no one is doing their calling for the money or the glory.
At the beginning of the book of Alma we encounter Nehor, who has been brought before Alma to be judged. He has been “declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labour with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people.” Such is Nehor’s conviction that he, as a priest, should be admired and paid by those he ministers to that he kills the faithful Gideon when challenged. It’s interesting that he is seeking what many of our fellow men are seeking – popularity and money – and sees religion as a way to get it. Religion is emphatically not about gaining personal followers or respect, Christ told us again and again to be humble, like little children. Alma 1:26 tells us that all people are equal. Whatever our callings, we are servants of Heavenly Father, and of the brothers and sisters among whom we labour.
I do miss the Young Women. It's not easy to have a calling which takes up so much of your time and emotional energy suddenly snatched away. But I had learned what I needed to learn and I am grateful for what those amazing young people taught me. I'll never forget Beth, for example, coming back from EFY and telling us "Scripture study is awesome!" I agree with her. I also feel that being called as Young Women President two years ago was awesome, but being released is also awesome.
Friday, November 21, 2008
by Stephanie Black
I was introduced to H.B. (Heather) Moore’s work last year when I read Land of Inheritance, the last volume in her Out of Jerusalem series. I was impressed with Moore’s skill and talent (and Land of Inheritance went on to win a Whitney Award for Best Historical Novel of 2007). When I heard about her new book, Abinadi, the first in a new series, I knew it would be good. I was interested to hear that, in contrast to our usual view of Abinadi as an elderly man—a concept not based on any scriptural passage, but simply on the painting done by Arnold Friberg—Moore portrayed him as a young man with a wife and child. Making him a young father was a stroke of brilliance on Moore’s part; Abinadi’s sacrificing his life for his beliefs becomes that much more poignant when the reader has become acquainted with the young family he leaves behind when he obeys the call to teach the people of King Noah. In fact, I feared the book might be too painful for me because of Abinadi’s martyrdom (I’m a happy-ending person)—but that didn’t turn out to be the case. The novel is not depressing. It’s a powerful story of faith and hope. Moore is highly skilled both at the technical aspects of writing fiction and at creating interesting and exciting stories. Abinadi is a thoroughly engaging novel.
Moore introduces us to the fictional character of Raquel, daughter of the high priest, Amulon. Though raised in privilege, Raquel is not impressed by wealth or status. What does impress her is quiet, humble Abinadi, a man of no significant social standing. When King Noah focuses his greedy and lustful desires on Raquel, and her father does nothing to protect her, Raquel flees and joins a community of believers—including Abinadi—who still hold to the eternal truths that have been pushed aside under the rule of King Noah.
Moore does an excellent job of portraying the wickedness and debauchery of King Noah’s court, while never resorting to vulgar or suggestive writing to do so. Noah’s wickedness comes vividly to life, along with the desperate need for the people to hear the message Abinadi bears. The king’s newest high priest, Alma, is torn with doubts about his life at court, but allows himself to be sucked into the evil surrounding Noah. Heather Moore is adept at characterization, and does an excellent job with Alma, giving him a background and personality that make his plunge into sin, his soul-searching, and his eventual courage in the cause of truth all part of a credible character arc.
Abinadi is also well-drawn—likeable, hardworking, brave, in love with Raquel but fearing he’s beneath her notice. It’s easy to erroneously picture prophets as being different than the rest of us—somehow above all human fears and struggles—and I appreciate how in her portrayal of Abinadi, Moore shows us his humanness. Abinadi doesn’t want to die a martyr. After he marries Raquel and their son is born, there’s nothing he’d like more than to continue on with that quiet life forever, but when the Lord calls, Abinadi has the faith to respond, no matter what the cost.
I enjoyed the character of Raquel. She’s strong, determined, sometimes too stubborn, and at heart, she’s as courageous as her husband. The pacing of the novel was excellent. The story never drags. The ending is satisfying, as Alma is shown carrying on the work Abinadi began. Abinadi is an excellent novel, and I highly recommend it.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
I love the picture at the beginning of this post. I hope it has inspired at least a smile. It’s important to keep a sense of humor intact if you are determined to become a writer. This helps you remain sane as you endure the process that goes along with this particular challenge. Incidentally, I came across this poster at an LDS Booksellers’ Convention several years ago. I’m not sure who gave it to me, but it continues to hold a place of honor in my computer room. It reminds me to not take the writing world so seriously. ;)
Most writers see their share of the four items illustrated above. I shall touch briefly on each one.
Drafts: These are crucial. Only the bravest of souls would ever submit the first draft of a manuscript to a publishing company. If you do submit that first draft, you are pretty much asking for the third item shown above: REJECTION. The key to good writing is revision—polishing and streamlining a manuscript until it’s the best that it can be. And then I still send it to a couple of good, honest friends who aren’t afraid to use red pencils. They catch the things I miss. Sometimes I can read a sentence a hundred times, and knowing what it is supposed to say, I may miss a word that isn’t there, or one that shouldn’t exist. It’s funny how our brains will automatically insert or delete words as we read along. It’s important to let a fresh set of eyes read through the manuscript to catch these snafus that will hamper and impair a good manuscript. Drafts are our friend. Say it with me now.
Rejection: Since I already mentioned it, I’ll tackle it next. Rejection isn’t our friend. It makes us feel bad. But sometimes we can make a good manuscript even better when it happens. Or we toss the rejected manuscript into a pile and never look at it again. I’ve done both. In the beginning of my writing career (not too long after the days of horse and buggy) those rejection letters were a source of indignation. How dare (insert publishing company of your choice) not accept my manuscript! How did they miss its brilliance, etc.!!! In way of interesting news, I kept every one of those letters. They now fill a scrapbook I’ve entitled, “The Opinions of Silly People.” =) The cool thing about this collection is that now I have autographs of famous people like Orson Scott Card, Sheri Dew, Lee Nelson, etc.
Since those days I’ve come to know that a rejection letter isn’t the end of life as we know it. Getting a book published is often a matter of connecting with the right person at the right time with the right idea. My first published novel, “Kate’s Turn,” was initially rejected by Bookcraft. It was my sixth attempt at writing a book. I had spent nearly two years writing, polishing, and doing the research for this novel. When I received rejection letters on the first five manuscripts, I had filed them (the manuscripts) in a box, none of them to ever see the light of day again. This time things were different. When I received the rejection letter regarding “Kate’s Turn,” something deep inside wouldn’t let me discard that manuscript. Instead, I went through it with a fined-toothed comb, revised a few items, then I sent it off somewhere else. And six months later, Covenant sent me a contract, agreeing to publish this book. My husband still claims he’s deaf in one ear from the scream emitted by his spouse when we learned the good news. =D
A funny part to this story happened after “Kate’s Turn,” became the number 3 best seller for Covenant in 1994. One day, my husband and I dropped in for a visit at Covenant’s fine establishment. When we met with some of the hierarchy, I was asked to retell the story of how Bookcraft rejected this novel. If I hadn’t known better, I could have sworn Covenant was having a good laugh at their competitor’s expense. ;)
Editing: Cringe, cringe, shudder, shudder. Once again, we learn that nasty medicine is often very good for us. None of us likes to hear that our precious “babies” (manuscripts) are less than perfect. We tend to take comments like these personally. The truth is, an editor can help us improve our manuscripts. They catch things we miss, and offer ideas to fix scenes that need help. That said, there are times when we have to choose our battles. If I felt strongly about the content of a certain scene that was on the chopping block, I fought for it, giving in on another scene that I could live without. Learning to compromise is a key factor when dealing with the editing process. (Remind me I said that.)
Royalites: Someday I would like to know how they came up with this word to describe the money authors receive. According to the definition in my handy/trusty dictionary I’ve owned since my college days, the word “royalty” means to be of royal status, dignity, or power. Down at the bottom of this same definition, it states: “a fixed portion of the proceeds from his/her work, paid to an author or composer.” Interesting. Here’s what I tell people who want to know if they can make a living as an LDS author: “Don’t quit your day job.” ;)
Truthfully, it depends on the book, the way it sells, the economy, etc. I still remember the thrill of receiving my first check. I experienced such a feeling of accomplishment. Then I paid my tithing and spent the rest on son # 2’s braces. =) That pretty well took care of it.
When my second book hit the market, I figured it would do at least as well as the first one. Wrong. It tanked, even though I was told later that it was one of the best books I’d ever written (“The Fine Print”). Apparently, people wanted more books about “Kate.” So a series was born and it did quite well, all things considered. While I never made my fortune, the publication of these books did give our family the resources to take a few family trips. Later it provided the means to help our kids when they started college. It was a way for me to help out with family finances while being a stay-at-home mom, an opportunity I will always appreciate.
These four items are just some of the issues writers get to deal with on a regular basis. From time to time I’ll touch on other delightful items we also face. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey and realize writing is like anything else: if you truly want to be a writer, you’ll put in the elbow grease necessary to make that happen, and gracefully endure the challenges that go along with that realm.
P.S. If you haven't had a chance to check out the great bargains available on the Whitney Auction, click on the lovely button located on the upper left-hand side of this blog-site. Not only can you have fun bidding on said items, but the money you'll spend goes toward a worthy cause.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Thanksgiving Day is November’s redeeming grace. Somehow this one day shifts my mood from gray and dismal to warmth and optimism. There’s something about a special meal with family and loved ones gathered together around the table that dispels gloom and invites thoughts of blessings received, a sense of warmth and coziness, and stray thoughts of what I’d like to give those loved ones and those less fortunate for Christmas.
Sure, I love the dinner itself. I like food, and Thanksgiving Day always seems to produce some of the best food of the whole year. It’s a day when it’s almost un-American to not overeat. Even the year my family was moving over the Thanksgiving Holiday and our dinner consisted of a ham my mother cooked over a small stove we called a trash-burner, sliced, and sandwiched between slices of bread and a tin of pumpkin cookies, dinner was wonderful. But as I’ve grown older the best part of Thanksgiving has become a mental enumeration of all those things for which I am grateful.
Indulge me as I share part of my gratitude list. I’m grateful for family. Beginning with my parents, grandparents, seven siblings (and later their spouses), aunts, uncles, and cousins my life has been rich and filled with treasured memories because of them. Growing up in a large family, I always had playmates. Sometimes we fought and teased, but my brothers and sisters are still my closest friends and I love opportunities to get together with my cousins. I’m grateful for my husband and children. Raising five children is surely life’s greatest adventure. I’m grateful for the spouses my children added to our family. They each chose well and my experience as a mother-in-law has enriched and blessed my life. Then there’s my grandchildren; the cutest, smartest kids on earth. (I may be a little biased).
I’ve always been blessed with friends. Even though my family moved dozens of times, there has always seemed to be a special friend at every school, every ward or branch, and in every neighborhood. Some of those friends from long ago still stay in touch with me; I’m grateful for that. Through my years as a reporter, a librarian, and as a writer I’ve made more friends and I treasure them all. Whether we meet by chance at the temple, grocery store, or a book signing, exchange an e-mail or a comment is posted on my blog, a letter arrives in the mail, or we meet for a hasty lunch, these people are special, they lift my heart and make my day each time we connect.
I am passionate about America and grateful beyond words to live in this country. I’m thankful for all those who have fought for my liberty. Two years ago when one of my sons-in-law was wounded in Iraq, my husband and I flew to Washington D.C. to Walter Reed Army Hospital to see him. We were so impressed with the strong positive attitude of all the young soldiers we met there, even the ones missing one or more limbs. Over and over we heard them express their love for this country and for the privilege they believed they were given to serve the cause of democracy and oppose tyranny. I’m grateful there are people young and old who also love this country and are willing to protect liberty. I’m thankful too, that I’ve been able to see as much of this great land as I have.
I’m thankful for the Church and for my calling to serve in the Jordan River Temple.
I’m thankful for the talent given me to write and for the many people I’ve had the privilege of meeting or hearing from through my writing. Some of these people have become my closest friends. They’ve certainly broadened my view of the world in which I live.
In a note I received from my sister today, she asked if I remember the big raspberry fields where we used to show up to pick berries at 5:30 in the morning. I remember, and I’m grateful for the memory, but I’m also thankful I don’t have to do that any more. I’m also thankful I no longer have to milk cows, hoe beans, or irrigate. Yet my rural farm childhood is one of the many things for which I’m grateful.
Indoor plumbing, a microwave oven, my computer, and a rear window defroster are high on my list of modern conveniences I appreciate.
When I was nine, another large family lived with us for a few months while their house was being finished. I wrote a play for most of us kids to act out and spent my small accumulation of coins on a treat to follow our presentation. The play went over well and our parents and older brothers and sisters clapped appropriately, but when it was time for the treats, I discovered I hadn’t bought enough. I did without. Later my mother found me face down on my bed crying. She assumed it was because I didn’t get a treat, but really it wasn’t. All of the other kids were praised for their roles, but no one thanked me for writing the play, directing it, arranging the activity, or even for the treat. I learned that day how much gratitude matters, a lesson I’ve relearned many times as in our careless rush I’ve received no thanks when deserved or given none when I should have.
Here’s my challenge to you. Tell someone thanks for something between now and sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner. Write an e-mail or even (gasp) a letter to a parent, a friend, a teacher, or perhaps a soldier just to say, “Thanks for a job well done, thanks for being there for me.” An expression of gratitude brightens the day for both the receiver and the sender. Trust me, I know.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Left to right, Karlene Browning, Assistant Manager; Tristi Pinkston, LDS author; Jennie Hansen, LDS author; Nancy Campbell Allen, LDS author.
I stole this pic from Tristi's blog. You must click on the link at the bottom of this post to see all her other cool pictures of the store! And Tristi, thank you for letting me steal this picture. Even though you didn't know I was stealing it. (I figure it's that whole asking-for-forgiveness-than-permission thing).
It was so fun to see friends, if only for a little bit! What a fantastic store. If you are ever in Pleasant Grove, you must stop by. Candy like an old-fashioned store, awesome toys and a great collection of books.
Tristi Pinkston's Blog!
Friday, November 14, 2008
Winning a gajillion dollars would be wonderful, don't get me wrong. I collected those McDonald's Monopoly pieces last month, reasoning that someone has to win, it might as well be me. Alas, it wasn't me.
I've realized lately, though, just how little things can bring so much joy. Like discovering a certain four-digit code.
A few months ago, my car battery died, so my car stereo thought it had been stolen from the car and locked itself up. It required a four-digit code to reactivate and because we bought the car used, the magic card displaying said code was no longer in the glove box. (What a silly name, "glove box." Like any of use it for gloves anymore. It ought to be called, "Collection of Crap Box.")
So the stereo routinely gave us three tries to guess the code, and then it locked itself up again for a random amount of hours. I could never figure the rhyme or reason behind that number of hours, either. But anyway, the code option would come back on with a loud BEEP, and the kids and I would scream, "Code Time!"
We tried so desperately to guess the code; we all took turns and I was waiting for the moment when someone would guess the right combination and we'd have music in the car again. I was going slowly insane from the quiet. Well, relative quiet. When the kids weren't in the car, it was quiet.
Time came and went and we couldn't get the dang code. I kept thinking of Terminator 2 where the young John Connor has that PIN code contraption that he sticks into the ATM and gets money out on people's stolen cards. (That was when John Connor was a delinquent and before he was destined to save the world.) I needed one of those machines.
I finally just called the dealership, (duh), and asked if there was any way, even though we bought the car used, if they could look up the stereo code using my VIN number. My heart sank, the lady said "no." BUT, if I took off the casing around the stereo and pulled out the stereo itself, I could find the manufacture number and model number on the stereo, and THEN she could look up the code.
Yesterday, I took out my screwdriver and pried the face off the stereo. Oops. Silly me, the lady meant we had to take off the ENTIRE CASING AROUND THE STEREO, THE VENTS AND CONTROL NOBS. Hmm. I decided I needed reinforcements for that, so I tracked my husband down at work and asked for his help. I was relatively certain I could get the casing off, but I wasn't sure I could do it with any kind of, shall we say, finesse.
So we got the casing off, called the woman at the dealership, and got the magic code! I was slightly disappointed that we hadn't managed to guess it, but I was desperate enough to not play the Code Time Game any longer. It was amazing. Punch in four little numbers and voila! Paradise!
It was in that moment when I realized how grateful I am for little things. My stupid little stock stereo in a car that has its share of dings, (again with my finesse issue), and the glorious sounds that poured forth had me in absolute ecstasy.
I started thinking about the other little things I'm grateful for. My kitchen, for instance. It's a galley kitchen, ridiculously small for more than, say, half a person to be in at any one time, but I have all the little gadgets I feel I need to make yummy stuff for my family. ( I even use white flour to cook with, on occasion. Take that, David Woolley!) And even though I don't have all the counter space I'd like, I'm not lacking for anything I feel I need.
My house is small, but we have heat, running water, and fun Norwegian decor. My children each have a bed, miscellaneous and sundry age-appropriate paraphernalia, clothing and cute hair. My husband has the job of his dreams and I get to write pretend stuff for a living.
So yes, while I was genuinely bummed that I didn't collect both Park Place and Boardwalk, (did anyone notice the profusion of Park Place pieces and total lack of Boardwalk this year?) it really is ok. I have a good little family, food in the cupboard and music in my car.
Life is so good. :-)
Monday, November 10, 2008
I was excited to work with my husband, Brad. We had only had one other calling together (stake missionaries) and that was years earlier. The class we were called to teach was to be my son Bryan’s class. That would be fun for us. But Bryan cried when his other teacher was released. She was a wonderful teacher. We had some big shoes to fill. So, needless to say, Bryan wasn’t quite as thrilled as we had hoped, but he finally came around to the idea and reluctantly he admitted we were his second choice of teachers, if he had to choose. Those were the winning points. From there it kind of went down hill.
I shamefully admit, I didn’t want to be in the Primary. Been there, done that, sooo many times. Once you get put in the Primary in our ward, you’re in it for a LONG time. You start to wonder if you’ve been forgotten. On my last Sunday before we were to begin our new adventure, I sadly waved goodbye to all the ladies in the Relief Society. Our ward is ever changing and I feel like I don’t know half of the ladies as it is and there went my chance to learn the names and faces of the newcomers. I was being sent to Primary corner…or so I thought.
However, the reasons that reserved my excitement for my new calling changed almost immediately once we actually started teaching the boys. On that first Sunday, we laid down the class rules. I’m the disciplinarian as well as the award giver. I love treats but they have to be earned. I also love class parties and birthdays. It doesn’t take much to find ways to earn rewards. Brad is one darn good teacher and there is no one that I know of who relates to kids better than he does, even if I do say so myself. ;) He teaches with the lesson manual but do so with stories, experiences, and we have Super bowl lessons and tic-tac-toe challenges to see if the kids are absorbing the lessons he is giving them. From that first week to even now, that is how it’s always been in our class.
What I didn’t expect to find upon accepting the call is the kind of boys we would have the opportunity to teach. These boys knew things about the Gospel I never expected them to know. Suddenly I realized it was the boys in my class up there bearing their testimony on Fast Sunday’s. They get a little rambunctious, but they are never disrespectful. They will do anything you ask. I have honestly never had the privilege of teaching a better group of boys in my life. With great reluctance I accepted that call, little did I know I would I grow to love the boys as much as I have. What outstanding young men they are. Okay, so you get the idea, that these boys are great boys, But let me give you an inside view of them and what they have done for my family and I.
See, my son doesn’t go to school with the rest of these boys. Due to his need for a different learning scale, the school district buses him to another school. Yet on Sunday these boys all come together and though they have their different friends and different schedules in the week, they are all as one in that classroom.
There is one particular boy who has taken it upon himself to look out for Bryan. He has become Bryan’s best friend. This boy finds learning quite simple. He succeeds with math, reading, and comprehension. All of these are areas that Bryan struggles. So he comes to our house and he’ll play, or read to Bryan, and even helped us teach Bryan to ride his bike by offering him his last two dollars as a reward once he succeeded in going the length of three houses without crashing as an incentive. Bryan was terrified to ride a bike but wanted to be like the other kids that rode theirs.
(That whole experience started out with prayer. The boy offered to say it. There we were as a family on the front lawn- praying with the boys and the bike.)
Bryan was in the hospital last spring for twelve days. A dear friend agreed to substitute teach for us that week. She arranged for our class to drive clear up to Primary Children’s Hospital to have Primary with Bryan on Sunday morning. They wanted the boys to have a chance to better understand what Bryan was going through. The entire class with the teacher and one of the parents arranged to have a lesson and play a little game with the scriptures while they visited my son.
Before going to the hospital, Bryan’s friend had learned Bryan was afraid of the procedure about to be done. He promised Bryan he would visit him every day. At the time we thought he’d be in 3-5 days. It turned out this boy came to the hospital every single one of the twelve days except two. On those two days he called and they talked on the phone for quite a while. My son looked for that boy every single day. He kept saying, “He won’t let me down. I know him. He’s the best kind of friend anyone could have.” And it’s true, that young boy never let him down. He kept my son’s spirits up like none of the rest of us could do.
For my birthday, I got to class and was surprised when they sang to me personally then laughed when I turned red. This last Halloween, I can’t tell you how much it meant to me, when one of the mothers let a secret slip. One night for Family Home Evening the family went around leaving secret treats for neighbors. Each of her children got to pick one family to leave a tasty surprise for. Her son picked his teachers to play “Ghost” on.
I could go on and on with the way these boys have touched and influenced my life and played such an important part in my family’s lives.
I had always hoped for a large family. After six miscarriages and some cervical cancer, I feel extremely blessed to have the two boys I have. Our family has been small but I have always felt very blessed. Over the last year I have found my home constantly filled with boys. I am finally starting to see that maybe there is another way to fill my home with even more laughter and love.
Our class participated in the Primary program yesterday. Being the oldest, it was up to them to prepare their talks rather than say the lines prepared by the Primary Presidency. I listened carefully as each of my boys bore testimony of our Saviors love, the Holy Ghost, the Temple, the Atonement, and others gospel topics. I couldn’t help the tears that welled up in my eyes as I have thought over the last two and a half years I have spent with these boys. I think back to when the call was extended to us. I am disappointed of the memory of my heart dipping even just that little bit. I would have missed out on so many blessings and such powerful experiences if I had not accepted the call. I can’t help but be grateful that my parents taught me to serve wherever I am asked because it is I who had a lesson to learn. These boys have taught me more through their example than I have ever gained from any other calling I have had.
As we stood to sing the song, If The Savior Stood Beside Me, I was reminded that the Savior loves his children. I couldn’t help but think that if the Savior were to come and visit our ward, the first place I believe he would want to be is with the children in the Primary…and that’s right where I want to be.
I added the words to the song I spoke of. It brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.
If the Savior stood beside me, would I do the things I do?
Would I follow his commandments and try harder to be true?
Would I follow his example? Would I live more righteously?
If I could see the Savior standing nigh, watching over me.
If the Savior stood beside me, would I say the things I say?
Would my words be true and kind if He were never far away?
Would I try to share the Gospel, would I speak more reverently?
If I could see the Savior standing nigh, watching over me.
He is always near me, though I do not see him there.
And because he loves me dearly I am in his watchful care.
So I’ll be the kind of person that I know I’d like to be
If I could see the Savior standing nigh, watching over me.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
I love this time of year. My flowerbeds are all cleaned up and ready for spring. Tulip and daffodil bulbs are snug in those beds, ready for snow to pile on top. I've planted garlic bulbs in a special place in my garden for next year. The harvest is over, at least for our clan, and I survived canning season. ;)
Our freezers and pantry shelves are well-stocked for the winter months ahead. And I have a plethora of fun projects to tackle during those loooong cold months. Since winter in this area lasts about 7 months, (From about November through May) it behooves one to have a variety of indoor interests. For me that will include working on manuscripts, organizing pictures I've taken this past year, Christmas gifts (I'm making a lot of those this year), keeping up with my responsibilities in the YW, and sorting through each room in our house (I've been striving to de-clutter closets, etc.). I'm also diving in on a new interest---learning to paint landscapes. This should prove interesting since I struggle to draw stick figures. ;)
This month I will also ponder all of the wonderful blessings in my life. I love all of the holidays, but Thanksgiving holds a special place in my heart. In recent years we learned that some of our ancestors were in attendance at that first Thanksgiving celebration. My 10th great grand-father (John Howland) and 10th great-grandmother (Elizabeth Tilley) survived that first harsh winter. Unfortunately, both of Elizabeth's parents passed away during that challenging time. So I'm sure that first harvest celebration was a bittersweet moment for her.
I'm a descendant of their daughter, Hope. What a beautiful name. I'm sure it was aptly applied to this daughter. Can you imagine traveling across a large ocean on a cold, dark ship---arriving in a new country you weren't adequately prepared to endure? You brought along basic supplies, but there isn't a handy Wal-Mart to refurbish those items you've run short on. You have to make do with what you have, and what you can find.
Since there aren't any houses to buy, you have to build your shelter from scratch. If you get hurt or become ill, there isn't a medical facility to hasten your recovery. You are pretty much on your own. With one exception. You came seeking religious freedom and you are now able to worship God according to the desire of your heart. Daily you pray for guidance, for the courage to survive all that lies ahead as you help shape what will become the greatest nation in the world.
Currently our country is facing a lot of problems. The economy seems perched on the brink of disaster. This week's election will finally bring to a close one of the most controversial presidential races on record. Heated debates on political issues have filled the news for weeks.
I wonder what our forefathers think about all of this commotion. When they see our warm homes, convenient cars, the stores that exist, do you suppose they scratch their heads, wondering why so many people are unhappy? As they gaze at the modern devices we've come to accept as our "due," and all of the technology we've been blessed with, are they dismayed by how we've taken it all for granted?
I was once accused of being a "Mary Poppins" type of person. I've decided that's not an insult. I do strive to look on the bright side of things. This doesn't mean I haven't faced challenging trials. Au contraire. Twenty-six years ago, I was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic. Twenty-five years ago, my father took his own life. I've endured 3 difficult pregnancies and several surgeries that were less than my idea of a fun time. Eleven years ago, I was told that I have lupus. And so on. There have always been challenges. But even during the worst possible circumstances, there has always been hope. That is what keeps me going. Plus the knowledge that this life is but a brief interlude when we consider the eternities that lie ahead. This is a testing ground, a chance for us to prove ourselves. It is up to us what we do with our time in mortal mode.
I love to laugh more than I like crying, so I gravitate toward things that I enjoy, downplaying items that aren't enjoyable. Like last night. I use an insulin pump---it has been a great way for me to enjoy life more fully as a diabetic. But there are little snags that occur. Last night the cannula (plastic tube injected under my skin---the insulin passes through it) from my pump pierced a small vein. Let's just say it was not a good time. But I hung in there, cleaned things up, and started over. I suspect this is how my ancestors survived all that they faced during their challenging time in mortal mode.
My challenge today is this: look at the good things that are going on in your lives. Focus on the blessings, and express gratitude daily for those items. Let's see if we can turn the tide of negativity that is currently thriving. There are a lot of problems in today's world, but there are a lot of neat things, too. Make a list of those things and keep it where you can see it every day. Realize what a great time this is to be alive, and savor each day as it comes.
One of my greatest blessings is featured in the picture at the beginning of this blog. This is my first grandchild, Aari, giving her Grandpa Crane a love. She is a doll and next Sunday, we'll be gathering as a family to witness her blessing in sacrament meeting. I can hardly wait. She is the first of a new generation in our family. She is part of the hope for our future. Her safe arrival into this world heralded a new adventure in our lives. Before she was born, the doctors raised concern over a problem with her kidneys. Combined prayers, faith, and the power of the priesthood paved the way for a miracle. Aari's kidneys returned to normal size before her birth and they have worked fine ever since. You can bet this miracle is on my list of things to be grateful for this year. There are others. Despite what appears to be a darkened time, there are great blessings taking place all around us. I think it's part of our responsibility to take stock of these good things, and to patiently endure what isn't so good, trusting in a wise Father in heaven who knows what is in our best interest.
What items will appear on your blessing lists? Feel free to share. ;)
For years when the holidays approached, I started dreaming of the perfect Christmas. I was haunted by childhood memories, enticed by television commercials, inspired by classic movies and challenged by the covers of December magazines. In my memories and in the media, the perfect Christmas looked so easy, almost effortless. But after years of trying to provide a perfect Christmas for my own children I had to admit that perfection always eluded me. One way or another, the season never measured up. I accepted full responsibility for the failure and usually spent January slightly depressed, planning what I would do differently the next year.
So the Christmas after my daughter, Emily, was born in 1991, I determined that the year had finally arrived. This time I would do everything exactly right. Our Christmas would be perfect. Then on Christmas afternoon I would have the glow of satisfaction instead of the gloom of disappointment that I was becoming accustomed to.
So, I began my preparations early. I bought magazines, attended classes, made lists, scrimped, shopped and wrapped. I decorated, Christmas-crafted, baked and preserved. Several family members accepted our invitation to eat Christmas Dinner with us and the prospect of company pushed my efforts to new heights. I wallpapered my kitchen, painted the bathroom, shampooed the carpets and even cleaned behind the refrigerator.
I sent Christmas cards to everyone in my address book. I hung garland over the doors and put holly leaves on every flat surface. I put up two Christmas trees, taped paper snowflakes to the windows and hung angels from the ceiling fans.
We attended holiday parties and hosted one of our own. I made the kids sit on the lap of every Santa we saw and we watched all parades within reasonable driving distance. We spent hours cruising through strange neighborhoods, admiring their Christmas decorations. We went caroling and delivered homemade jelly to our neighbors.
The kids got out of school the week before Christmas and I scheduled activities for every waking moment. We made cookies and gingerbread houses. We strung popcorn and cranberries, played Christmas music 24 hours a day and wore only Christmas colors.
Finally, Christmas Eve arrived. Warmth seemed like an important element of the perfect Christmas, so when the sun set I started a blazing fire even though it was 70 degrees outside. I gathered the children, freshly bathed and dressed in coordinated Christmas pajamas, in front of the fireplace. We sang Christmas carols, just like the families on TV, waiting for Butch to come home. I knew he would be charmed to see this heart-warming sight when he came through the door. He got home right in the middle of Jingle Bells. He waited until we were between verses to comment: “It must be a hundred degrees in here. Somebody turn on the air conditioner.” Our fireside concert ended abruptly at that point and I went in to warm up his dinner while the children watched Christmas videos until bedtime.
After they were settled, I started pulling sacks and boxes from their various hiding places and divided them into appropriate stacks. Butch went upstairs to change clothes and never came back. I went up to check on him and found him lying on top of the covers, sound asleep. He worked long hours during Christmas so I knew he was tired, but I hated that he was going to miss the joy of Christmas Eve assembly. Hours later I had everything put together with a minimum of leftover screws. The gifts were stacked and arranged to their best advantage. Finally I could sit back and agonize over whether each child had really gotten what they wanted. Accepting that it was too late to change anything now, I went upstairs. I covered Butch with a quilt and collapsed beside him.
After what seemed like minutes, but was actually a luxurious two hours, my children started coming to wake me up. I sent them back to bed at 15-minute intervals until five o’clock when I surrendered. Butch and I staggered downstairs to watch the reactions to their gifts. Everyone seemed adequately ecstatic with their new possessions. The kids settled down to play and Butch stretched out on the couch. I went into the kitchen to prepare the perfect Christmas breakfast. I scrambled eggs, fried bacon, rolled out homemade biscuits and mixed up orange juice. By the time it was all ready, everyone had fallen back asleep. I curled up on the couch by Butch’s feet and surveyed the chaos. Sleeping children, scattered toys, scraps of paper, candy wrappers and an occasional pine needle covered the floor. This scene didn’t fit into anyone’s idea of a perfect Christmas.
I dozed off, but the phone rang about an hour later, waking everybody up. It was my brother saying that his entire family had a stomach virus and wouldn’t be able to come for dinner. Trying to overcome my disappointment, I re-heated breakfast. After we had eaten, the kids returned to their new toys while I cleaned up the kitchen and started on the perfect Christmas dinner. I peeled potatoes, stuffed turkey, dissolved Jell-O, kneaded roll dough and mixed cake batter. I could hear laughing from downstairs where the kids were playing. Butch was trying to put together a train track in the den.
I decorated the diningroom table to match the cover of a popular woman’s magazine and set out our best dishes. I had tried several new recipes and thought the food looked wonderful arranged around the table. I called for my family to get dressed and come to dinner. One by one they arrived. Their idea of dressing for dinner and mine were obviously different. I was wearing my Christmas dress, complete with hose and shoes. Most of my children were still wearing at least part of their pajamas. Butch had on cut-off sweat pants and a T-shirt that had (at least once) been used to polish his Sunday shoes.
Tears came to my eyes as I looked around the table at my family. Cathy watched me warily. She was 11 - old enough to realize that I was upset, but not sure why. I guess I hadn’t used the right kind of paint on her Christmas sweatshirt because it was already starting to peel. Laura (7) was wearing a purple windsuit my mother-in-law had given her for the fourth straight day. Jamie (6) was pointing out all the food items that he absolutely would not eat. Grace (4) was itemizing the gifts she had asked for but did not receive. Tommy (2) was hanging upside down over the side of his chair, examining a cobweb in the corner of the dining room. Emily was alternately banging her spoon on her highchair tray and rubbing cranberry sauce in her hair. Nothing was how I had meant for it to be. We were completely hopeless.
Butch started carving the turkey and mentioned that it was a little dry. The kids served their plates. Jamie hated everything. Tommy spilled his Christmas-red Kool-Aid on my new white tablecloth. I sat there in dazed despair, wondering where I went wrong. What Christmas event or activity could I possibly have missed? Didn’t I plan well enough? How could I have failed again?
It wasn’t until much later, after the decorations had been packed away and the trees discarded that I finally understood my mistake. In all the baking, wrapping, bow-tying, gift-giving and song-singing I had somehow managed to exclude the Savior and his birth completely from our Christmas. We went through all the preparations and then left our honored guest standing outside our door. Nativity scenes had become just decorations, like stockings and the trees. We gave gifts, but didn’t associate them with the wise men. The scriptures had collected dust during the holidays since we had been too busy to read them. Our family prayers had been sporadic and repetitious as we rushed from one holiday event to the next. We sang Away in a Manger along with Frosty the Snowman until we couldn’t tell the difference.
Since then I have come to accept that there will never be a perfect Christmas at our house. Instead of competing with imaginary families, now my goal is to include the Savior in every aspect of our Christmas. We won’t attend every Christmas event, but we will see some lights, talk to Santa and read about the Savior’s birth. Our scriptures may be sticky but they won’t be dusty. The kids won’t get all the gifts they ever dreamed of, but they will get some things they want or need. We are going to count presents less and blessings more. We won’t eat the perfect Christmas breakfast, but I’ve found that my kids like canned cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate as much as eggs and bacon. By involving the children in the planning and preparation of our Christmas dinner, I spend less time in the kitchen and more time with my family. We also eat food that everyone likes instead of things that just look nice on the table. We will take the time to offer prayers of thanks for all that we have. There are so many beautiful Christmas songs about Jesus and his birth. We are going to learn a few new ones and sing them often.
Then I guess my Christmas afternoons will always be spent thinking of things I want to do differently the next year. I’ll remember cross words I shouldn’t have said and good intentions that I never put into action. But I hope that with effort we’ll make improvements every year. And we’ll try to more effectively incorporate the Savior into our celebrations. I hope that in our home He will feel welcome, loved and appreciated. After all – the only truly perfect Christmas took place in Bethlehem over two-thousand years ago. And there’s no competing with that.
Monday, November 3, 2008
I walked into the store and found a table set up with my books on display, located nice and close to the entrance of the store. With enthusiasm and optimism I plopped down the bag containing all my booksigning goodies and began to unload it, then, I looked up. Right behind the table, was an end cap display loaded with a book entitled, "How to Write a Novel."
I laughed, "Ha ha! What a coincidence." Little did I know that it was a foreshadowing of my evening. I sat in my chair for a while, smiling at customers as they walked by, or rather, as they came through the door, then quickly dodged my table, as though I had some sort of communicable disease and they'd been handed a ten-foot pole upon entering, with which they were told not to touch me.
Since sitting didn't work, I got up and stood, with bookmarks in one hand, and a bowl of Reeses Peanut Butter Cups in the other. Yes, clever me, I would lure customers to my table.
Apparently, people hate Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. And bookmarks. And me!
I browsed around the area, where my table was located. If you'd like to know what New Releases are available right now, I would be happy to tell you. I read the backs of every one of them.
Occasionally one of the employees would walk by, smile at me with sympathy, then go on with their jobs. Some of the brave ones even took one of my candies, risking their health and safety in the process. The manager, a real sweetheart, came and talked to me, thanking me for coming. And then, after two very long hours, fifteen of those minutes being spent signing the books on my table, (I had fun practicing different ways to sign my name. I decided against putting a little curlecue in the "B" at the beginning of Bell. A little too 6th grade.) it was time to leave. Short of begging, I had tried to do everything I could to sell books.
Of course, the question is, was it worth giving three hours of my time to go and sit and not sell any books and feel like a leper? Actually, yes, it was. Why? Because I have learned after all these years that being out in the public is important for an author. Even more importantly, I need to meet the wonderful employees at the bookstores. I have found that if they like me, they will promote my books and no one, NO ONE, can make a bigger difference in the success of a book, than a bookstore employee. And finally, maybe the one or two people who took one of my bookmarks will give one of my books a try, and if they end up liking it, they will read more, and tell their friends. So yes, as lonely and discouraging as book signings can be, they are worth it. (Of course, this is my opinion. And, it just occurred to me, maybe I am the only author who has experiences like this.)
The manager, bless her heart, bought one of my books for her sister. She apologized for not having more people in her store, after all it was the weekend before Halloween and a lot of people were either going to parties, or watching football games. We had a wonderful visit and I could tell she was very interested in building the LDS section of her store. I told her how much authors appreciated what she was doing and that I was happy to help.
Then, I picked up a copy of "How to Write a Novel," and went home.
Booksignings. Definitely not for the faint of heart. I wonder if the author of the book I bought is writing the sequel, "How to Sell a Novel." If so, I'll be the first in line at his/her booksigning to get my copy autographed.