Thursday, December 31, 2009

It's Just Another Day

The last day of December, 2009. Not to panic, it's just another day. We could as easily begin a new year on June first as on January first. Today is the only day we have in our grasp; yesterday...gone, tomorrow...who knows?

I want to work with today. I think of yesterdays only in terms of sweet memories of good times, and challenges that helped me learn. I use those experiences to make the decisions of the day. And when it comes to tomorrow's impact on my life, I think only of how the actions of today will color the next day and the next. Even then, something may happen to interrupt my hopes or preparations for tomorrow.

Perhaps that's a bit too much philosophizing so soon after the holiday frenzy. Let me get my head into a simpler place.

When I was a young girl, my mom used to watch this soap opera (in black and white) called, The Days of Our Lives. During the introduction they had this big hour glass with sand pouring from the top cylinder into the bottom. The deep voiced announcer would say..."As sand through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives." For some reason, it scared the beejeebees out of me. As I'd watch those grains of sand racing through the narrow neck of the hour glass and landing in a lifeless heap in the bottom, I'd think, Man, those days are going fast. I'm gonna wake up tomorrow and be fifty! I'd run outside, find my friends, and play a game of hide and seek or kick the can. I could handle the here and now of laughter and sweaty faces.

Well, now I am...older, but age didn't come in a flash. My life has been built one day at a time; one precious day, just like today--the last day of 2009. It's just another day. And if any day begins to look like a little grain of falling sand, I simply run outside, find my friends, and play a game of exercising, shopping, eating lunch, or going to a movie. I can handle the here and now of laughter and beaming faces. You're welcome to come and join me, anytime!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Years Resolutions

Happy New Year, Everyone!! I'm curious to know how many of you set New Year's Resolutions each year?

I have to admit I get excited at the end of the year to set all kinds of resolutions that I am sure will somehow magically help me transform into my idea of the perfect person I long to be. I set my lofty goals and of course, I aim high. In fact, I aim so high that within a few days of setting those resolutions, I find myself throwing my hands up in the air wondering why in the world I can never achieve all those high expectations I have made for myself.

Does this ring true with anyone else?

This year I am bound and determined things are going to be different. New Years is a great time for a new beginning for me -- starting with a new attitude about resolutions and goal setting. I don't need to change everything about me all in one fall swoop. Instead, baby steps.

Thanks to my son and a Family Home Evening lesson he gave us on Monday night, we set a couple of goals that we plan to work on as a family for the coming year. I'm excited about the goals we set and as a family, we'll help each other achieve them.

With my calling, I have a goal, as well as one as a mother, wife, employee, and writer. I have chosen one goal or resolution for each of these areas and one personal goal that I would like to accomplish.

They are all obtainable but will take effort so that if/when I achieve them, I will feel better for having accomplished them.

Suddenly I look forward to getting started working on my goals. Resolutions don't have to be overwhelming and certainly not impossible for us to achieve. It can be a simple goal to help us to improve.

At the end of the year, I hope to have obtained my goals and made some of my weaker areas, become more of a strength.

New Years Resolutions can be a great way for a new beginning-- to have a fresh start. If you choose to set some resolutions for yourself, I wish you every bit of success possible! Make it fun and don't be too hard on yourself!

Again, Happy New Year to you all!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Taking Stephenie Meyer's Advice

by Anna Jones Buttimore

I had a lovely Christmas. Can't wait for the next one!

I finally succumbed to pressure from my eldest daughter and two best friends and - gasp! - read Twilight. I know you don't need me to tell you this, but it's very, very good. It entirely captures that dizzy intense feeling of first love and, because it's written in the first person it's hard to read it and not be drawn into those feelings yourself. (On Christmas day I noticed that our Ward Young Women President was wearing socks emblazoned with the logo "I love boys that glitter".) I know it's not to everyone's taste, but I loved the first two books. I'm about to embark on the third one.

I am thrilled that a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has done so well and written this wonderful blockbuster series. For one thing, my daughter is now proud to be a member of what is viewed in our area as a small obscure American sect, and is telling everyone that Stephenie Meyer is a member of our Church. (Donny Osmond may be cool again now, but he just doesn't pack the same punch when it comes to street cred, especially since Sister Meyer mentioned Muse and Linkin Park in her acknowledgements.)

For another thing, I can be confident and happy that Gwen won't find anything untoward in these books. However deep their love, Edward and Bella never do more than some light kissing and hand-holding. OK, so that's because Edward is worried he will eat her, but he still proposes long before there is any hint of friskiness. What a great example to today's youth - look how much Edward and Bella were in love, and they still waited!

I am also thrilled because the books have inspired me to get on with my own writing endeavours. I looked at Stephenie Meyer's website, and it only took her four months to write Twilight. The book I am writing at the moment has taken me about eight years so far. She has three children too, and she could still find time to write. On her website, she also gave two excellent nuggets of advice for would-be (and already-are-but-struggling) writers:
  1. Read good books. The more you read, the more you will recognise, and be able to emulate, good writing.
  2. Write something every day. Knuckle down and do it.

Now, this is pretty standard advice. I think I've read it a thousand times before, and passed it on to others. But now I'm actually taking that advice. Twilight is a good book, but it isn't full of complex artistic metaphor or erudite prose - the narrator is a seventeen-year-old girl, after all. It reminded me that I don't have to be clever and use long intellectual words and inspiring narrative all the time. Twilight has lots of dialogue, which I'm not good at, and it showed me that dialogue can be used to flesh-out characters and set scenes. So reading this particular good book has helped me to write my own.

And if Stephenie Meyer can write a masterpiece in four months, then I should at the very least be able to finish the book I am working on. So now I am writing at least 1,000 words each day. My reward for reaching this goal is to allow myself to read a chapter of Eclipse. Now that's motivation!

Christmas Crash

Yep, I did it again. In trying to keep the Yuletide burning bright, I totally overdid things. My body let me know what it thought about that tradition yesterday. I could barely move. Most uncool. ;)

Is it part of our human nature to make the holidays as wonderful as possible? I actually feel guilt over Christmas cards that didn't get sent this year. (I made a valiant effort, but did not get a card sent to everyone that I normally do.) And my mother's gift is still sitting on my piano bench---a testimony that the gray cells don't function as well as they used to. (It didn't click that I'd left it there until we were pulling in my mother's driveway down in Utah. I still can't believe I forgot it.)

I made a plethora of food and Christmas candy. Then after consuming my share of the goodies, my stomach rebelled. Toast wasn't even my friend yesterday.

What makes me sad is that I absolutely love the holiday season. I love hearing from friends and loved ones who also make a valiant effort to send out Christmas cards. It's the only time I hear from some of them.

I love Christmas music, I love the lights, and I especially love the reason for the season. As I'm busy bustling around, I figure it's my way of showing love and respect for our Elder Brother by doing as much good for other people as I possibly can. I participated in the Toys for Tots drive our valley sponsored yet again this year. I made well over 25 plates of candy to take around to neighbors and friends. And I did my best to make or purchase thoughtful gifts for loved ones. Even the one still sitting on my piano bench contains items that I know my mother will love . . . eventually.

I guess my question today (and yes, I'm a day late with this post . . . I do apologize) is: have we made the holidays more complicated than they need to be? Is it good to go around in a brain stupor for a couple of days afterward because we pushed ourselves beyond what our bodies (mine in particular) consider cool? Am I the only one who runs myself into the dirt each holiday season? I don't think so. I saw a similar glazed look on my mother's face a couple of days ago. She did most of the holiday baking in her abode this year since my youngest sister is still recovering from a car wreck she endured earlier this month. Then I arrived and took over the the helm . . . after already doing so in our realm. (We didn't head down to my mother's house until the day after Christmas.)

I'm already making myself a list of do's and don'ts for next year, in the hopes that it won't be as crazy as this year was. Any bets I'll ignore it? ;) What think the rest of you about this strange phenomenon? And what can we do to change things around? I seriously doubt our Elder Brother likes it when we make ourselves sick on His behalf. I suspect He likes it better when we strive to be more like Him all year long---stretching things out so it's not all clumped up together at the end of the year.

That's my goal for this coming new year---to slow down, savor the good stuff, and ignore my overactive conscience that constantly harps about the items I did not accomplish. I may not succeed, since being an overachiever seems to run in my bloodlines, but I'm going to give it a shot. (Bad diabetic pun) I would like to live to see other Christmas holidays. Words to live by . . . literally. =D

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Since like most of you, my day is really full, this will be a short blog just to wish you one and all a Merry Christmas from the V-bloggers and to share a quote I particularly like.

"Of all times, it is Christmas when we must surey realize that there can be no true worship of Him who is the Christ without giving of ourselves. At this season let us, each one, reach out a little more generously in the Spirit of the Christ. It is not enough to give toys and baubles. It is not enough to give alms to those in need. That is important, yes. But it is also important that we give of ourselves with our alms. May the real meaning of Christmas distill into our hearts, that we may realize that our lives, given us by God our Father, are really not our own, but are to be used in the service of others." ---Gordon B. Hinckley
May you find peace and joy in contemplating the birth of our Lord.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Gratitude List

What I wouldn't give for a wonderful story or something really profound to offer today. All I have is a heart full of gratitude. These are the things I'm grateful for these days:

*a healthy family
*a warm house
*luxuries like a tv, internet, phones
*a car that works
*food in my kitchen
*books, lots of books
*knitting needles and yarn
*pens and paper
*my Heavenly Father and His Son

I'm sure I will go through the day and think of dozens more items to add to the list, but I am just so grateful for the basics of life and the little things that make it so rich. I am a blessed woman and I try to be aware of that every day.

This time of year is such a good time to reflect on the past twelve months, to consider what worked, what didn't, and what we'll try differently next year. Celebrating the birth of the Savior is the perfect way to end one year and gives a good perspective with which to approach the next.

I am grateful for so many, many things. Thank you to my friends online and in real life. You enhance my life in ways you can't imagine. My love to you all!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Prayers for Scrooges & Scroogettes

Yesterday, my sister-in-law who is living with me suddenly sighed and said, “You know, I’m starting to get depressed about Christmas.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about Christmas this year. On the one hand, it’s going to be a particularly difficult Christmas for a lot of people because times are particularly hard right now. On the other hand, even if things were better, some people just don’t find holidays as cheerful as other people do. I confess to being one of them. Each year I try to do something to make Christmas what it seems like it’s supposed to be and I’m not sure I ever succeed.

Last week a woman at Church said that she tried for years to pull her husband out of his Scrooginess and finally realized that his experience with Christmas had been very different from her own and he just had a hard time with Christmas. She said that instead of trying to get him to change she finally decided to just validate experience, accept that some people have a hard time with holidays, and just carry own and make her own Christmas for the rest of the family.

My family didn’t have much money for Christmas when I was groing up but that wasn’t the problem. I think it was that we weren’t a happy family and we didn’t have a lot of love in our home. My usual answer to that is that my mother suffered from mental illness and my dad grew up in an orphanage and didn’t really know a lot about families. That’s true, in part. But I expect there’s more to it, though I’m not going to try to figure it out. It’s past. Of the five children and one remaining parent in my family, my youngest brother seems to be the only one who has learned how to enjoy Christmas. I don’t know exactly how he did it, but he married a woman who perhaps knew and whether or not she did, the two of them determined to make Christmas special, for themselves and for their children. They celebrated Jesus’ birthday on Christmas Eve (complete with song and candles). For years they took the family to the Dickens festival in Salt Lake City until the festival was closed. They have 20+ years of pictures of the kids with Santa Claus.

But more than traditions, I believe there is love in their home. Despite the problems and challenges of raising five energetic boys (and at times loving them), my brother and his wife love each other and it shows. They love their children and try hard to help them learn to love the gospel and to be caring and responsible. I know one of the sons resents that having a large family seems to mean less money for things he wants but I’m hoping he’ll keep growing up and realize one day that his family isn’t so bad.

I’m too old to blame my lack of Christmas spirit on my parents and clearly I’m a slow learner if I’m still trying to get Christmas right. I think I’m on the right track though. But I wanted to stand up for a moment for the Scrooges and Scroogettes of the world, who, forever reason, haven’t yet felt the spirit of Christmas. It may be that something this year, a tiny gift, a few words of kindess, maybe touch their hearts and help lead them to understand Christmas. I know my friends have helped me in my journey this year. Thanks to them all and to the good shepherds who watch with love.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What if?

As writers, every time we sit at the computer to compose, we deal with the concept of "what if?" But I play a game of "what if?" when I'm driving or doing busy work that uses only hands - even when I'm not creating a story. At this special Christmas time of year, I like to use a different wrinkle on that concept.

What if the Savior returned today? What if He came back on the anniversary of His birth? (Of course, we know that would be in the spring, but for the sake of the game, I use the traditional celebration date.)

Am I prepared for that "great and dreadful" day? Will it be great for me - or dreadful? This vein of thought takes me next to the question of what do I have to do different to make it great. At our stake women's conference, Elder Reynold's introduced a new concept to us - one I hadn't thought of before. And it is this concept that is going to make it easier for me to be ready when He really does return.

In Daniel 6:18, King Darius spends the night fasting for Daniel when his friend and advisor is thrown into the lion's den for praying to his God in defiance of the decree Darius signed without thinking of its consequences. Elder Reynolds said as he contemplated Darius's fast through the night, he wasn't impressed. We always fast through the night. So he must have been fasting from something other than food. We are told that his musical instruments were not brought to him, neither did he sleep. So he apparently fasted from at least those three things.

Elder Reynolds then broached the possibility of us fasting from things other than food as a way to improve ourselves. The thing that stuck in my mind as I listened was fasting from negative thoughts and attitudes. Especially at this time of year, my heart needs to be filled with love and charity and forgiveness and my mind should be filled with noble and generous thoughts, not criticisms and judgments.

As I carried this train of thought forward doing the "what if?" game, I was struck at what a great way to work toward becoming perfect,"even as I am," as we have been commanded to do. So just for today, I will try to be as perfect as I can be in every way. I don't have to it again tomorrow if I don't want to, but for today, I will fast from all things negative, from all things that don't turn me to my Savior, from music and people or places where I wouldn't take Him if He were beside. Just for today....I can do that.

I love this special time of year. The air is filled with more love and beautiful Christmas carols, and we are thinking more of our Savior than we might be at other times, so I hope we can be more perfectly in tune with our Lord and Savior. My prayer for each of you is that the "what if's in your lives all lead to good things for you and your families.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Symbols of Christmas

The other night George and I set up our nativity scene. It sits in a lighted nook in our entryway, making it one of the first things you see on entering our home. I love our nativity set. There are the usual nativity characters as found in the Holy Scriptures: the blessed family, the angel, sundry shepherds, and three wise men. But, this particular set has new characters you can add every year. There’s the old peddler with his lantern held high, the shepherd boy carrying a small lamb and looking skyward to the star, or the little angel holding a dove and gazing lovingly down at the baby Jesus in His manger bed.

The symbolism of each piece speaks of the tender meaning and wonder of the Savior’s birth. The peddler’s lantern illuminates our way to the true Light which shines in the darkness, the angel’s dove represents Christ as the Prince of Peace, and the lamb brings our thoughts to the Lamb of God.

I often see George standing and contemplating the stable scene with all the characters surrounding the lowly manger bed, (I do the same). It brings our minds and hearts to the true meaning of the Christmas celebration—the birth of Christ. This Christmas, 2009, we share our testimonies with you that He lives and loves us. He is the Prince of Peace, the Savior and Redeemer of mankind.

Is it any wonder that His birth is celebrated around the world by every race and in every language? We too celebrate, and wish you a Christmas filled with joy, love, and wonder!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Lasting Effect

Last July, my husband and I were driving down the road flipping through the radio stations as we drove a long.
“Bet I can find a Christmas station,” he said. Of course I figured there was no way he would find anything, so between us, we made a friendly little wager. He laughed, played with the radio dial for a few more seconds, and would you believe, on came, “Frosty the Snowman”!?! I couldn’t believe my ears. I mean, this was July! Singing about a snowman while living in desert conditions months away from Christmas seemed insane to me.

Now that the air is colder and the holiday season is upon us, I find myself singing to all the Christmas carols that fill the radio stations. A few times I have heard people say that the songs are repeated so often that they are “Christmas caroled out” Me? I don’t think I ever could be.

While there are various artists that sing their renditions of songs I don’t particularly love as much as I do others, a big part of getting in the mood for Christmas for me, comes from listening to Christmas music.

For example, when I listen to the Mormon Tabernacle choir sing, “Little Drummer Boy”, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “Silent Night” my heart is touched in ways I cannot express. I think of that first Christmas so long ago and what that little Christ child being born with such humble beginnings would come to mean for all mankind.

When I hear Andy Williams singing “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” the years melt away and I am a little girl again listening to my mother’s Williams Brothers Christmas album on the stereo in our family room. I have the happiest Christmas memories as a child. Andy Williams can spark those memories every time.

It’s also Andy Williams that sings my favorite musical rendition of “O Holy Night” While this song makes me think of many things, it mostly brings tears to my eyes as I think of my testimony and the love I have for my Savior and for this special time of the year.

Music affects everyone in different ways. It can cause people to think, act, and of course reminisce. It can have a great influence on us. The words to songs can touch and inspire us.

As I think of the beautiful hymns we sing at this glorious time of year, I am reminded of the scripture in D&C 25:12 “My soul delighted in the song of the heart; Yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me.”
I love singing about the Herald Angels that sang Hosanna’s, singing glory to the newborn king, announcing the birth of the Christ child, and about the small manger where the Lord Jesus laid His sweet head. I love the song that tells us of hearing the bells on Christmas day ringing peace on earth, good will toward men. The list goes on.

Music is indeed a way to worship. I love songs that help us to celebrate this wonderful time of the year. There are certainly the fun ongs that we sing with children that builds up their excitement and makes them giddy with joy, and there is music that influence us to do good unto others and truly remember the reason for this season.

I think the music at this time of year helps to build the Spirit of Christmas and can have a lasting effect.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What I Love About Christmas

by Anna Jones Buttimore

This is my last blog before Christmas so I'm going to write about why I love Christmas so very much. Not the big things that everyone loves - getting gifts, singing carols, spending time with family, eating too much, enjoying the lights and decorations - but the little things.

  • School holidays. The children get two weeks off school either side of Christmas. So no having to wake them up and find clean uniform at 7 a.m., then standing outside the school gates in the freezing wind each afternoon.

  • The Christmas Radio Times. This is the official listings magazine of the BBC, and the bumper Christmas issue lands on my doormat a full three weeks before the big day, giving me plenty of time to plan my Christmas viewing with a highlighter pen. This year it'll be The Queen's speech, of course, and a new Doctor Who, and the latest offering from Wallace and Grommit.

  • TV holidays. It seems that all my favourite programmes - Bones, Lie to Me, House - are taking a mid-season break over Christmas. I love this. It means that I can watch The Queen, Doctor Who and Wallace and Grommit without worrying about missing Booth and Brennan's first kiss. UK TV shows generally have a short season - a series of six episodes isn't unusual; 9 or 12 if you're lucky, so just as you're getting into something, it ends. US shows stretch that to a full 22 or even 24 episodes, guaranteeing regular weekly relaxation and entertainment for almost six months, but with a thoughtful two-week break each season to enable me to go on my Summer holiday or enjoy the festive TV treats without missing anything.

  • Nativity Plays. My youngest, little Ceri, was an angel in this year's nativity play. She wore a Temple dress I had bought a year ago in the hope that her biological father, my ex husband, might give permission for her to be sealed to Roderic and I. Sadly he didn't, but she looked far more of an angel (in my biased opinion) than the others in their glittery and gauzy winged costumes. She stomped on the stage, halo flashing, unwedgied her knickers in front of the 100 watching parents, then saw my frown at such unladylike behaviour, folded her arms and scowled at me. Happily, by the time baby Jesus arrived on the stage, she was singing and smiling again and looking every inch the angel she is.

  • Time off work. LawCare closes down between Christmas and New Year so I get a whole extra week off, in addition to my four weeks annual holiday allowance.

  • Having my husband home. Roderic works in Russia much of the time (at least, when there's not a global recession on) but I'm guaranteed to have him at Christmas and for the following couple of weeks, since the Russian Orthodox Christmas is on 10th January, so the country isn't back to work until after then.

  • Giving gits. A couple of years ago my parents asked that we not give them any presents. Needless to say I ignored that. I spend all year buying Christmas presents, and take great pride in picking the ideal gift which I know the person will love based on clues I've picked up. For example, a dear friend admired my popcorn machine back in July and idly commented that she wished she had one. Guess what she's getting for Christmas from me? (Emma, if you're reading this, it was someone else, OK?) There is indeed more joy in giving than in receiving.

Yes, I also love the fact that people who never go to Church (90% of the UK population) might actually go to a carol service or think about the saviour. I love turkey with bread sauce, cranberry sauce, stuffing, chipolatas and roast potatoes. I love seeing the children's faces on Christmas morning. But sometimes it's the little things that are really the icing on the (Christmas) cake.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tender Mercies

The past few days have been rather interesting in our family. For a brief moment, we feared we were losing one of our loved ones. An accident had taken place and the details at first were sketchy. For nearly an hour we only knew that one of my sisters had been in a head-on collision and that she had been taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital.

This kind of news is not a pleasant way to start one's day. I know I was in a state of shock as I prepared to travel to Utah. Tears made an appearance as I packed and made necessary phone calls. Reason finally pierced the brain fog I was experiencing and I knelt in fervent prayer. Almost immediately my heart filled with a calming peace. Though I still didn't know if my sister would live, I knew I would have heaven's help to survive all that lay ahead.

Before I left Bear Lake Valley, I received word that all would be well. I can't fully put into words the relief that descended at that time. It was mixed with gratitude for the miracle we saw take place that day. This miracle became even more pronounced when we saw the condition of my sister's car. She had been watched over and protected, her life preserved in a manner that left little doubt as to Who had been in charge that day.

Last night I learned that my oldest son's life had been on the line as well late Saturday night. He had originally planned to journey to join up with family members that had gathered at my mother's home near Ogden. After his final class had ended for the day in nearby Logan, Kris called with the news that a raging blizzard had descended. He knew traveling through Sardine Canyon wasn't possible in his small car. So he tried a different route and when he saw cars sliding off the road in every direction, he turned back around and remained in Logan.

I was so relieved when he called and told me that he was safe in Logan, staying with friends for the night. One less worry, or so I thought. Later that same night as I knelt beside the guest bed I'm currently using, I felt impressed to pray for this son. Repeatedly I asked for things to be well with him, not knowing that his life was hanging in the balance.

It wasn't until yesterday that I learned what had taken place. My oldest son is allergic to tree nuts. If he eats anything that contains tree nuts, his throat swells shut, he has a difficult time breathing, and it makes him very ill. For obvious reasons, we are very careful to avoid making or eating foods of this nature when he is around.

He had a couple of scary incidents involving this allergy while serving an LDS mission. Twice he ate foods prepared by members of the Church that contained tree nuts, and with each exposure, the reaction grew more serious. Saturday night, he ate dinner at a restaurant in Logan with one of his friends. After he had consumed a portion of his meal, he began struggling to breathe. A waiter appeared and when questioned, he revealed that Kris' meal had been cooked with almond oil.

Kris experienced the worst allergic reaction of his life Saturday night. He spent over four hours in ER as he was pumped full of steroids to preserve his life. He didn't want me traveling during the blizzard that night, so he didn't contact me about what had taken place until his safe return home yesterday afternoon.

Once again Divine intervention preserved the life of a loved one. I have always been amazed by the tender mercies extended by our Lord. I will be forever grateful for the miraculous events we have witnessed this week alone. And you can be sure that this Christmas, my heart will be continuously filled with gratitude for all that our Elder Brother has done for our family . . . for me. His gifts to our fragile mortal world are beyond price. And while there is no way any of us can return to Him a fraction of what He has freely given, I believe that each time we attempt to act as He would do, His heart is touched with a joy we can't even imagine.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I arrived in this world with the first snowfall of the year more years ago than I care to admit. My wedding day was also a day of winter whiteness. So you'd think I'd have a particular fondness for snow, but not so. One of the most frightening experiences of my life was driving alone with two small children on a winter night following a snowstorm when a cloud of fog wiped out the road, the sky, and every other car and truck that shared a winding highway beside a canal. With the heaping helping of white stuff we received this week comes memories of past snowstorms and my personal mixed feelings toward winter.

My childhood was filled with snow forts, snowmen, tobogganing, ice skating, icicles ten feet and more long hanging from the schoo house roof, and sleds. It was filled too with hiding under the covers each winter morning until Daddy got a fire lit in the stove, treks to the privy when each breath formed a cloud in the air, blowing on my hands to warm them before beginning the miking, wearing knee socks to bed at night, and long hikes through the snow to catch the school bus.

Do children still play fox and geese? I once loved that game. I still remember exhilarating feeling of whooshing down a hill with seven or eight kids on a toboggan too. One of my favorite memories of playing in the snow is the day my mother joined all of us kids on a long sheet of tin my brothers had fashioned into a toboggan. As our makeshift sled shot down the hill, she laughed and screamed along with us until we all tumbled into the snow.

My older brothers once formed a tunnel beneath the drifts between our house and the barn. It was a scary magical place where I loved to play until our parents decided there was too much risk of a cave-in.

Since my father worked for the Hudson Bay company as a young man and ferried supplies by dog team to distant outposts and later did the same for the Canadian Mounties, i grew up with a love for sled dogs which resulted in me trying to train our stock dogs to pull my sled. One big collie got very good at pulling me around the farm and to the neighbors about a mile down the road.

As teenagers, my friends and I skated on canals and ponds. There was something romantic and mysterious about skating on the neighbor's pond at night while a huge bonfire leaped into the night sky at the edge of the frozen sheet. In the daytime there was almost enough water left in the canal to skate all the way from my house to my friend's house several miles away.

In the years since, snow has become associated with unpleasantness instead of games. Driving on snow-covered roads is a nightmare I try to avoid. Each snowstorm brings a flood of worries concerning whether or not my children, their spouses, and my grandchildren made it safely to and from work or school. Frozen pipes, cars that won't start, and power failures have intruded on the magic that was once part of winter. Even the fun times of sledding with my grandchildren, watching them ice skate, and their enthusiasm for throwing snowballs or making snow angels doesn't quite ddispel the negative feelings toward winter. Now I only catch glimpses of the beauty and newness a snowstorm brings.

Snow was once magicalo. The first snowfall of the year was greeted with whoops and shouts of joy. It's funny how I really didn't mind the cold as a young child, but as I grew older I began to mind the cold a great deal. Somewhere along the way I lost interest in skating and other winter games. Now I prefer a fire in the fireplace, a good book, and a cozy chair. I'm content to watch the snow pile up through a window with only an occasional trek through the snow to fill the bird feeders.

Giving Meaning to the Madness

I wonder, what does Christmas mean,
With its stars and shiny balls?
Is Christmas more than Christmas trees
And toys and games and dolls?
Of this I’m sure: There’s something more,
For I’ve heard many say
That in a strange and far-off land,
A child was born this day.
And Christmas is to celebrate
His coming from above.
He showed us how we all should live
And told us we should love.

The words of Ralph Waldo Emerson tell us: “Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself.” (Essays: The Poet.)

The true Christmas spirit is never found in the gifts we give and receive. The true Christmas spirit arrives without glittery packaging or shiny bows, but has a more lasting in impact.

In a Christmas address back in 1985 President Thomas Monson shared this poem and these thoughts about Christmas.

An unknown author wrote:

I am the Christmas Spirit.
I enter the home of poverty, causing pale-faced children to open their eyes wide in pleased wonder.
I cause the miser’s clutched hand to relax and thus paint a bright spot on his soul.
I cause the aged to renew their youth and to laugh in the glad old way.
I keep romance alive in the heart of childhood and brighten sleep with dreams woven of magic.
I cause eager feet to climb dark stairways with filled baskets, leaving behind them hearts amazed at the goodness of the world.
I cause the prodigal to pause a moment on his wild, wasteful way, and send to anxious love some little token that releases glad tears—tears which wash away the hard lines of sorrow.
I enter dark prison cells, reminding scarred manhood of what might have been, and pointing forward to good days yet to come.
I come softly into the still, white home of pain; and lips that are too weak to speak just tremble in silent, eloquent gratitude.
In a thousand ways I cause the weary world to look up into the face of God, and for a little moment forget the things that are small and wretched.
I am the Christmas Spirit.

This is the spirit each true Christian seeks. This is the spirit I pray each may find. This is the Christ spirit. No quest is so universal, no undertaking so richly rewarding, no effort so ennobling, no purpose so divine. The Christmas season seems to prompt anew that yearning, that seeking to emulate the Savior of the world.

As we lift our eyes heavenward and then remember to look outward into the lives of others, as we remember that it is more blessed to give than to receive, we, during this Christmas season, will come to see a bright, particular star that will guide us to our precious opportunity.

May we find time to pause during this Christmas season to reflect upon the true meaning of the the season and rejoice in the birth of our Savior.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The worth of a soul...

Last night I had the privilege of attending a fundraiser at my husband's school. He's a counselor for the Youth in Custody program, and the school decided to hold a fundraiser to raise money for a family in need this Christmas.

The students have been doing research for projects, writing papers on those projects and putting together slide shows that displayed images of their research with original text, all set to music.

There was a group of four brave students who sang, "Angels Among Us." They were wonderful, and I say "brave," because there were eight more who were supposed to sing with them. These four were awesome!

The students also made five quilts that were auctioned off. They were beautiful, and each one was purchased.

I was so touched at the work the kids put into their projects and the quilts. These children have experienced a slice of life I can only gape at, and I'm amazed at their resilience. They are working hard to succeed in a world that hasn't given then a very nice beginning. My hat is off to them--I am in awe of them and humbled by them.

My kudos also to the staff, who are talented, dedicated, and who must have loads of patience and use it often. Teaching is not an easy profession; I speak from experience.

I suppose I just want to say to this group of people, staff and children, and to teachers and students everywhere--nicely done. This life is not an easy one, and I do believe that as long as we help each other, we'll all get through it intact.

Happy Holidays to Project Surpass, and truly, God bless us, everyone!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I Love Christmas!!

I love everything about Christmas! The music - though my taste tends to run to the beautiful Christmas carols instead of Frosty, Rudolph and Santa and noisy renditions of contemporary songs. I love the decorations - the lights and glittering tinsel and brightly colored balls on the tree. I love decorating my Christmas tree with many strings of lights, all blue for the last couple of years, then when darkness falls, to turn off all the house lights and just bask in the glow of the Christmas tree lights with carols softly playing and snuggle with my husband.

I love nativity sets from all different nations that depict the birth of our Savior in so many different ways. It takes me hours to set them all up throughout my house (I have close to 100) but it is a labor of love to set each one up with the Baby Jesus at the center, just as He is at the center of our universe.

I love the feeling of excitement in the air - the feeling of anticipation that always comes with December. And I love the extra love that seems to fill the earth at this time of year. People are more considerate and kind, more friendly and open. (Usually.) :)

I love the traditions that we carry on from one generation to another. As children, we always received an orange in our stockings. Being born and raised in Idaho, I had no idea what a special thing that was to get in December. Oranges are plentiful all year long now, but then it was something extra special our parents did - and an expensive treat at that time!! So we have continued that tradition with our children. And, of course, candy and nuts and a couple of little gifts.

We put up our Christmas tree as early in the month as possible so we can enjoy it longer. Since I just returned from a week tending grandchildren, today will be our day and I'm excited! I'll put on my favorite music and place every ornament in just the right place. With our children grown and gone, I get to have my tree just as I want it decorated, instead of the family tree with all of the kids homemade ornaments that we had for so many years. Those precious decorations now hang on their own trees.

I have had, at times, grandchildren help decorate, but when they are gone, I replace ornaments clustered around the bottom and make it balanced and beautiful. After the decorating is done, all the presents go under the tree as they are bought and wrapped, so by time Christmas Eve arrives, you can't fit another thing under or around the tree. I'll admit, we go overboard at Christmas time. I always wanted to have a lot of presents for our children to open, so there were many little inexpensive treats - a little book, new pair of fun stockings, mittens, favorite candy treat. etc. We don't spend a lot of money, but try to fulfill wishes. I shop all year and stash the presents so I don't have a lot of shopping to do in December, which is so busy with social obligations - and people in the stores!

On Christmas Eve for years we played the dramatized Christmas story because the bleating of the lambs with the shepherds and the angels singing, the donkey and oxen in the stable, the footsteps on cobblestones, the different voices of the people in the story came to life for our children. Later we read from the Bible the Christmas story.

We choose one present to open on Christmas Eve, with my husband traditionally objecting and everyone calling him Scrooge. It is a game played for years now. I'll admit, it is hard with our children all married to not have a houseful at Christmas. I understand each of our families needing to be in their own homes, but it is far too quiet with just the two of us on Christmas Eve.

But we do manage to get together - most of us - to celebrate and open our presents and be thankful for the greatest gift ever given. For years, we had a little box that looked like a present. Each of us wrote what our gifts to the Babe of Bethlehem would be and slipped our proffered presents into the box. The next Christmas it would be open to see if we actually carried out the promised gift to our Savior.

Some of traditions have changed over the years. We used to have a huge Christmas dinner, but the 15 months that Glenn was on a remote tour in Turkey, we just put out holiday salads and fancy sandwich fixings so everyone could make their own, and the kids liked it so much, we did it the next year when Glenn returned. And I loved it as I didn't have to spend so much time in the kitchen.

We do still have Cinnamon Apple Tea Ring for breakfast with egg nog and/or hot chocolate. Two of my daughters continue this tradition in their homes. I'll send the recipe in another post as I'm off right now to our Super Saturday to make a couple of Christmas presents for my daughters. For my son this year, I'm redoing the quilt I made him years ago from his concert tee shirts and tee shirts he had bought as he traveled or picked up on his mission. He wore out the backing so he gets it renewed this year, with a couple of books on corporate management to help him as CEO of his company. Interesting combination, huh!

My young granddaughters are getting dress-up clothes and I still have one satin cape to finish and a filmy wrap to go over a satin skirt that needs to be hemmed. My grandsons are getting coupons for a special trip with Grandma and Grandpa to the zoo, the beach, and Hurricane Harbor at Six Flags (which is five minutes from their home in Valencia.)

My husband is giving me an early present: The historic Mission Inn in Riverside, CA decorates with one million lights every year and I've wanted to see them for 25 years. This year we are staying there one night, then going to San Diego and Coronado Island to see their beautiful light displays and visit the museums. One other present I'm asking for is a few days in Death Valley in January to play golf on the lowest golf course in the world and to visit historic places like Scotty's Castle and play in the sand (and take pictures, of course!)

Those are my favorite kinds of presents - personal time and fulfilled wishes. May all your wishes be fulfilled at this most glorious time of year!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

In the Details

Is there a God in Heaven?


Is He aware of us?


Does He Love us?

Again, yes.

I've heard it said that God is in the details, so I decided to share a few 'details' with you. I've also heard that every beautiful thing is God sending you and me His love. I think He loves us a lot.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas Traditions

The Christmas Season brings with it many family traditions for us.
One particular favorite that goes back for as long as I can remember is our “Danish Christmas” celebrations.

As a little girl, I loved, and so looked forward to Christmas Eve, not only for all the obvious reasons that every child waits for that big night with such anticipation, but in our home, that was the night we had our “Danish Christmas.”

It began with each of us opening our gifts that had been sent from our grandparents in Denmark. What was inside, could be anyone’s guess. As a child, we found dolls dressed in national costume. Sometimes we found new pajamas or beautiful knit sweaters. Whatever the gift would be, it was always such a thrill to see what we would receive. But that wasn’t all, what we really looked forward to was all the Christmas candy that was sent to us. As a child I was eating Gummi Bears, Salmiyak (salt licorice) and that wonderful European chocolate long before I realized how lucky I was to be getting such delicacies!

After we opened our gifts and before our mouths were too full of candy, my mom would bring out the Ric ala Mon. It’s a type of Danish rice pudding loaded with slivered almonds in it. It was always eaten while we played a little game. The person who found a full almond in the pudding won a prize. All of us kids found it strange that for some reason we all ended up with the full almond in our dessert.. My mom would pat her cheeks and say, “Oh no! Don’t tell me I’ve done it again! I slipped up. Well, fair is fair. I guess everyone gets a prize.” Of course we were thrilled that mom had slipped up again. No one felt left out. All of us kids were winners! It took us years to figure out it was rigged-- and we loved her for it.

The night ended with us talking to our Mor Mor and Mor Far (our grandparents) to thank them for our gifts. Then we all settled down to the Christmas story read from the Bible by my dad. The evening ended with the family singing Christmas songs.

Years later, we still have traditions that go along with our Danish Christmas. Every year, we still have our Ric ala Mon, strangely enough, full almonds keep popping up unexpectedly, Dad still reads from the Bible and we sing together as a family.

However, through the years other traditions have been added. We love to see the lights on Temple Square, come home and have hot chocolate and doughnuts. I also love reading Christmas stories with my family each night.

Our son wants to add a tradition of watching a Christmas movie every Christmas Eve. However, with every special that he watches, the movie keeps changing to the flavor of the day. We’ll see what happens…
He also feels that you cannot decorate too soon. He came home from school last Monday and said that he absolutely HAD to decorate the entire house that night because he had promised his teacher we were going to do that. He had given his word and he needed to follow through…(Oh sure NOW he chooses to show us he was listening when we were going over that lesson!) After working all day it was all I could do to muster up the energy to carry through on that lofty goal. I did advise him to check with us before making promises of that magnitude in the future.

We have several other traditions that help us not only keep in mind the purpose for the season, but they add to the excitement, as well as help us to work together as a family get the most out of this joyous occasion. Traditions can be a way of strengthening the family bond and will in turn give us a lifetime of priceless memories.

I would love to hear some of your favorite memories from your family traditions. Please feel free to share.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Fashion flaws

by Anna Jones Buttimore

It's my day to blog, but I don't have time to write anything well thought out or carefully composed. I've been in London all day at my work's Christmas dinner (very nice it was too) and just got home twenty-minutes ago. In half-an-hour I have to drive Hubby Dearest to Heathrow airport for his next visit to Azerbaijan.

I actually finished reading Lynn Gardner's novel Pursued on the train on the way home, but I'll have to blog my review some other time. Instead, today, I will just comment on something which is annoying me at the moment. And that is fashion.

One of the perks of being a woman, I have always felt, is having a waist which is (just about) smaller than my hips. The advantage of this is that when I wear a skirt fastened about my waist I don't need a belt. It can't fall down, because it wouldn't fit over my hips. Years ago, the same was true of trousers. I have a lovely pair of stonewashed jeans which buttoned around the vicinity of my navel, and served very well at holding in my ample stomach. Teamed with a hip-length t-shirt it was about the most comfortable and flattering combo I owned.

Now, however, the fashion is for trousers which do up around the hips. This means that they have to be worn with a belt - pulled uncomfortably tight - or they will, with very little encouragement, come adrift. Not only that, but they are perfectly positioned for my ample stomach to spill contentedly over the top. And my hip-length t-shirt now leaves exactly an inch of unpalatable midriff flab on display.

In the interests of modesty, can I ask why we have to follow this horrible fashion, and why it is now impossible to buy trousers which come up to the waist? And I need to find out who decided that hipsters (with the possibility of underwear showing over the top - wow!) were a good idea and throttle them.

OK, getting back off my high horse now and driving halfway round the M25.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thumbs Way Up

I have always loved to read. My mother enjoys sharing the story of my first day of kindergarten. I came home rather disgruntled and when she asked me what was wrong, I replied, "I still can't read!" Evidently she had told me that when I started school, I would learn to read. And since I grew up in a family where that was encouraged, and I already possessed a love of books at that tender age, reading was important to me. It still is.

My family can testify that I'm always reading one or more books at any given time. While I currently don't possess the time I wish I did to read, I still manage to spend precious moments each morning, savoring a good book. It's a great way to start the day, and it has been part of my early morning prep for a very long time.

That said, I would like to tout a series of books that I recently finished. I had read the first two books in this series a few years ago. This past summer, I decided to start the series anew and read all four volumes. I love historical novels, and these particular books touch on an era that was a big part of my father's side of the family: the Civil War. The books I'm talking about were written by our own, Nancy Allen Campbell---the "Faith of our Fathers" series.

I can't say enough good about this wonderful series. Nancy has written a story that will not only hold your interest, but it will also open your eyes to an important interval in our nation's turbulent history. The main characters are primarily from the same family tree---one Birmingham family lives in Boston, the other Birmingham family in South Carolina. Obviously, they are on opposite sides of the invisible wall that existed between the northern and southern states at that time. This series portrays well the volatile emotions that existed with regard to human slavery. Members of both clans take active part in the ensuing war, often with surprising results.

Filled with historical vignettes that were carefully researched by the author, these books help the reader gain an education on the pertinent issues of that age. These books also depict the challenges that were part of that conflict. Families were literally torn apart. Hearts and souls were tested as a way of life was obliterated. I found myself reflecting on the tremendous price paid by those who fought valiantly for freedom, a gift I suspect we often take for granted.

I highly recommend this series of books. Not only will they provide an enjoyable read, but most readers will be deeply touched by the sacrifices made by valiant souls who possessed the courage to make a difference.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Thanksgiving Day is here. Sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas, this day doesn't always get its due. Since it's one of the few holidays that doesn't involve tangible gift giving other than a few hostess gifts and some hearty salutes to the chef, it often is relegated to the status of a lesser holiday. If truly observed as originally intended, it should be the best holiday of all since gratitude is the strongest mark of religion, of human love, of patriotism, of maturity, of social responsibility, and of mental health.

There are few of us who couldn't compile a long list of things, concepts, or people to whom we owe gratitude. High on my own list are family, home, country, blessings of the Gospel, health, a steady income, a car that functions well, my computer, good food, a telephone that connects me with loved ones, and the list could go on and on.

There is one blessing I wish to highlight this day. I am grateful to be an American. I have great love and respect for the European countries my ancestors once called home, but I am an American through and through. I love the freedom and opportunities this country provides. I love Americans' sometimes brash, but always positive "We can do it" attitude. I love the mountains and streams, the plains and deserts, and the beaches of this country. I love the cities and the small towns. I love the churches and temples with their spires reaching toward heaven. I love our varied population, pulled together from every other culture and ethnic grouping. I love our schools and universities with the American assumption that everyone is capable of learning. I love the American blending of social classes and our sense that anyone can fulfill their personal capabilities; that dreams can come ture.

On this day, I think we need to recall the words of a man who lost his life forty-six years ago while president of this great country. John F. Kennedy said, "My fellow Americans, ask not what our country can do for you---ask what you can do for our country." Too often we fail to appreciate our country and turn President Kennedy's statement around. Seeking freebies from our government is not a sign of gratitude. Doing the least we can do for ourselves is not gratitude. Destroying our country's values is not graditude. Making our country over into a mirror image of the countries we or our ancestors came from is not graditude. Complaining about our government and doing nothing to improve it is not graditude.

Showing gratitude for our country means being politically and socially involved. It includes respecting other viewpoints without relinquishing our own values. It includes worshipping God as our own consciences dictate and allowing others to do the same. Gratitude includes prayers of thanksgiving, a quiet thank you to someone who has shown us a kindness, and thoughtful acts of consideration toward others. It means personal acts of charity.

One way to show gratitude for this country is to remember the men and women who serve in our military, those who lie in military hospitals, and the families our service people left behind when they were deployed to distant lands. One simple way to let these people know we're proud to be Americans and say thank you for their scrfices for our freedom is to send a serviceman a Christmas card. If you don't know a service member personally you can still choose to do this. Send the card to:

Holiday Mail for Heroes

PO Box 5456

Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

Be sure to sign the card and entitle it to Dear Service Member, Dear Veteran, or Dear Service Member Family. Don't include a letter or any kind of insert. And don't include personal information such as email or mail addresses on the card. You can write a brief note on the card. Oh, and no glitter. These cards are each individually scanned to ensure they are safe before being forwarded to military hospitals, families, and soldiers far from home.

If you wish to send telephone cards or gift certificates, don't send them to the above address. Check with for information on how to send such items. And do it before December 7th.

I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, a scrumptious dinner, and a quiet moment to reflect on your blessings.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Want to Buy a Zoo?

I know it’s Thanksgiving but I’d really rather rave about a book I just finished. I think you’ll understand why when I tell you this: If you’ve ever wanted to do something but weren’t sure how you were going to do it, this book is about moving forward, one step at a time. If you’ve ever wanted to take on something huge and wondered if you were crazy to even think you could do it, this book is about daring to dream about possibilities.

First, do you remember your visits to the zoo when you were little? Weren’t they amazing and wonderful? And did you ever think you’d like to live in a zoo or at least work at a zoo, feeding the animals (if not exactly cleaning up after them)?

I confess that zoos often made me sad. I felt bad for the animals who lived in such restricted areas when no doubt their genes had geared them towards a different, more “free” life. And yet, I also knew that without zoos, very few of us would ever see and learn about these animals.

So when I saw the title I was intrigued: “We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Change Their Lives Forever,” by Benjamin Mee.

Who wouldn’t be curious? And who would actually buy a zoo? No question of why one would buy it—but do you know anyone who actually bought a zoo? Sure, people buy houses and cars and even companies. But a zoo? With wild animals (that could eat you)?

This is the story written by a fairly ordinary man (granted, a man who made his living writing, which helps immensely in creating a wonderfully readable book) who comes across a zoo and is intrigued by the possibilities. Now it makes a difference that it was not just him, it was his sister, mother, and brothers as well (his wife and children were interested enough to at least humor him). After Ben’s father died, the children started looking for a larger home around Devon, England, so their mother could live with one of their families. And that’s why the real estate information for a large home, with zoo on the 30-acre grounds, came to their family.

It probably helped that from the beginning, the idea was so impossible that the pressure was completely off. It was just curiosity that led the family to visit the zoo, but once the seed was planted, as Ben said, he knew he would always regret it if he let this opportunity slip away without trying for it. And though he and his family were complete amateurs in terms of running a zoo, they had some important skills to contribute. Ben was a journalist who specialized in do-it-yourselfing fix-it-ups, which is pretty critical for anyone who wants to buy a run-down zoo. He was also interested in animal psychology and behavior and in fact had been gearing up to write a book on humor in animals, a project that had to be put on hold. His brother had worked in a zoo with reptiles and more recently had experience as a business manager, also important when running a zoo, which is a business, after all.

Perhaps the most important thing that Ben and his family could bring to the zoo was their great compassion for the animals, many of whom would be put down if the zoo could not find a buyer who could invest the time and money to bring the zoo up to date and up to required standards.

Not that the family had lots of money, but they were resourceful. And in that astounding way that things fall into place, things did fall into place, piece by piece.

Not only is “We Bought a Zoo” about buying a zoo, it’s about taking that one step forward and then another and another, following your heart and your instincts and working hard—they were rebuilding a zoo, after all—to make something good and worthwhile happen, not just for the zoo animals themselves, but for people and for the planet and all its animals, since a zoo is where children first learn about wild animals and their place in our world.

Find the time to treat yourself to this wonderful book. Until you can get to the book, you can watch the CBS interview with the author at the link below, or google videos (by author and title) for more. The BBC also did a four-part documentary on “Ben’s Zoo” and you can even see footage of the Dartmoor Zoological Park and animals.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Autumn Leaves

It's fall and I raked up a bunch of leaves in our back yard. It was a beautiful day and my body loved (and needed) the workout. After two hours of raking I had three huge piles of pale yellow, ochre, ruddy red, and brown leaves. It was lovely. As I stood admiring my work, a thought struck me. What am I going to do with all these leaves?

I couldn't burn them, because now-a-days you have to have a permit, a special metal container, and a fire extinguisher near by. Besides, Al Gore might give me dirty looks for contributing to the (bogus) green house effect.

I couldn't put them into bags and take them to the dump, because I would get a black mark for contributing to the land-fill problem.

I couldn't start a compost heap, because my neighbors would complain about the stink, and then ask me if I had the audacity of becoming a tree hugger person in the middle of suburbia.

So, I left them. Yep...they're sitting out there in the back yard; three huge piles of leaves enjoying the sunshine and waiting for the snow to cover them up. I figure the snow will dematerialize them during the winter, and come spring, my husband will just mow them into oblivion.

I guess I could go back out and scatter the leaves around again. I mean, it's what Mother Nature did in the first place. Who am I to try and improve on her brilliance?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Turkey Triumph

When we realized my mom would soon be leaving this earthly existence, I set about recording her life history on tape. (Many of you already know this..) I asked her every question I could think of and thought I had some valuable memories and information recorded.

It wasn’t until that following November (She passed away in July) and Thanksgiving was about a week away that I realized, with all the interviews and questions asked, I had forgotten to ask her for all of her cooking secrets for making the best tasting turkey and stuffing anyone could dream of.

That year, I had been crazy enough to offer to take on the task of cooking the turkey for our entire family. I thought it was important to carry on the Thanksgiving traditions that were always so dear to my mom. Though this was our first year without her, I thought we needed to be together as a family. It didn’t hit me I had no clue how to cook like mom did and I was sure that that’s exactly what the family was longing for—just like I was.

I learned a few lessons that year. For one, no matter if you have recipes written down follow it to a tee, nothing is as great as mom’s home cooking. (I had located mom’s stuffing recipe—I was so careful, still, mine didn’t taste the same) I set about asking anyone and everyone what their secrets were for the perfect moist turkey. Not knowing which would work best, I tried them all. I’m proud to announce the meat fell from the bones. Sorry, I had to brag—I have never cooked a turkey quite as well as I did that first year, even though every year since then I have attempted to follow the very same tricks. Go figure???

So with this blog, I want to make it’s purpose two fold. I am cooking again this year and would love to hear everyone’s secrets for the perfect turkey. I need another turkey triumph. So please! Send me your no-fail secrets and fast. I’m in trouble again!

The other purpose is this:

This is my last post before Thanksgiving so I feel I’d be ungrateful if I didn’t count a few of the blessings I am thankful for this Thanksgiving season. I’d love for you to share with us what you’re grateful for as well.

I am truly blessed to have a wonderful husband and family whom I love that will put up with my quirky ways—I am grateful for their support in all I do, and I have such good friends who stand by me and help me—bless all their hearts for tolerating me.

At this time of year I am reminded that each of the struggles and trials I have in my life gives me the opportunity to grow closer to my Savior, for which I am very grateful. I know these things are for my own good. They will give me experience and they can increase my faith. Something again, I am grateful for.

I am also grateful for my testimony, the atonement, and the peace that the gospel brings into my life; for the hope and direction I have because of it.

I am thankful for opportunities that have come my way; for the people who have helped make that possible, and the ones that have made my journey so enjoyable.

I am thankful to live in this country and for the freedoms I enjoy. I feel a great debt of gratitude to all those who have served our country to enable me the freedoms that I fear I may at times take for granted.

I also want to say I am thankful for my friends of the V-Formation. I consider their friendship an incredible blessing in my life. I love and admire each and every one of them. I am also thankful for the chance to gather my thoughts here (as haphazard as they may seem at times.) :)

I could go on and on, but I want to open it up to you. Here’s your chance to mention things you’re grateful for this year— and don’t forget, I need those turkey cooking secrets!

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Enid Blyton

by Anna Jones Buttimore

Last night I watched a BBC documentary recreation of the life of Enid Blyton. I was a huge Enid Blyton fan as a child - I had the entire Famous Five series, and most of the Secret Sevens, plus Mallory Towers and St. Clare's. At one stage I remember I modelled my signature on Blyton's with two little lines under my name - I think I was about ten. I noticed that things seemed a little different in her books; I didn't have servants, didn't eat tongue sandwiches or drink ginger beer, and I didn't know anyone who went to boarding school (although it sounded so fun and exciting!) but the outcry against Enid Blyton's books went over my head. I was incenced when libraries and schools banned them. I loved her books, and hadn't noticed that they were racist, or that all the working class characters were criminals.

Sadly, having watched the documentary about her life, my sympathies are now firmly with the libraries, and those who want to rewrite her 750+ books to fit in better with the modern age. I suppose to some extent she's the product of a different age, but she was a shockingly bad mother. She worked in her study all day, seeing her two daughters for an hour each evening. If they had misbehaved in any way, their punishment was to lose that hour with their parents.

The scene that sticks in my mind is that of Enid telling her eight-year-0ld daughter that she was remarrying. She had been having an affair with the surgeon Kenneth Darrell Waters for some time and it had led to the break-up of her marriage (although she divorced on the grounds of her husband's adultery, in order that she might save face). Enid chose to break the news of her impending marriage to little Imogen by cheerfully and abruptly telling her that "Uncle Kenneth" would be her father now, and she was to call him Daddy. When Imogen tearfully asked about her real father, she was told "Oh, he's gone off to war; I doubt we'll see him again." When the little girl became upset, her mother scolded her and sent her to bed without supper.

Later, Imogen saw her mother talking to a man in the garden (Blyton's estranged brother, Hanly, who had come to inform her of their mother's death) and asked innocently who it was. Blyton declared her "a little sneak" and sent her off to boarding school. Neither of her two daughters featured in the film again. Little Imogen is now 74 and I wonder whether she contributed to the research for the film.

There are many authors who lead lives which we, as Latter-day Saints, might consider unconventional or dubious. My question is, does knowing something about the author's personal life affect your enjoyment of their books? If you disapprove of an author's lifestyle, do you boycott their work? Alternatively, if you admire an author on a personal level, do you make an extra effort to buy their books even if you find them uninspiring? Knowing Enid Blyton to have put more time into writing for other people's children than mothering her own, would you buy her books for your children?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thanksgiving Memories

I love this time of year. I've always loved the fall colors, and the crisp biting air as the seasons change. And one of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving. I enjoy getting together with loved ones, sharing fun memories, playing games, hearing family stories, and savoring delicious food. This particular holiday took on an even deeper meaning for me when we discovered that some of our ancestors (like John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley) were among those who took part in the first Thanksgiving dinner held so many years ago.

This past month, I've had 3 separate opportunities to snap pictures of wild turkeys. I know turkey wasn't a featured menu item for my ancestors during their Thanksgiving feast, but this member of the poultry family is an important item for most who celebrate this fun holiday. As such, I'll share a couple of those pictures and a silly poem I wrote about turkeys last year. And if you feel so inclined, feel free to share some of your favorite Thanksgiving memories.

Turkeys on the Run

Turkeys on the run
Aren't having any fun
Dodging Pilgrim wannabes
They hide behind the trees.

Turkeys on parade
Think they have it made
When hunting season ends
They try to be your friends

Turkeys with attitude
Border on being rude
They strut across the road
Rebellion is their code.

Turkeys in the rain
Serve to entertain
When droplets hit their head
They look up---drown---fall dead.

Turkeys aren't too smart
But they try to do their part
Making Thanksgiving day complete---
Their revenge---we overeat.

Cheri J. Crane

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I'm not a member of LDStorymakers and I'm not on the Whitney Committee, but I feel strongly that the Whitney Awards are a needed way to honor LDS authors and promote clean fiction. Not many novels will be released between now and the end of the year, so now is a good time to look back over the novels by LDS authors that have arrived on bookstore shelves this year and pick out the ones most deserving of this honor. This means you. Because this award is highly dependent on reader input to be successful, there is a need for large numbers of readers both inside and outside the writing and publishing field to nominate the best books. A book must receive five separate nominations to be in the running.

The Whitney Awards were devized by a small committee sponsored by LDStorymakers, but is independent of that organization. This will be the third year to present the awards which are given in six categories plus an overall Best Novel of the Year.

For a novel to be considered for an award it must be written by an LDS author. It doesn't have to stick to LDS standards (personally, I think it should). It doesn't have to be published by an LDS publisher. It doesn't have to adhere to any established writing guidelines (though in most cases nominees are well written according to accepted literary standards). Anyone who profits from a particular novel such as the author or anyone in his or her household, the editor or publisher of the book or employees of the book's publishing house are ineligible to nominate the book. Friends can nominate so this an added reason nominations are needed from the general reading public. It would be a shame for an author who doesn't write too well, but who has lots of friends to be nominated while a great author was missed solely because everyone assumed he or she would get lots of nominations from someone else so why should they bother.

Below are the various categories. Get out your pen and make a list of the best books you've read this year in each category. If you think it's a tossup between two or three great mystery/suspense novels or any other category, nominate them all. You can nominate as many books as you like, but you can't nominate a single title more than once. Perhaps you're unsure which category a book fits in. That doesn't matter; you don't have to specify which genre a nominee should be placed in. And if you're like me, you won't always agree with the categories every book is paced in for the judging anyway.

Best Romance:

Best Mystery/Suspense:

Best Youth Fiction:

Best Speculative Fiction (This category includes sci-fi, fantasy, time travel, and last days fiction):

Best Historical:

Best General Fiction:

If you're wondering which books are eligible for nomination, there's a pretty complete list of novels written by LDS authors on LDS Publisher. You can also check reviews written by me for Meridian here to refresh your memory of stories written earlier in the year. I didn't review all of the eligible novels, but I did write reviews of a good share of them. Some books, though written by LDS authors aren't considered LDS novels and I don't review those.

All you need to do to nominate an author/title is go to this site and fill in the blanks. Be prepared to fill in title, author, and publisher. Let's give deserving authors/titles a resounding number of nominations. Don't let this piece of important business get lost in the coming holladay rush.

Why I Love Writing

I don't have time to write this blog today. I don't have time to eat, drink or even go to the bathroom. I have two book deadlines, a Gospel Doctrine lesson to prepare, book reviews to write, oh, and a family to take care of, but I'm making myself sit down and do this because I've had the most wonderful experience recently, and I wanted to share it.
Over the last eight weeks I've been doing a Library Lecture tour around the Salt Lake Valley. My topic was "How to Write from Your Heart and Not Your Head." I've had the opportunity to spend an evening with some wonderful people, people who have been bitten by the writing bug and have stories inside of them just bursting to get out.
Part of the reason I wanted to do this lecture tour was to give me a chance to "give back" so to speak. In doing so, I've been reminded of something wonderful. I've been reminded of why I love writing so much.
About fifteen years ago I was sitting in the audience at a writing seminar, listening to the teacher go on and on about getting published. I remember thinking, "Is this ever really going to happen? Will I ever get published?" My doubts weren't based as much on my ability and writing talent, or my desire to get published, but on the criticism and cynicism of others. People (family and friends - you know who you are!) would sometimes roll their eyes as I tried to tell them about my writing projects and where I was submitting my stories and all the rejections I was getting. It was as if a ticker board was going across their forehead telling me their thoughts, "Why do you keep wasting your time with this?", "Does it take a house to fall on you before you realize this is never going to happen?", "Don't you have anything better to do with your time?"
After a while, I quit telling people what I was doing, and just kept it to myself. Even my husband didn't really know much about what I was doing. I'd come out of the closet and declared "I'm a writer!" only to go back in again where it was safe.
It was hard. It was hard because I loved what I was doing so, so much, yet no one believed I could do it. No one but me.
So, in spite of it all, I kept at it. I kept trying and trying. And, by dang, I did it. And I believe with all my heart it wasn't about talent and being a brilliant writer, it was about passion, persistence, hard work and dedication.
And that's why I do these lecture tours. I want to tell other writers my story. I want them to know that they can do it. They can get published IF . . . and that's the key work, IF they are willing to work hard and never give up.
I'm actually glad that during my struggle to get published I was forced to dig deep and really find out what I was made of. I think that has made me a better writer. It certainly has made me appreciate and never take for granted this gift I've been given. This gift of being published and being able to have a voice in the world.
And that is why I love writing.

Monday, November 9, 2009

One Writer's Journey

I just read for the second time Five Pages a Day: A Writer’s Journey by Peg Kehret. Peg Kehret may not be as well known as some of the “biggies,” like J.K. Rowling or Lloyd Alexander, but she’s had a very satisfying career as a writer. She’s written about 40 books for children/young teens and a dozen nonfiction books on various topics. In fact, the Library of Congress called her home to identify which Peg Kehret she was and which books she wrote because clearly there was more than one Peg Kehret because of the great variety in these books. Surely no one person would have written them. But she had. And they all have a part in her story.

She begins with her first writing venture, the Dog Newspaper, when she was 10. She asked everyone in her neighborhood to tell about their dogs, but since they had very little to say, she ended up writing about her own dog, B.J., who did have an interesting story. He had been found as the only surviving puppy in a litter by her uncle’s unit in Germany during World War I and the soldiers kept the puppy until the end of the war, when they decided to pool their money to get the dog to the U.S. (They had named him B.J., because it was a Big Job to take care of him.) Then they had a drawing and Peg’s uncle won the drawing. Although Peg felt her first issue was a great success, sadly, her venture barely made it to a fourth issue.

I love hearing stories of writers when they were children. I’m so impressed when I hear of writers who wrote their first book when they were 8 or 10 or even 16. In fact, I like that I wrote poetry in high school. I probably would cringe to read it now, but I love that I loved words when I was young and that I knew they could be used to express feelings and to create images that recreated those feelings in others.

Peg did have some great writing opportunities when she was younger and by describing them, she also gives would-be writers some ideas for their own writing. She proofread a newspaper and wrote commercials for a radio station when she was in high school, but married at 18 instead of going to college. It took her a while to get back to writing but that rediscovery for her provides many lessons as well. She started taking community classes but when her husband was transferred out of state, she learned that she couldn’t afford the out-of-state tuition for more classes. So she decided, since she already knew she wanted to be a writer, to spend the next year writing, until she could qualify as a resident and go back to school.

Here she enters into really fun and useful part of her book, how she slowly began to earn money with her writing, but then, I think every single chapter and all her stories about her writing failures and successes are useful, both to writers and to the editors who work with writers. I particularly appreciate that her apprenticeship before writing her first book took involved her writing for several magazines and also writing in response to several contests, where she won a car and a trip to Hawaii, among other things. But more than winning things—although they were useful to her young family and validating to her as a writer—was that they helped instill a discipline that invited creativity.

I’m going to stop here and simply say that about 10 copies of this book are available on Amazon for $2 plus shipping. Peg’s style is incredibly readable and I think writers at all stages will enjoy her story.

Friday, November 6, 2009

My Favorite Characters

I taught a class on creating characters last week at our public library. It was a fun opportunity to review some of my favorite people in literature. I read brief character descriptions from some of my favorite books, then discussed how I created mine.

The first excerpt I read was from The Secret Garden, one of my all-time favorite books when I was growing up. Frances Hodgson Burnett said of her character: "When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle, everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true, too. She had a little thin face and a little thin body, thin light hair and a sour expression." I loved Mary as she outgrew her self-absorption and was curious (and brave!) enough to investigate the crying sounds in the big scary house and find Colin, then bully him into a cure.

I read many more, but there isn't room nor time to go into all of them here. I did, however, read an example from Emeralds and Espionage, my first book, showing a serious flaw in character introduction. My heroine plunges into her adventure without the reader having any idea who she is or what she looks like - and in the first few drafts, it remained that way until some kind editor pointed out that it was about 25 pages into the book before the reader ever knew her name. My only excuse was that it was my first book - and that I clearly saw her and knew all about her. I just failed to communicate that early on to my readers.

I liked Allison. She was adventurous, head-strong, intelligent - after all, she spoke a dozen different languages. :) And she was beautiful, but humble through it all. (All the things I wanted to be, I guess.) When I created her, I went through the entire character sketch so that I knew everything about her: what she like to eat, read, listen to, do in her spare time, her parentage, her job, her car, her friends, her dreams. All these things will have a bearing on what she does and how she reacts in any given situation. I had to know about her education, ethnicity, possessions, obsessions, beliefs, religion, ambitions, fears, attitudes, character flaws and strengths as well.

Some of the participants in the class asked if this was really necessary when you write a book. I feel that it is absolutely essential. If you know your character, you know how she/he will react when faced with a problem, in an emergency, in a tense situation or confrontation. And if you write a character sketch, you won't have to go back later and see if her eyes were blue, green, hazel, brown or gray.

I was diligent in forming Allison beforehand, but didn't think it was necessary with the secondary characters, but as they began playing a major role in the story, I discovered their history and description needed to be fleshed out in a character sketch. As I added the Anastasia team, it was absolutely necessary to do that for them, or I could never have kept up with their idiosyncracies which are always an important part of any character.

I loved Maggie McKenzie. I had so many story lines for her, so much possibility. I'm sad that she is retired. A life snuffed out too soon.

So I am a total advocate of doing an extensive character sketch on your main characters. If they have fun quirks, make them a part of the story. Let your readers empathize with their flaws and rejoice in their strengths. If you know your characters well, this should make writing about them so much easier - and even fun!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

True Patriots

My neice is being deployed to Afghanistan.

She is now at a two week combat training camp while her sweet husband, who is also in the Air Force, takes care of their two young daughters. My neice will have a month home with her family and then be half way around the world for six months.

They seem to be taking it in stride. I suppose that's part of being a military person: accepting orders, never flinching from duty, and being strong even when the call means great personal sacrifice. I honor my niece and nephew, and all in the military. They are true patriots. I stand humbled and amazed by their commitment and bravery.

I'm trying to be brave, but I find myself weeping every time I see an American flag, or catch a glimpse of anything on television that shows service men and women in combat gear.

I also get angry when I see political leaders who are attempting to change the very base of this wonderful country. Oh, indeed, the United States of America isn't perfect, but we are great. Our Constitution has stood the test of time and made us a country of heart and substance. I'd love one of those unethical politicians, who doesn't think this country is great, to look my niece in the eyes and see what she thinks about America. I do believe they'd get a very honest and straightforward answer.

My niece will be laying much on the alter of freedom. I wonder if the said politician would willing do the same?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Puzzles And Books Under Construction

I can’t help but think how much writing novels compares to a puzzle.

Though I can’t really claim to know the proper steps to producing a magnificent puzzle nor do I know the secrets or have the ability to write a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, I do believe there are some similar procedures to acquire both finished products.

Just as there are numerous styles of books, there several types of puzzles. First of all, you need fresh original puzzles to capture your audience just as fresh ideas captivate your reading audience.

I myself, am terrible at putting together a puzzle with anything more than a 100 pieces, I have learned that finding the pieces to the border gives me a good basis to work with,. Likewise, a first draft gives my story direction. While working with my border, I watch out for the corners. In writing, my draft helps me to beware not to “write myself into a corner.” (I still manage to do that from time to time but it was a good analogy, anyway.)

Persuasive thinking can be done with wording content just as writing in a crossword puzzle makes you think one way when the answer is really another. This is a fun way to throw the reader into questioning who the villain of the story might be and give them multiple choices to choose from.

While writing. hidden within an author’s plot are words that heighten the suspense, just as words can be found in word search puzzles. Sometimes they are easy to spot, while other times a reader skims over them, unaware that they have any significance until later in the story.
Brain teaser puzzles work in a similar fashion. The author has written the story in such a way that the answer may be right in front of your very eyes but you don’t see it until the author reveals it to you and even then you wonder how you missed it. (I love those kind of books-- the hard to figure out ones-but the answer was right there all along!)

Events interlock and lead up to the climax of the book, they keep the reader wondering what will happen next just as piece by piece the jigsaw puzzle eventually reveals the full picture.
Some puzzles require grids. As an author it’s crucial to keep track of time lines and character roles. Have you ever read a book when a character role was confused with another? YIKES! Bad writing and bad editing. I shamefully admit a time line was a hard lesson for me to learn.

Every child’s favorite is the Tic- Tac- Toe, Three in a row puzzle. Basically there are three parts to the story, the beginning (introduction) the climax, and the ending. Okay, there is a lot of stuff in between those three steps too but the point here is that when the story is told, it’s time to end it.

And then there is the all time favorite of every Primary and Sunday School teacher who finds their lesson has ended early, the Hangman style puzzle. It’s the common knowledge puzzle. In writing, you may have the bad guy figured out, but you read on because you love the book so much that you have to see how it ends. So really, “Hangman” is a bad name for this analogy-- I was going more for the “Common Knowledge” theory on this one.

Last but not least, the “Jigzone Puzzle.“ You may be wondering what this puzzle has to do with writing. When I find writer’s block has me stumped, I wander over to the “Zone.“ Sometimes I just need a break and this is my favorite puzzle site. It’s about all the puzzle I can handle, nothing too mind boggling. It gives me a quick escape while my book is under construction.

May all your puzzles be best sellers!

Here’s a "Happy Harvest" challenge for you:
Click to Mix and Solve