Friday, January 30, 2009

I'll Have My People Text Your People and We'll Do Lunch

So there I was, headed to a YW presidents’ luncheon at the home of a sister in another ward. I’d looked up directions to her house online and they looked pretty straightforward, plus I’d been there once before, so I foolishly figured I’d be okay without writing the directions down. Granted, I couldn’t exactly remember the name of the street where I supposed to turn, but I knew it was Oak-something, so I figured I’d know the sign when I saw it. As it turned out, Oak was a recurring theme in street names in this area, and I didn’t know which Oak was the right one. Whoops. So I drove around a bit and made myself thoroughly late, then stopped and did the logical thing—took out my cell phone, called my sister in Phoenix (750 miles away) and asked her to look up directions for me. She went online, found directions, told me which Oak I wanted, and I was good to go.

Remember the olden days when getting directions meant unfolding one of those flappy paper maps (the ones I always had trouble re-folding correctly)? Now it’s easier for me to outsource direction questions to Phoenix. Technology is awesome, if slightly weird. Once my daughter asked me to stop by the home of one of the early morning seminary carpool mothers. My daughter had left a textbook in the carpool car and needed it back. By now, though, it was a bit past genteel visiting hours, being 9:30 at night. I knocked on the door, but no one answered. Even though I was sure the family was still awake, it seemed like a violation of door etiquette to pound on the door so late in the evening. So, standing on the doorstep, I took out my phone, called my daughter at home and asked her to instant message the family’s teenage son, who was likely on the computer. She instant messaged him and told him to go answer the door. Naturally, he was a bit confused, but he answered the door and I got the textbook. With technology like that, who needs doorbells?

I find cell phones very handy (yes, they can be overused and abused, but so can just about any technology). Cell phones are great for parents. We can go on a date, knowing if there's a problem, our kids can get in touch with us. Cell phones are also useful in large places like amusement parks, zoos, and Costco where you might lose track of members of your party. It’s very handy to be able to punch some buttons and say, “Where are you?” rather than wandering through endless aisles trying to spot your husband or daughter.

I'm still behind the times, though, since I'm not adept at texting. I can do it . . . sort of . . . but very slowly, and I get stumped easily and no, I don't remember how to turn off the automatic-word-finishing feature. The other day I handed my daughter my phone and asked her to write a text message for me, since I knew she could whip it out effortlessly.

If I do ever get good at texting, it will probably be right before the technology revolution moves on to some completely different way of communicating and I'll be back at square one.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

First Lines

Have you ever noticed that it's those pesky first lines that catch a person's attention? For instance, the first sentence that my future husband ever heard me utter was: "Hi there, is you tooken?" =) True, I was portraying Moonbeam McSwine at the time, chasing menfolk during the Sadie Hawkin's Day Race. The females in our cast had been told to flirt with the men in the audience that night as we ran around, chasing the male members of the cast from this musical production. I spied a cute young man, someone I had never seen before, plopped into his lap, played with his hair, and uttered those inspiring words.

It turned out that this young man was the son of someone I worked with at the local nursing home that summer. For weeks, she had been telling me about this son of hers, someone who was due to return home from his mission to Japan in the very near future. I had no idea that the man I had chosen to flirt with in the audience that night was this son. He, of course, thought the entire thing was a setup since his mother had been pointing me out all night. She had dragged him to see our community play, "Lil' Abner," going on and on about this young woman (me) that he just had to meet. Then I came and sat on his lap and made quite a first impression. =D

Needless to say, I was mortified when I looked over and saw Kennon's mother sitting beside him. That's when it dawned on me that my "catch" that night was a recently returned missionary (he had only been home for about a week). Kennon told me later that when I blushed a scarlet red, jumped off his lap, and disappeared, he knew I was the girl for him. Not only had my opening line inspired him, but he knew by the horrified look on my face that I had not been party to a plot develped by his mother. We began dating after that, and the rest, as they say, is history. ;)

When it comes to writing books, that opening line is a crucial thing. You want to hook the reader right off the bat, drawing them immediately into the story. Choosing an overly used sentence like: "It was a dark and stormy night," is not necessarily a good option. ;) Be creative. Ponder what would capture your attention. Consider how it will affect potential readers. What you select will vary, depending on the type of audience you desire to reach.

Here are the opening lines from some books I've recently read. In fact, I'll make it a matching game. See if you can match the opening line to the title of the book:

1. The scream tore the night apart.

2. When I am in one of my philosophical moods, I am inclined to wonder if all families are as
difficult as mine.

3. My feet pounded the ground as I ran; my heart thumped against my ribs.

4. Long ago and far away in the land of ice and snow, there came a time when it seemed that winter would never end.

5. Everybody says that a good beginning is the most important part of a book, and I've put a whole lot of thought into this one.

6. When I was seventeen, my life changed forever.

(Since Blogger isn't necessarily a cooperative program, I'll list the titles below:)

A. The Forgotten Warrior

B. Sun & Moon, Ice & Snow

C. Tathea

D. A Walk to Remember

E. The Golden One

F. This Just In

Okay, let the games begin. See how many you can match as you ponder the importance of that opening line. I'll send an autographed copy of one of my books, "Moment of Truth" to the lucky soul who first posts the most correct answers in the comment section. I'll keep this contest open until next Thursday.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Celebrating Life - No Matter What Age We Are

In June of 2008, my husband, children and I traveled to St. George to visit my Grandma Ashman. She was the inspiration for my book, "A Candle in the Window." Grandma has always been like a second mom to me and is one of the most wonderful, faithful women I have ever met. The main reason we wanted to see her was because we knew she was on her death bed and we wanted to see her one last time. Grandma was 99 at the time. We were sad to see her go but ready to let her pass on. My Grandpa Ashman died in 1967. She's been alone a long time and misses him terribly. We were excited for her to be with him again, and her mother she'd lost when was only 8 years old. These reunions with loved ones would bring her much joy and help us not miss her so much.

I've spent a lot of time with my grandma and have always loved hearing stories of her childhood and life. She told me about being a young girl in Scipio, Utah, and how she saw an airplane fly overhead for the first time and what a thrill that was for her. I thought about when I was a little girl and saw on black and white TV, a man walk on the moon for the first time. I think of all the inventions she's seen in her life, all the advances in science, all the wars and global happenings, and the miraculous growth of the gospel and I wonder, if I live to be her age, what amazing things will I witness?

Well, it is now the end of January, 2009, and guess who is still with us . . . my dear, sweet grandmother. She is actually quite sick of the rest home and wants to go back to her home and live. I have always loved her spunk and vigor. She served a full-time mission to Arkansas and when I was struggling with some decisions in my life, she was the one who suggested that I go on a mission and then supported me when I went. Her strength, her zest for life, her positive outlook, unconditional love and her unwavering faith, is a legacy she has passed on to all of her children and posterity. She has always made the best out of every situation and has lived her life to the fullest.

I turn 50 this year. She turns 100. I'm pretty sure I'll make it to my birthday, and I hope like crazy that she makes it to hers. But if not, she will receive a welcome home party fit for a queen. Here's to celebrating life no matter what age we are!

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Memory is a funny thing. It can bring us remorse or sadness, but it can also allow us a delightful second chance to enjoy good times once again. A recent visit with a cousin I hadn’t seen since she was a small child and I was a teenager brought a rush of long ago memories to the forefront of my mind, not the big important things, but some of those small moments that have somehow stuck in my mind. She remembers sitting on my lap and being comforted over some small mishap. I remember an afternoon at the Idaho Falls zoo with her mother frantically trying to keep her from putting her fingers in her mouth. I remember her big eyes and long blonde curls. She said she remembered me being kind and pretty. I think she might have confused me with one of my sisters. We reminisced about family reunions, horseback riding at my family’s farm, eating salmon steaks and drinking cokes at her family’s city house. Long after we parted I continued to think of the small moments that make up a life. There are the big momentous occasions, but it is the smaller half-forgotten ones that bring unexpected bursts of warmth to our hearts and a smile to our lips.

My younger brother and I were playing in our playhouse, an old car without wheels or a motor, when I did something, I honestly don’t remember what, that brought an “I’m going to tell Mama” from him. He took off running for the house and after a moment I began running too. I was a firm believer in the school of thought that proclaims a little girl’s conscience is that instinct which propels her to tell her mother before her little brother gets a chance. He had a head start and I tripped, slowing me down. I arrived at the kitchen door just in time to see my brother skid across the wet floor my mother was mopping and plop down rear first in her mop bucket. Whatever I did, it was worth it.

My dad taught me to drive when I was about five or six. He stuck me in the cab of his truck, wired blocks of wood to the gas pedal and brake so I could reach them, then while I was sitting on the very edge of the seat and looking down a long length of field between rows of potato sacks he told me to line up the little light on the front bumper with the potato sacks and just aim like it was a rifle sight. It worked. He and a neighbor bucked the heavy sacks on the truck as I steered the slowly crawling truck the length of the field. At the end of each row, he jumped inside the cab, turned the truck, and I began aiming down another row. I was pretty proud of myself at the time and felt so grown up. I doubt today’s drivers’ education teachers would approve.

Remember your first prom? I remember mine, but not for the reasons other girls might. I was head-over-heels in love with a guy a few years older than me and he asked me to the prom well ahead of the big dance. I had a gorgeous dress, borrowed from my brother-in-law’s sister in another town. The big dance was all my girlfriends and I could talk about. The day before the prom I came down with the mumps. The night of my big date my escort appeared at my door anyway and presented me with flowers. He assured me he’d had mumps when he was a little boy and wasn’t concerned about being infected by being around me. I vowed that night that whoever I married (whether it was him or someone else) he would have to be as kind and thoughtful as that young man was. (I didn’t marry him, but he did set a standard by which I measured every guy I dated after him.)

I once received a prestigious national journalism award. My publisher flew me to San Antonio to collect the award in person. At the banquet where the awards were to be given, I felt a little intimidated to be surrounded by people whose bylines I’d read in the big papers and faces I’d seen on television. When my name was announced I walked to the dais on legs that felt like rubber. The person presenting the award made a little speech, then paused, before making an announcement that went something like this, “Along with Ms. Hansen’s award the governor of her state, Scott Matheson, has sent her a congratulatory telegram expressing his congratulations and their state’s pride in her achievement.” For him it was likely a moment’s thoughtfulness, for me it made one of those sweet icing-on-the-cake memories I’ll treasure always.

A few years ago I taught a family history class. It wasn’t the names and dates sort of genealogy class, but one where I was teaching the participants to write their personal histories, or in other words, tell their stories. At one point I asked everyone to think of some small event that happened much earlier in their lives and write about it. It wasn’t to be a big thing like a birthday, baptism, or something like that, just some small memory that had stuck in their heads. It was fun to read the brief essays, usually just a paragraph or two, and see how many times the person writing suddenly discovered some personal meaning in the incident. I believe it is the small incidents that woven together, mark whether a life is rich and full, and provides the memories that carry us through the difficult times. I’d like to pass on the challenge I gave to my class members to all who read this blog. What are some of the small incidents that somehow enriched your life or provided a chuckle years later?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Words of Wisdom

"Rather than dwelling on the past, we should make the most of today, of the here and now doing all we can to provide pleasant memories for tomorrow."

--Thomas S. Monson

It's easy to get caught up in the "if only I'd," or "I wish I would have," mode of thinking. "I can't believe s/he felt/said/did that to me..." Sometimes we need to let go of all of that and live in the present. I know that thinking/dwelling too much on past pains can bog us down really fast and hold us there if we let it.

The quote above is from a Thomas S. Monson talk called "Finding Joy in the Journey," and it's full of good stuff. One particular paragraph states, "This is our one and only chance at mortal life--here and now. The longer we live, the greater is our realization that it is brief. Opportunities come, and then they are gone. I believe that among the greatest lessons we are to learn in this short sojourn upon the earth are lessons that help us distinguish between what is important and what is not. I plead with you not to let those most important things pass you by as you plan for that elusive and nonexistent future when you will have time to do all that you want to do. Instead, find joy in the journey--now."

I come from an impressive line of worriers. Combined with my Myers/Briggs personality profile which pegs me as an ENFP who thinks what could be is always more exciting than what is, it makes for a pretty schizophrenic person. I worry, or I think of what could be. The reminder to enjoy the here and now is really good for me.

There's an awesome quote in Kerry Blair's Counting Blessings. She speaks of the Mary/Martha "careful and troubled about many things," (if memory serves- I don't have the book right in front of me. It's on my nightstand). Kerry's quote is, in essence, "if you must be careful, be careful not to borrow trouble." That hit me like a ton of bricks. I'm often a borrower of trouble.

The whole message of finding joy in the journey is such a valuable one. It really isn't all about the destination. I love reminders of that because it allows me to take a deep breath, smile and appreciate the details along the way that make life so rich.

The Untold Story

For every story we tell, there are dozens we don’t tell, right? And I mean this in a broad sense, not just as it relates to fiction. Whenever we communicate personal experiences or thoughts or beliefs with others, we make certain choices, consciously or not. I expect that would make an interesting post or discussion, based on everyone’s experiences with telling stories of one kind or another, but I’ve been thinking of one story in particularly, the one I wrote about in my last post, about a really adorable little kitten named Clarence.

In the days since then, I started to realize I hadn’t told the whole story. It wasn’t a conscious choice as much as I had just forgotten there was a completely different side to my little “angel” cat when he first came to my house. I mentioned his biting, but had forgotten that his biting, in the beginning, was so bad I used to put him in his cat carrier for the night so I could sleep. He also used to play-attack my other cats. Well, he may have thought he was being playful, but it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say he terrorized the household. In fact, he was such a kamikaze kitty as he tore through the house, I even tested out the name “Evel Knievel” on him and called him “Evel” for short. (Can you picture me calling “Come here, Evil Kitty, come here”?) But for obvious reasons I decided he needed another name. It felt too weird calling him that, plus I was afraid of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and somehow encouraging him to live up to his name. I considered “Angel” early on (not because he was one, but again, that principle of self-creating prophecy), but it just didn’t fit him. When my brother suggested Clarence, I like the name because the kitten really did look like the TV lion but I thought the subtle angel connection (to “It’s a Wonderful Life”) might serve as that self-fulfilling prophecy for him without being so obviously wrong (like calling him Angel). But looking back now, maybe it actually worked.

When I wrote my last blog I’d forgotten all of this and now I find myself wondering what exactly it means. Maybe it’s a little about those tricky first impressions when we think we don’t like someone and before long, we’re best friends. Or remember back in high school thinking a new girl or guy was “stuck up” and really they were just shy? Or maybe it’s like having a baby or writing a book or going through hard times, when the passage of time serves to help us forget the really painful parts (or at least some) and we can enjoy the best parts.

Which is one of the things I like about getting older (as I look ahead to the big 5-0 in a few weeks). I hate forgetting things and feeling like an idiot, but I love that I’ve forgotten so much of the angst of those younger years. And I like that so many things that seemed so important, now seem hardly worth remembering; I haven’t completely forgotten them, just forgotten most of the emotions that made certain experiences so painful.

So there’s another lesson from my little kitten. His death isn’t what I remember, or even those bumpy first months as he grew more obnoxious as he gained strength and his rough fur softened and became silky. What I remember is how gorgeous he became, how loving he was when he laid his head against my neck, and that loving look in his eyes before he attacked my nose.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

American History 101

by Gale Sears

Today we witness history. An African American man will stand on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington, DC and be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, and whether or not we voted for him or agree with his policies, we thrill at the greatness of the American system of democracy. I am always heartened by the seamless and peaceful exchange of power and the brilliance of the founding fathers in establishing a means whereby we change our leaders with such dignity. I have been touched by the grace of President and Laura Bush, and the earnestness of President Elect Obama and his wife Michelle.

I am an American, and on an historic day like today I will cry when I see the stars and stripes, and hear the Marine Band play America the Beautiful. I will listen attentively to the words of my new President and pray for him and all those who will work with him in leading this country. We will go forward—for that is the way of the United States. God bless America.

An Attitude of Gratitude

I spoke in Sacrament Meeting on Sunday with the above assigned topic. I do keep a daily journal and try to record the blessings I've noted that day. Some days they are so easy to remember; other days, I have a harder time identifying them. Isn't it interesting that we become so accustomed to having all these blessings flow from above that at times we don't even notice them? If we don't notice them, how can we express gratitude for them?

President Monson identified several areas in which we should be extremely grateful and express that gratitude frequently: mothers, fathers, teachers, friends, country, and of course, our Savior. (I added challenges, tests and trials- though I'm not especially grateful for them, I am grateful for the growth that comes from them!)

Which leads me to the real crux of this whole thing: Our Bishop mentioned the report of the stake presidency on instruction they had received from the Brethren regarding the challenging times we are now living in. They were told that, yes, things are bad, and they are going to get worse, but as long as we are true and faithful, as long as we keep the commandments and stay close to the Lord, we will be okay.

That was the promise of President Monson to all of us. I should have added one more thing to my talk on Sunday: gratitude for modern day prophets and apostles who can guide and direct and counsel us - as well as calm our fears and bring comfort to our souls while we see our world as we have known it disintegrate before our very eyes.

How simple that counsel is. Keep the commandments. We are taught that in Primary. May we ever remember it - and do it! Then the promise is ours. Everything doesn't have to be alright right this minute - as long as we have the promise that it will be for our good in the long run. I believe that it will.

And now I'm off to help make things right in my daughter's world where her brand-new baby has pneumonia and can't come home from the hospital with her. But it will be alright - in the end. I believe that.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Errand Of Angels

My Sister’s Hands

My sister’s hands are fair and white. My sister’s hands are dark.
My sister’s hands are touched with age, or by the years unmarked.
And often when I pray for strength to live as He commands,
The Father sends me sustenance, through my sister’s hands.
My sister’s hands are lined and worn with burdens of their own.
And yet, I know should I mourn, I need not weep alone.
For often as I seek His grace to lighten life’s demands
The Father sends me solace borne in my sister’s hands.
My sister’s hands, compassion’s tools, that teach my own their art,
Witnesses of charity within the human heart,
Bearers of the Savior’s love and mercy unto man
I have felt the “Master’s Touch” through my sister’s hands.
(Author unknown)

Being the youngest of four girls, I have always had sisters around me. I didn’t always appreciate that fact. All my friends had cute brothers that bullied and protected them. I ended up with sisters to contend with. Whether it was fighting over chores, borrowing clothes without asking, (That was a HUGE no-no) or phone privileges, we found more ways to get on each other’s nerves, and get each other in trouble, that you would wonder if there was even any love between us. Oh, but there was. We actually had some great times. Looking back now, we all talk and laugh over the silly antics we were always up to.
The things we put our parents through…

Years later, I sit here and think of each sister, with the fondest of memories. I don’t think there has been a time I have appreciated them or felt more blessed to have them in my life as I do now.
Maybe it comes with age and therefore, experience, but I finally see just how blessed I am to have my sister’s around me.
I must say, we are all different from each other as night and day but I don’t have a single doubt in my mind that if I ever needed one of them, they would be there for me. Sometimes they are there for me, without my even asking. I am amazed that they always know when I need them the most.
They have helped me through some of the toughest times of my life.
How can I ever express my love and gratitude to them for being there, all the many times I desperately needed them?

I want to include all my other sisters, my sisters inside and outside of the Gospel. I am overwhelmed by the generous hearts of my good sisters who lift me up when I am down, who extend themselves to help me face the unknown when I am afraid, those who have had the patience to help me learn a new skill- maybe not because I have the talent, but because I have the desire. There have been those who care enough about my feelings and my family’s well being that they will sacrifice their time and talents to comfort us when we are heartbroken or weary, when we are discouraged they do all they can to make us happy. What wonderful sisters!

I love the song, “As sisters in Zion” The second verse says:

“The errand of angels is given to women
And this is a gift that as sister’s we claim:
To do whatsoever is gentle and human,
To cheer and to bless in humanity’s name”

I can’t help but be thankful for all the angels in my life. I somehow manage to
Keep them constantly on their errands, but I have to say my life is rich because of them.
Though I try to show my appreciation, I know I will never have the words to express my heartfelt love and gratitude, so it is my hope and prayer that my Father in Heaven will bless them for their efforts.
It is also my humble prayer that as I have had so many wonderful examples to follow, that I can show my gratitude in return by being the kind of sister that so many have been to me.

Friday, January 16, 2009

An Author's Life for Me

by Anna Jones Buttimore

About an hour from now, I need to go off to Thundersley Primary School, where I am the guest speaker in a mixed class of children from years 3 and 4. These lovely 7 and 8 year olds are going to ask me questions about being an author. I've known most of them since they were 3, since one of them is my middle daughter and they've been in the same group for their entire school lives. Needless to say, I'm terrified.

I've got copies of everything I ever had published packed up in my bag, from a dreadful poem I wrote in senior school to an article in LDS Living - and my three novels, of course. The children are, apparently, going to ask me questions about being an author. Naturally I shall feel rather a fraud as I answer them. Living out here in the UK, far from my target market in Zion, means that I have never done any book signings, never seen my books on display in a bookshop or library, and never encountered anyone reading one of them on the Tube - apparently the no. 1 thrill for UK writers. So being held up as a "real life author" in front of thirty children is going to seem rather odd.

And what do I tell them?

Q. Do you make much money from writing?
A. No, very little. With my next royalties cheque I plan to take my family out for a meal. To McDonald's.

Q. Is it exciting being a writer?
A. No. Mostly it involves slogging away trying to be inspired, and get words onto a page, which, to be frank, can be very boring. Then you wait and wait and wait, with some worrying thrown in before more waiting ... and then you give up sleep altogether in the mad rush to get an edit finished by an impossible deadline.

Q. Are you famous?
A. No. Thousands of people could buy your books and profess to love your work, but not one of them would recognise you in the street. Well, would you recognise John Grisham if you bumped into him at the Supermarket?

Q. Is it easy to become a writer?
A. No. Any published author will tell you that they have acquaintances come up to them on a regular basis saying that they are in the process of writing a book and would like some help with it, especially with getting it accepted by a publisher. Lots of people write books. Most of them result in nothing more getting printed than several rejection letters.

Basically I think I will be telling the children that it's not a viable career choice, so they really should stick to their plans to be firemen, astronauts or ballerinas. I don't think Miss Ellis will be inviting me back anytime soon.

So why do we "real authors" do it? I think, for many of us, the answer is simply that we love writing. Those of us who understand the power of well-chosen words get a real thrill from using those words to stir emotions and create worlds. I have a "real" job too (see and was asked by my boss a few weeks ago to put together an article on alternative treatments for depression. I spent a couple of days researching the subject, phoning people I knew to have suffered from depression, or to be proponents of complementary therapies, and then I started writing the article. Halfway through I remembered that I was being paid for what I was doing, and realised how blessed I was in getting £10 per hour for doing something I loved. Don't tell my boss this, but I'd have done it for nothing. After all, I wrote an 80,000 word novel for the chance to try the new McChicken Mayo.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Use It or Lose It

One day while I was driving my daughter to school, she was musing about her AP History class. “Now, Ackbar was a Mughal, right?” she said. “I thought he was the admiral from Return of the Jedi,” I said. She then started rambling about Ottomans. I thought of furniture. I was a darn good student when I was in school several eons ago, but I’ve lost it all. Can’t remember a thing. Of course, even my agile-brained young high-schooler can’t always come up with the right bit of information at the right time. In one of those tip-of-the-tongue moments, she was fishing for a word she wanted. “What’s that word? Barbarians? Ombudsmen?” Finally, triumphantly, she came up with it: cannibals. Don’t ask me how we got on a subject where “cannibals” was a word pertinent to the conversation.

I can still help my third-grader with his math, but get much beyond that and I’m lost. If you need help with fifth or sixth grade math, I'll have to send you to an older sibling. If you are the older sibling and get math-flummoxed, you'll need to talk to Dad. He’s an MIT guy and people with advanced degrees from the hallowed halls of the beaver aren’t intimidated by, you know, fractions and stuff.

By the way, if you ever want to cheer on an MIT team, here’s one of their chants:

I'm a Beaver, you're a Beaver, we are Beavers all.
And when we get together, we do the Beaver call.
E to the U du dx,
E to the X dx.
Cosine, secant, tangent, sine, 3.14159.
Integral radical mu dv
Slipstick, sliderule, MIT.
Go Tech!

Gets your blood pumping, doesn’t it?

I was a history major in college, but I’ve forgotten it all. Every last exploration, war, treaty, and squirelly little international incident is gone with the wind. The only Manifest Destiny I know anything about is the way that dirty socks, toys and school papers are destined to spread from the east side of the house to the west by sundown each day. But in the years since graduation, I have learned lots of new things. Like the ins and outs of motherhood. How to sneak the last ice cream bar without getting busted by the kids. How to write novels. And though I've forgotten my math, I can definitely help my kids edit their essays!

I think I'll make a new year's--or new life's!--resolution to never stop learning new things--even if I do forget a few old things along the way.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Hard Thing

I've been thinking a lot lately about Lehi's family. As you'll recall, Lehi and his family were quite well off for the time they lived. They had a nice home, plenty of money, and they owned a lot of neat things. However, they lived in a wicked time. Lehi was called upon by God to preach repentance to the people who lived in Jerusalem. This didn't go over very well. In fact, Lehi was warned to take his family and flee into the wilderness so their lives would be spared.

From what I understand, two of his sons weren't very happy about this idea. Laman and Lemuel balked a lot. To them this was a hard thing, giving up their home, their friends, and most of their wordly possessions to journey into the wilderness. They didn't think that things were that bad in Jerusalem. They didn't understand their father. They hated that their younger brother, Nephi, was following in their father's footsteps to the point that he was also starting to boss them around. It was not a good time.

Let's ponder for a moment. How easy would it be today to sit down with our children and say something like, "Kids, we live in a wicked time. We've tried to tell people to get their acts together, but they're not listening and they're going to be destroyed. More important, they hate our family for trying to do what's right and we need to leave. Tonight. All you can take with you are the basics. We will be living in the wilderness in a tent, so we can't take along things like I-pods, the Wii, cell phones, etc. Pack a few clothes and some food and we'll head out as soon as possible."

How many of us would be as obedient as Lehi, Sarah, Nephi or Sam? How many of us would lean more toward a Laman or Lemuel attitude? "This is a hard thing! What are you thinking?! We're leaving our nice warm home to live in a tent in the wilderness?!!! And we can't take the Wii?!! We have to leave our cell phones home?!!!"

Envision making that journey into the wilderness---some members of the family more cooperative than others. Then finally, after three arduous days, the tent(s) are pitched, we've stopped for a time, and it occurs to the head of the house that we've forgotten something very important. The oldest children are asked to journey back to retrieve that item. This does not go over well with a couple of them.

In 1 Nephi 3:5 Lehi speaks to his younger son, Nephi: " . . . now behold, thy brothers murmur saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord."

You know the rest of the story. This proves to be a difficult challenge for Nephi and his brothers. It takes three tries to obtain the brass plates, under harrowing conditions. And when they finally return to where their parents are camped, they are once again asked to return to Jerusalem for yet another errand, also important.

Human nature being what it is, I can envision the grumbling that took place among some of Lehi's posterity. And yet, those experiences were the testing ground for Lehi's family. These challenges shaped character and helped Nephi develop a strong testimony of the gospel. He was developing leadership qualities that may have come in no other way.

How often in life are we called upon to endure similar tests? We come to this earth to learn important things, and often the qualities or characteristics we most long to develop happen under duress. I look back over my own life and I know that the trials I've endured have taught me the most. I've been through things I would never want to experience ever again, but it is because of those things that I am who I am today. Hopefully that's a good thing. ;)

Currently, we live in a difficult time. The economy is a mess, and everywhere we look people are enduring horrific trials. It is easy to feel discouraged and more than a little picked on. I've been feeling that way myself lately. Our family has been hit right and left by challenges this month that would indicate 2009 might not be a piece of cake to wade through. And yet, there is hope. We are not left alone to endure these troubled times.

As Nephi so eloquently stated: "I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them." (1 Nephi 3:7)

I have learned and I'm constantly relearning that when I place my trust in the Lord, things seem to work out eventually. It may not always be as I envision, but I know that when I'm doing all I can to live up to who I should be, the Lord does indeed make up the difference needed. So this year, when life seems more than a little uncertain, I will try really hard to have more of a Nephi type of attitude. From time to time, I may slip into Laman mode. Hopefully I'll catch myself before I start to murmur about life being a hard thing. It very often is. In fact, I can't think of a time in the world's history when there weren't challenges to overcome. As my wise grandmother told me years ago, "This life is a giant classroom and we're all here to learn." May we learn from those who have gone on before and place our trust in the One who will help us through.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Draper Temple - A Glimpse of Eternity by Michele Ashman Bell

I haven't been getting much writing done lately. First, it was the holidays. I kept thinking after Christmas I'd get back on track and get some writing done. Right! I have children. Busy children. So I've been involved in getting them back into a routine and school. My oldest and his darling wife and adorable baby are staying with us this semester (he goes to BYU - getting an accounting masters). He is doing an internship. How can I even think of writing when the cutest baby in the world is staying at my house??? My oldest daughter is in the pre-stages of getting engaged to be married. This is not without its challenges and complications. So many things to figure out, mainly, how does one get married without any money? Hmm, good question. Any answers . . . please? Anyone? My next daughter, 15 years old, just got accepted into the ballet program at the University of Utah. She will now leave Jordan High at 11:00 every morning and go up to the U to dance. She gets college credit. It is so exciting! She lives to dance. I will post pictures sometime of her. My youngest keeps me sane. Her life is still manageable. All she wants to do is play. She's a lot like her mother.

So I finally get everyone back on a schedule and I find out that because of my husband's calling in the Stake we are blessed with the opportunity to be tour guides for VIP's at the Draper Temple. After being briefly trained, we have spent time at the new temple, taking wonderful people who have worked on the temple or live next to the temple, on tours. Of course, occasionally, one of the general authorities come with their families to go on personal tours. It's thrilling to be in their midst.

This temple is exquisite, in both structure, decor, and spirit. There is a tangible reverance and spirit that can't be described. One experience that stands out is a group I helped escort that was taking their ailing father on a tour. He suffered from bone cancer and wasn't well. In fact, he looked as though he was in a great deal of pain. It was difficult watching him, yet I knew this was where he wanted to be with his family. When we got to the Celestial Room, everyone was silent. The family's bishop, who was pushing this gentleman's wheelchair, bent down next to him and said, "do you know which room this is?" The man opened his eyes and looked up and said in a whisper, "the Celestial Room." His wife and daughters watched, with tears in their eyes, as they saw the patriarch of this family, glimpsing into eternity. The meaning of the room had much more significance through the eyes of this dear brother.

Is there anything more meaningful or precious than time we spend with our families? Sometimes the busy-ness of life causes us to forget that serving and spending time with our families is the most important thing we can do in life.

After my experience in the Draper Temple I have a new perspective on my priorities. Playing with my granddaughter, watching movies together as a family, seeing a child develop talents or receive a church calling, are my glimpses into eternity.

So, even though my house could use a good dusting, and the floors need to be vacuumed, I have laundry and dishes piled high, I think I'll go snuggle with Halle instead. We won't do housework in heaven, right?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

From observation to character

I could be wrong, but I think it's my day to blog. In case I'm wrong, please forgive and the rightful blogger can have my day.

My yard is full of birds. Every tree branch, and especially the deep recesses of the big pine trees, is adorned with puff balls of feathers. They flutter and squabble over the bird feeders, peck frantically at the snow under the feeders, and line the fence tops. They flit in waves from one side of the yard to the other. We have large windows that look out over our back yard and there’s a tall Blue Spruce just outside my office window providing me with a great view. I like watching the birds and noticing the way some stick together in cliquish groups, others are loners, some are excitable, and others never appear flustered. I like the little sentinel that perches atop the highest tip of a tree and offers a frantic signal if a hawk ventures near. I laugh at the greedy little gobblers who don’t want to share. I’ve observed the way even the smallest birds puff out their feathers and become fat balls when the day is cold. Some birds are easily identifiable as doves, sparrows, etc, but some appear to be strange mixtures like red-breasted chickadees, black-topped finches---and there’s that predatory hawk. I know he has to eat too, but I can’t help feeling sad each time he makes lunch out of one of the smaller birds.

Another writer and I observed during a recent book signing at a busy book store that watching people is a lot like watching birds and it’s an essential part of being a writer. To write about people a writer must first observe them. Some are puffed up with importance, some are timid and shy, some are rushed and rude, and some curious, funny, or friendly. They have interesting mannerisms, distinctive speech patterns and vocabularies, and an endless variety of physical characteristics.

Character development in writing involves more than displaying the thought processes or physical characteristics of a character. Though these are important, for a character to feel real to readers he/she must first become real to the writer. More than whether or not a character has brown eyes or blue, red or blonde hair, a cute cleft in his chin, dimples, or fat or skinny lips we need to know his/her mannerisms, personality, strengths, weaknesses, trust worthiness, ethics, and a sense of where this person fits in his/her world. People watching is a good place to start getting to know how people walk, dress, talk, gesture and do so many of the actions that signal a person’s character, mood, and feelings. This is often referred to as body language. Body language usually tells us more than a person’s words about a person and these little give-away signals need to be stored away in a writer’s mind, then brought forth in our characters to give them life.

Staring isn’t nice, but being observant is just fine. Just as watching the antics of our backyard birds has brought me some pleasant moments, a few surprises, and much enjoyment, watching people has gifted me with some tender moments, some sadness, a few chuckles, and a greater awareness of the people who make up this vast world and the pages of the many books that have brought me great pleasure. I believe watching both birds and people has enhanced my ability to create believable people. Even the hawk has his place.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Clarence the Angel Cat

I've spent some time thinking about a very special gift I received last year. It--or I should say he--was only mine for less than a year, but when it came time to give him up, I could feel glad to have had Clarence for even that short time. Clarence came to me as a foster kitten--which meant from the beginning that he would be temporary and would get a new home when he was ready, but when I learned he would never really get well from a particular cat disease (TIP--feline peritonitis), I decided to give him the best cat life I could as long as he was healthy and in no discernible pain.

He was the late bloomer of his litter. His beautiful sibs were all pure white, two with blue eyes, one with green, but they were all sickly so I asked their owner, a friend of mine, if I could care for them and find them homes and she agreed. But when I went to retrieve the kittens, one of them had disappeared, the one my friend had named Creamsicle, because he wasn't white like his siblings but had an orange tint to him. Over the new few months, the white kittens grew fat and sassy after some antibiotics and good food and were ready for their homes about the time Creamsicle came home. I had never forgotten about him and one day my friend called to say he had shown up, scrawny and skinny and weak. She was trying to care for him but didn't think he'd make it.

Who knows why I didn't just so, gee, that's too bad. I'm sorry to hear that. But the world has too many cats as it is so it's probably just as well. I don't think the thought even occurred to me. I took him home and it was almost painful to see him next to his siblings. He was less than half their size and beyond bedraggled in contrast to their glowing health. But they soon found homes so I could focus on Creamsicle--who decided his new life meant a new name. He looked like "Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion" (anyone remember the TV series of long ago?) so that was that.

Even on his best days Clarence walked with a wobble and at the worst times, he was so limp and his eyes had that distant glazed look, I didn't think he'd make it another few hours. My brother took one look and flat out said "He ain't going to make it," which of course made me determined to show him wrong. Over the next few months, Clarence grew stronger and his fur grew glossy (he really hated being bathed but he smelled so good afterwards). He loved to be held and would gaze tenderly into my eyes, then grab my face with his claws and try to bite my nose (dang, he was cute, although I tried to break him of that particular habit). As Clarence gained strength, he would tear through the house and play-attack my other cats to draw them into a wrestling match. He also loved to jump up and climb up my leg, back, chest, and nestle around my neck. He could jump into the house through an open window that was four feet up, which told me he had come a long way from his wobbly walk.

He did have a few bad spells. Once I took him to the vet thinking it was time to have him euthanized because he couldn't even stand, let alone walk or eat, and that was when I learned that he had seizures that left him without strength. After a day with the vet on IV fluids, he came home a new cat. Another time I canceled plans with friends and stayed him with him and gave him fluids with an eye dropper to keep him hydrated. I thought that would be the end as well, but he pulled through and wobbled his way back to health.

I confess he got more than his share of attention but the other cats didn't seem to mind too much. He had his favorites, like Longfellow and Oscar, and they tolerated him, the way an old dog tolerates a rambunctious puppy.

One day in November, he collapsed and he was gone, just like that. The vet had warned me it could happen--but then again, Clarence could live several years although having FIP meant he probably wouldn't live much longer than that. Owners of cats with FIP also see their cats go through a lot of suffering, so I could be grateful that Clarence didn't have to experience that.

So that's the story of Clarence my Christmas angel. I can't imagine, if I were a parent, I'd accept a child's death with the same gratitude for the life lived, however, short. But fortunately the Lord has spared me from that pain. Instead of children, I get to have all manner of cats who come and go through my house and my life, with all their funny personalities and peculiarities. It's funny than I grew up with the book "Cheaper by the Dozen" and always that a family of 12 could be fun. I didn't specify "12 children," though, and now that my family consists of 12 cats (I never quite counted Clarence, since he would have made 13 and that’s a number I just feel better avoiding). But he was definitely, and will remain, a part of my cat family, waiting up in Cat Heaven with all the rest of my feline friends of up there. I have no idea how animal heaven works, but if Joseph Smith and David O. McKay felt they'd have their horses in the hereafter, maybe they were onto something.

Friday, January 2, 2009

I love new beginnings!

I truly love the New Year! I enjoy taking Christmas decorations down and packing them away for another year. I love wrapping each treasured piece of my nativity sets and nestling them inside their boxes to rest until it's time to display them again.

Then I'm ready to tackle my house. I don't want anyone around while I'm cleaning and I don't want interruptions. I just want to bring order from the holiday chaos of an abundance of family and friends and presents and food.

Order - things where they belong, clean and neat and sparkling - brings peace to my soul. The next step (which is a little later this year than most) is bringing a new order to me. As does Cheri, and probably most of you, I have resolutions to make. I have a new organized me to produce this year.

Yesterday I sent as my daily thought to my family, a quote from President Monson's conference talk on Finding Joy in the Journey. He said: "I believe that among the greatest lessons we are to learn in this short sojourn upon the earth are lessons that help us distinguish between what is important and what is not. I plead with you not to let those most important things pass you by as you plan for that illusive and non-existent future when you will have time to do all that you want to do. Instead, find joy in the journey - now."

So I started my list of priorities for the new year - those "most important things (that will bring me joy.)" Our schedule changes on Sunday. For the first time in 15 years, we'll be meeting at 1:00 in the afternoon. (My husband is unhappy that he'll miss his big Sunday dinner.) I'm happy for the change so that I can use those morning hours to work on Family History. I'm determined to find my illusive great-grandfather this year! The new schedule will enable me to make the necessary adjustment in my routine. Usually when I get home from church I'm so exhausted from two hours with my thirteen two and three year olds, I just collapse.

As with Cheri, I'm determined to drop some unwanted pounds. My doctor is threatening medication for high blood pressure so I have even more impetus to make changes in my life there. In addition to Curves, I'm adding 30 minutes of exercise on my own, either walking or in front of a TV workout program. Finding the time for the last two years to go to Curves has been a major challenge to my schedule, (I was just TOO busy!) but it has become one of those "most important things" to keep myself healthy and strong. I have eleven (soon 12) grandchildren that need me, and I'm sure the Lord has a few more things for me to do for Him, so I need all my strength and energy for those "most important things!" Great motivation.

I have 30 years of slides and 20 years of photos that need digitizing so I can present my children's life stories to them before I die. I can't leave the mess for my kids that both of our mothers left to us when they exited this mortal sphere. I promised I would have everything well organized and take care of the chaos before it passes to them. Another "most important thing" that I really want to do. So it is now on my priority list, scheduled into a weekly time slot. I've already invested in the equipment to do it - making time has been the problem.

President Monson said "Rather than dwelling on the past, we should make the most of today, of the here and now, doing all we can to provide pleasant memories for the future."

I've lived by that advice, and taught my children that precept and they learned it well. Now I have to bring order to those recorded memories for them! :)

The other "most important things" will get their due, but I'm enjoying the feeling of being organized and ready to tackle the biggies on my list. Stay tuned for a report on how I'm accomplishing my goals this year. The "report back" concept is another impetus to make sure I'm working on those most important things.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Welcome to the first day of 2009!

Gale Sears

I love New Year’s Eve when we count down to the beginning of an untouched 365. My head knows that it’s just another night and that there really is no old man with a scythe turning thing over to a little baby in diapers, but my heart beats faster with hope as the Times Square ball drops. On any other night I’d be sound asleep dreaming about mundane thing like laundry, or choosing a paint color for the bathroom, but on the night of December 31st I stay awake to celebrate with the neighbors who run out into the street beating pots and pans, and the people in Hawaii who light thousands of firecrackers, and the crowd of revelers in Times Square who scream, cheer, and sing Auld Lang Syne, (whose meaning eludes me to this day).

For me, and perhaps others, the draw is possibility—the possibility that we can put away some hurt, overcome some challenge, feel the sweetness of peace, see things in a “new light”, or experience a new adventure.
Whatever 2009 brings, I’ll take a deep breath, and march forward with enthusiasm. A wise person once said, “years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.” And so, I wish you a big dollop of enthusiasm as you start your new year!