Wednesday, May 27, 2009
1. Imagination. Truth is stranger than fiction, but an author knows how to take a nugget of truth or inspiration, and spend months turning it into a story. Ideas are the seeds, but imagination is what makes them grow.
2. Observation. People ask me where I get my ideas from. I tell them . . . everywhere! A writer is continually watching people and gleaning ideas from things they see, hear and read. I also tell people to be careful what they tell me, it might end up in one of my books!
3. Discipline. Don't think that writers are always so full of inspiration that they can hardly wait to write. Sometimes it's pure heck and frustration to sit and write. The key though is to do it regularly, whether you feel inspired or not. Sticking to a writing schedule is crucial for a writer.
4. Perseverance. He who gives up, loses. It's not about talent, it's not about luck, it's about hard work and never giving up. Plain and simple.
5. A love of words. Finding the right way to say what's in your heart is truly magic. Nothing brings more joy to a writer than to read something you've written and think, "I don't even remember writing that," or be surprised that it's actually pretty good! (Wish that happened more often.) Writing till you say it just the right way, to express the action or emotion is pure bliss!
6. Passion. It's important that you feel passionate about your project, whatever it may be. Your goal is to share what's in your heart because when you do, the reader feels it in his heart. This is probably the most magical part of writing.
7. Humility. Writers are always trying to learn and grow and improve their craft. We also spend a great deal of time doing rewrites and revisions. Believe me, this will keep you humble.
8. Having a finger on the pulse of what's going on in the world. The luxury of writing for the sake of writing doesn't really exist, for the most part. Writers have to be aware of market trends, hot sellers, shifts in readers interest, etc . . . Write what's in your heart, but make sure there's a market for it.
9. Thick skin. You will never, ever please everyone. Some people will love your work. Some will hate it. Don't take it personal.
10. You can't not write. Whether I ever got published or not, I would always write. It's how my brain works. It's what I do.
Feel free to share your thoughts and feelings. I can take it.
I arrived at Dietrich High School right after Thanksgiving during my Freshman year. The rest of that year and both my Sophomore and Junior years were spent at one of the littlest high schools in Idaho. They were good years filled with good memories and good friends, some I’ve stayed in touch with through the years.
All twelve grades, there was no kindergarten, attended the same school with the east side of the top floor devoted to high school. We also used a room in the basement. That’s where science and math classes were taught by a top scientist who had decided he needed a change of pace so he took take a couple years sabbatical from his government nuclear physics job and taught in our little school. We didn’t have home economics, band, shop, or any language classes, but we had all of the basics including a strong sports program. The Government, Geography, and Social Sciences teacher was also the coach---for both the boys’ and girls’ teams.
One English teacher was most memorable for arriving at school every Monday morning with an intense hangover. Our Freshman class, which was his first class of the day, made a habit of giving the poor man a peanut shower as he stumbled through the door. He dodged our barrage of peanuts and candy until he reached his desk where he collapsed with his head on his desk until the dismissal bell rang. Every Friday he gave us a test, always the same test. His contract wasn’t renewed and the following year we had an excellent English teacher who instilled in me a great love for literature and drama.
Dietrich High School offered business classes. I took typing, bookkeeping, and shorthand. One teacher taught them all. Our teacher was only a few years older than her students and tried too hard to be one of us. She insulted her female students on a regular basis and had alternating crushes on various boys in her classes. She was moody and temperamental and one day after we’d put up with her black mood for about a week, she left the classroom for some reason, and all but one of us students crawled out our second floor window to hide behind an ell-shaped corner of the roof on the one story lunchroom below. The remaining student locked the window and crawled up an airshaft. Our teacher and the principal spent the remainder of that class period scouring the building for us. They had shocked looks on their faces, but never said a word, when the bell rang and we all trooped out of the classroom as though nothing was amiss. (The student in the airshaft, of course, opened the window and let us all back in when no one was looking).
With a school as small as ours, we had to travel long distances to find schools almost as small as ours for our teams to compete against. There was a grand total of 34 students in the entire high school, eight students were in my class, so we easily all fit in one school bus and we regularly attended all away games together. One winter evening we were playing our last basketball games to determine who would get to play in the state finals. Both our boys and girls teams were one win from the finals. Our opposing team that night was about an hour or two away and at a much higher altitude. Half way there we ran into a major snowstorm and the bus moved at a snail’s pace. Coach paced the aisle and fumed. When we got within a few miles of the school, he could see we were running out of time and might have to forfeit. He ordered all of the girls to the back of the bus and the boys to the front, strung a blanket between us and told the girls, who were to play first, to dress, but leave our shoes off. Our bus slid into the parking lot with seconds to spare. Wearing basketball shorts and holding our shoes high, we waded through the snow and charged onto the basketball court just as the starting whistle blew. Coach called a time out and we got our shoes on and done up. We won that night.
In the process of gaining an education we became close in a way I suspect students at larger schools never experience. We needed each other. We couldn’t hold a school dance or field a team without each other. There was a closeness between classes as well as within a class. With a studentbody that small, we didn’t worry too much about “upper” or “lower” classmen. There was a place for each of us. The next year I graduated from a high school that boasted 1500 students and it just wasn’t the same. Though I didn’t graduate in a year ending in nine, in fact I didn’t graduate from Dietrich High School at all, still I’ve been invited because Dietrich class reunions are a little different from most class reunions. They’re scheduled by decades instead of specific years, but this one is even more different. Anyone who ever attended Dietrich High School is invited because it’s the little town’s one hundredth birthday.
I attended a reunion once for my real graduating class and swore I’d never go to another reunion, but I think I’ll make an exception for this one. I wonder if any of my old classmates will remember me.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
I had a quick visit with a cousin I don't see very often, and we were catching up on life and such. He asked me how the writing was going, and I said it's kind of slow right now. He misunderstood, and asked if I was having a hard time coming up with ideas.
Well, the idea well is never really dry. In fact, knock on wood, I have enough ideas to last me for, like, seven lifetimes. I'll never get them all written. Ideas are never my problem. Slow sales- that can be a problem.
My only consolation is that sales have been relatively slow across the board. I'm thanking my lucky stars that it's not just me. The only book industry still booming, from what I understand, is the national romance novel sector. I can understand, because I am a die-hard romance fan myself, and I'm always a sucker for the guaranteed happy ending.
Life is cyclical, or so I've been told, and I have high hopes that things will pick up again. I was thinking about these things when I opened my newly-delivered Smithsonian Magazine this afternoon. This current issue is so full of good stuff! I was especially enamored of an article on Depression-era paintings. This is the link to the article, and if you visit it, which I'm sure you will after this, click to see all the pictures they highlight. As the author, Jerry Adler, explains- there's such a sense of optimism in these beautiful paintings. Like people knew the hard times would pass and life would again be pleasant.
I worry about abusing copyright law, and hope that I haven't, but I had to include two of my favorites here. The one above is the "seedy subway crowd," which totally makes me laugh because hello, they look better put-together than most of us today in our Sunday best.
This one is called Tenement Flats, by Millard Sheets. It speaks to me because of its sense of community among women; it makes me think of my friends I love and spend time with up and down my neighborhood streets, and I appreciate the strength I draw from them.
I sometimes think it would be an awful lot of fun to live in such quarters as this, and to be such a part of each others' daily lives in close proximity. (Then we'd probably be all mad at each other for hanging our laundry in someone else's spot or the kids making too much noise, running around inside...but for a while, hey. Total fun).
At any rate, these images give me a reminder that my ancestors on both sides seem to shout from the dust: work is always the answer. Reminds me of my favorite line from Disney's "The Great Mouse Detective." "There's always a chance, Doctor. As long as one can think." I figure if I can keep thinking, I can keep producing.
And truly, there are moments in my day when I am so thankful just to be here for the journey. What a privilege. :-)
Monday, May 25, 2009
The story I personally love is from Lillian Jackson Braun, author of The Cat Who books. Her first short story about her cat was published in Ellergy Queen's mystery magazine and made the "Best Detective Stories of the Year." After she was asked to write several more, a publisher asked if she'd like to try writing a novel with a cat, so she wrote The Cat Who Could Read Backwards and then the publisher asked for another and then another.
But then...there's a gap between book number three and four--a gap of 18 years. As Braun explains, "By the time I had written the fourth one, tastes in mysteries had changed, the management had changed, the policy had changed. They wanted sex and violence, not kitty-cat stories. [Note: This was the late '60s, the era of Jacqueline Susann and Harold Robbins.] Sex and violence were not my style, so I just forgot all about The Cat Who. I had a full-time job on a newspaper and it was exciting and I had a wonderful life, so who needed it?"
During those years, her husband died and she remarried. One rainy day she gave her manuscript for book #4 to her second husband, and when he read it, he said, "I think its time has come. There are fifty-six million cats in the United States and I think you should resubmit it." So she did and now twenty-something years later she's on book #30.
The idea that an author may have to wait eighteen years may not be terribly comforting, but to me the point is more that we can't know the future and there may be some wonderful things ahead. We just don't see it now. But what we do now helps us be ready for it--whether it's writing a book or enjoying whatever we're doing because life is full of changes and we may be doing something else at any point that we didn't anticipate. You just may be surprised.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
I do love history. I love to read it. I love to go where it happened and immerse myself in the atmosphere and ambiance of great places. And I love the little tidbits of history. In fact, I got so lost yesterday immersing myself back into our trip to Italy and Greece while doing my shutterfly book that I never did get to this blog!
You all knew that Michelangelo was master sculptor, painter, and architect. Did you know that he specified exactly where his tomb was to be in the exquisite Santa Croce Cathedral in his beloved city of Florence? He wanted to be buried so he'd see Brunelleschi's Duomo on Judgment Day! It does have to be one of the most beautiful buildings on earth! Another fun note: when Michelangelo designed the dome for St. Peter's Basilica, he said it would be bigger, but not more beautiful than The Duomo in Florence.
Speaking of The Duomo, when the Medici ordered the cathedral built, they wanted a dome on the top, but in 1296, there was no technology for building a dome large enough for the massive cathedral. They proceeded with the building for two centuries, figuring by time it was completed, someone wold have figured out how to top it. The cathedral was completed, with no dome, just a 143 foot hole in the roof, but in 1418, Brunelleschi figured it out! He designed his masterpiece: it weighs 37,000 tons and uses 4 million bricks. He even had to invent hoists and cranes to complete his engineering marvel.
Michelangelo's tomb is incredible - a work of art in itself. Another fun note about
the talented man: He did not sign his masterpiece The Pieta. One day he overheard some people discussing it, attributing it to a less talented sculptor. That night he stole into the place where it was displayed with his hammer and chisel and chiseled his name into the sash of Mary's robe so no one could ever mistake it for another's work.
Did you know that Hitler ordered Field-Marshal Kesselring to destroy all of Florence and the bridges across the Arno River as the Germans fled from the Allied advance in 1944? But Kesselring was an avid connoisseur of fine art and couldn't bear to destroy all those treasures and ancient buildings. So he "saved" the treasures of the city by removing them. He did destroy all of the bridges across the Arno with the exception of the ancient Ponte Vecchio (old bridge.) This bridge is to Florence what the Tower Bridge is to London. Built in 1345 to replace an earlier bridge swept away by a
flood, its shops housed butchers, grocers, blacksmiths and other merchants until1593. The Medici Ferdinand I, whose private corridor linked the Medici palace (Palazzo Pitti) with the Medici offices (theUffizi,) threw out the butchers and blacksmiths and installed 41 goldsmiths and 8 jewelers. It is now called the Gold Bridge because it has housed the expensive Florentine gold trade ever since.
Venice is a city I could spend days in just exploring all the beautiful churches and cathedrals that have exquisite works of art on their walls and ceilings, inside and out! The rest of our tour group opted to stand in line for an hour to get inside St. Mark's Cathedral on Venice's famed St. Marks' Square. But I had been reading the history of Venice and had to see the Doge's Palace where the rulers of the fabled city had ruled for centuries. It was well worth it! One fun note we discovered was the reason the beautiful bridge over one of the canals is called The Bridge of Sighs. After the Doges had judged the prisoners of their wrongdoing, they were taken across this bridge to their punishment and people could plainly hear their sighs through the open windows on the bridge.
Don't you just love trivia!! If you want to see a marvelous replica of the exterior of the Palace, visit the Venetian in Las Vegas. They have replicated the canals, the Lion of St. Mark's and the palace exterior. Fun place!
The other part of the trip (besides celebrating our anniversary and seeing all these world treasures) was figuring out where Allison and Bart would have to go and what they would have to do when I wrote Topaz and Treachery. This was the research trip for that book.
Maybe next time I'll add more trivia and pictures of other favorite places: Santorini, Rhodes where the Colussus once stood, Corfu where I took a picture of Mouse Island, a setting for Allison's long swim in Emeralds and Espionage. Then I could add pix of.............no. I have thousands of pictures. No one wants to see them all! Still, the trivia behind them is fascinating. :)
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
I cried at the recent Star Trek movie—not because of the storyline or the stunning visual effects, but because it brought my mom near. My mom passed away almost four years ago, and she was a Trekkie. Yep, from the series first gleaming episode on television, through the next thirty years, she was captivated by Spock, Tribbles, the Wrath of Kahn, and Captain Picard. She bought a cast metal replica of the Star Ship Enterprise which she displayed proudly on her bookshelf. While she was on her mission she had her sister tape every episode so she wouldn’t miss one moment of Captain Kurk. She even attended a Star Trek convention, and was thrilled when she met and had her picture taken with Scottie.
To set the record straight (lest you’re conjuring a weird picture of my cute mom) she was very normal. She was a well rounded, hard working, gray-haired, grandma. She attended church, loved animals, and was a very good cook. It’s just that she also adored Star Trek, and we, her progeny, adored her for adoring it. It made her more accessible, it made her the good-natured recipient of some intense teasing, and after she was gone it gave us all fond memories to lighten our hearts on those occasions when we wanted to talk to her on the telephone, and couldn't.
Therefore, it was fitting at the end of the film when the voice of Spock said, “Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Star Ship Enterprise…” and the Star Trek theme music swelled in volume, that I cried. Actually, they were tears with a chuckle. You see, one part of me was missing her, and one part of me was remembering something she said just a few weeks before she died.
Mom: Hey, you know Scottie has gone on before me.
Me: (smiling) Yep, I know. He’s off on his continuing mission.
Mom: Well, I’ve figured out what I’m going to say when it’s my time to go.
Me: What’s that, Mom?
Mom: Beam me up, Scottie.
(Tears and laughter)
Fade to black
Children gather from all the elementary schools throughout the school district for the annual Sports Day, which is always held near the end of the school year. This year the event took place May 15th at Alta High School.
Every year all of the kids who qualify to participate in Sports Day gather to compete in three events. What is it that specifically makes them qualify? These are the sweet children with special needs. They may have physical, mental, emotional, or any other sort of special needs that may somehow make their learning a difficult task beyond that of the ordinary struggles other children their ages may have. These children come together to compete in a mini Special Olympics, if you will. It’s a day they all look forward to.
Of course an event like this takes a lot of planning on not only the school district’s part, but for all those who help to make the event possible. This means, Alta High School students and faculty, PTA’s from every individual school-- who not only help to do the judging, they measure distances, time individual events, chase softballs, give out ribbons, to name only a few. Alta High School usually hosts the event; PTA and parents run the concession stands. As you can see, it takes tremendous effort to pull this off. It’s gratifying to see the support of the not only the teachers of these children, but the aids, principals, and other student body come out to cheer their fellow students on.
To begin, all the children line up for the opening ceremony. Each school brings their school banner and they wear their school t-shirt with pride. Then they all parade onto the track, waving to the crowd as any true Olympian would. The crowd cheers and applauds for every single child.
Some children come in braces, some in wheel chairs, others who are shy—hold onto their parents or teachers hand for reassurance, while others who may feel more bold, walk onto the track with the thrill of competition shining in their eyes.
After all the children have come onto the track, there is a moment of silence. Music over the loud speaker begins to play. The flags are raised. The entire football stadium sings The Star Spangled Banner. To see the crowd singing the National Anthem with this special group of children brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. Love for my country, love for these children, gratitude to all these people who have put this wonderful day together—it’s inspiring.
And then—LET THE GAMES BEGIN! So many children are going here and there to get to each competition on time. Amazingly enough, there is a method to the madness and it all comes together beautifully.
Some who read this may be thinking, wow, it’s sounds like a lot of work. I assure you, it is. It takes unbelievable organizational skills to pull this off but if you could only see the looks on each of those faces…
I walked around last Friday, following my son. This was his last year to participate. Next year he’ll be moving on to Jr. High. New experiences await him. So, it was with a little bit of sadness that I realized this was our last opportunity to participate. My son has gained some valuable lessons from Sports Day through the years. Lessons that I hope will make him a better man. Root for everyone, give it your all, do your best, be happy for other’s successes, practice, practice practice,-- I could go on… I am sure you know what I mean. We have had some good times and great experiences. There have been excellent teaching opportunities with Sports Day.
That day, I watched in awe as I saw such looks of determination to run the fastest, jump the furthest, and throw the hardest. I was touched to see athletes finish with such courage, giving their very all to succeed; really competing with only themselves. For in the end, everyone would win a ribbon with each heat be it first place or fifth. Every child was a winner.
I saw children step up to starting lines, get frightened and turn away, only to turn back and jump with all their might. I saw children who missed the starting signal of a race but then ran with all their heart to the very end never once slowing their pace even though they knew they were sure to come in last place. I noticed those who fell but courageously stood and carried on never giving up hope to the very end. And there were the parents and aids that cheered their kids in wheelchairs on as they walked beside them all the way to the finish line.
What heart-warming sights. The entire day was filled with them. I hated to see it come to an end.
I have learned so much from all of those sweet children. I watched them laugh, and celebrate their success, and I watched them persevere with a determination that I have not known within myself. They never gave up even if they felt beaten.
It’s my hope that I can carry the memory of Sports Day in my heart; that I will always remember the lessons I have learned from my young heroes. So that each time I feel like I am beaten, the race is too hard, or that I have fallen too many times, I will think of Sports Day and find a renewed strength from the example those amazing children set for me. I hope to rise with a determination to make it to the finish line, no matter what, giving it my very all.
It was a glorious day and I felt like I had walked among angels.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
I have a very dear schoolfriend staying at the moment. Ruth is the person who first introduced me to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you know my conversion story, you'll know that I spent the next five years trying to "rescue" her from the "cult". Happily I failed, and she is now Relief Society president of her ward in Wyoming where she lives with her RM Institute teacher husband and six gorgeous children. I don't see her very often, so it is lovely to be able to catch up.
She was telling me that all her friends seem to be very intelligent people. I couldn't help thinking that she really shouldn't count me as intelligent since, while I do have a degree, I seriously lack common sense and have regular "blonde moments". (A small aside here: I use the word intelligent rather than smart, which I know Americans would be more likely to use, for the avoiudance of confusion. Over here, smart means well dressed. So when President Hinckley told us to "Be Smart", us Brits assumed he was suggesting we wear our best clothes to church.)
With nothing much else to blog about (Ruth only arrived a couple of days ago, so we haven't had that many adventures yet) I suppose it's time to treat everyone to the evidence that I am indeed blonde to the core.
- Playing Dungeons and Dragons a couple of weeks ago (yes, I am a nerd too) my DM husband was outlining the layout of the dungeon our characters were in. "There is a door in the East wall, and a passageway to the North." I was sitting the other side of the table from everyone else, so I asked "And where are the door and passageway from my perspective?" At which point my husband had to explain to me that points of the compass are constant, wherever you happen to be sitting.
- My friend Suzy has two friends called Sarah. One I met several years ago, and took quite a dislike to. Something to do with the way she criticised my housekeeping, I seem to remember, but I hadn't seen her since and had forgotten what she looked like. The other had a brother called Andrew who I knew quite well, although I had never had the opportunity to meet his sister. One day I called on Suzy to find that Sarah was already visiting. After Suzy introduced us I warmly greeting Sarah with the words, "You must be Andrew's sister, not that other bossy cow Sarah Suzy knows. I'm so happy to meet you." To which Sarah replied, "I haven't got a brother..."
- I regularly call my children by the wrong names. I expect other people mix up their children's names too, but I have been known to call them the cats' names.
Other people can be very dumb too, though. Leaving a car park in the town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysioliogogogoch one afternoon I reversed over a traffic cone. Not my fault; the cone had been put in a blind spot behind my car after I had parked there. Finding it firmly wedged, I got out my mobile phone and called the AA. (That's the Automobile Association, not Alcoholics Anonymous - I was sober at the time.) They said it would take them about half an hour to reach me, so I got out my cross-stitch and sat in the driver's seat sewing while I waited. What I found truly amazing was the sheer number of people who would stop to tell me, "Did you know you have a traffic cone stuck under your car?" To which I replied, "No, really?" After all, why else would I be stationary in the middle of a busy road, doing my embroidery?
And, whilst I hope Ruth will forgive me, she can have her blonde moments too. During her last visit she fell in love with a three-foot high bronze statue of Peter Rabbit which she wanted to buy to take home with her. I suggested that something so big, made of bronze, might be a tad over her 50 lb. baggage limit for the return flight. Happily, the shopkeeper was able to inform her that it was actually made of cleverly painted cement. "Oh good!" she cried, and was about to part with money when I explained that cement is still extremely heavy. Tourists are generally not advised to try taking huge blocks of cement home in their luggage.
However intelligent we are as a general rule, everyone has moments when they are just daft. I love those moments; they keep us laughing and stop us getting too proud. I'm glad I'm blonde - whenever I am stupid, I can blame my hair colour. What's your excuse?
Monday, May 18, 2009
I've been told I'm too trusting. This is why a few years ago I believed the nice box of hair color when it promised to coat my gray hair a rich brunette color. At that time my family was traveling with two other families to Nauvoo and I wanted to look like a person. The trip we had planned would take approximately a week and a half and I didn't want to worry about my hair, which has been turning prematurely gray since I was about 25. So girding up, I bought the hair color that promised to restore things to my original color and I hurried home to make myself look beautiful.
Imagine my horror when instead of the natural brunette shade the box had promised, I was sporting a look that would be acceptable in most "Goth" circles. It was coal black---not brunette. And there wasn't a thing I could do about it. I tried washing it repeatedly and it simply looked like clean black hair. This was not a cool time in my life. Even though most people said things like "WOW!" I knew it wasn't complimentary. They were in shock, and so was I.
Then there was the time I wanted to redo the main bathroom of our house. Tiring of the bland cream color most of our rooms possess, I decided to add a little color. Emphasis on "little color." Since I was going through a peach phase, and I had purchased peach-colored shower curtains and towels, I decided to paint that room a nice shade of light peach. This proved to be a huge mistake. (Incidentally, don't make fun. This occurred during the 80's when peach was slightly an "in" color.)
I went to a local store and explained what I wanted. I picked out a paint sample that was the exact color. All should have been well. It wasn't. Envision, if you will, fluorescent orange. I'm not kidding. Even without the lights on, it glowed out into the hallway. With the lights, it was nearly blinding. We had to use sunglasses to tolerate this room until I could fix it. (Yep, I hurriedly changed it back to a nice bland color, choosing to decorate with accessories that happen to be the color they really are. This comforts me somewhat.)
The color moment I will possibly never live down involves what we painted our house several years ago. Once again trusting the people who mix the paint to be my friends, I bravely picked out a color scheme I thought looked wonderful. When I showed my husband the paint samples I liked best, he thought they looked great. I had picked out a soft cocoa color with dark brown trim. It looked gorgeous when I held up the samples. It looked pink when the paint was applied to our house. Pale pink with dark brown trim. Beautiful!!! NOT!!! That's when I was beginning to see the attraction of painting a house a simple white color with black trim.
My children (all boys, mind you) made fun of that house color for a very long time. They still say things like, "Remember the time when Mom painted our house pink." To which I offer a rebuttal. "It wasn't pink, it was COCOA!!!"
Fortunately, when we added our garage a few years ago, we opted to go with vinyl siding for it and the house, so it's a soothing cream colored home with dark brown trim. Vinyl siding doesn't lie like paint samples do. You get the actual color that you pick out.
This past week, we finally finished the downstairs bathroom. Now every room in our house is finished, for the moment. (As homeowners know, upkeep is something that will always be with us.) Since two of our sons will be living in the basement this summer, we figured it was time to get that third bathroom finished.
Remembering my unfortunate bathroom painting episode of days gone by, I was trying to be extremely conservative. We wanted to paint it a soothing color that was "manly" at the same time. We narrowed our options down to an olive green color with cream trim, or a gray\blue color with white trim, or a light tannish brown color that seems to be all the rage of late, with a dark brown trim.
When it came down to picking out the final color, I was on my own. My husband was busy gathering bathroom fixtures in the lovely Home Depot store, and I had been sent to "get the paint." I almost cringe when I hear those words, but I gathered my courage and approached the paint section of this vast store. This time I utilized modern technology and took advantage of the computerized program that shows you what the colors will look like in the room of choice. I fell in love with how the light tannish brown color looked in a bathroom setting. Figuring it would be perfect with the tile we had selected for the floor, I picked that color and bravely told the helpful paint man what I wanted.
I was so excited to see those colors in that new bathroom. Light tannish brown with dark brown trim. It would be gorgeous. I bought dark brown towels and other accessories for accent. My husband and number two son spent one entire afternoon painting while I tended my little granddaughter. I didn't get to see the room until it was finished. Then behold . . . I walked inside our new bathroom and wanted to cry. It was pink . . . again . . . just like the time I had tried to paint our house a lovely cocoa color. ARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!
My husband and son said helpful things like, "It will look better after it dries." Guess what, IT STILL LOOKS PINK!!! I even sent a picture of it to my youngest sister, hoping for sympathy. Instead, she laughed at my pain. "It looks pink to me, too. Good job!!!"
So my sons will be enduring a "pink" downstairs bathroom. But at least they'll have manly-looking brown towels to go with it. ;)
Does this kind of thing ever happen to anyone else? Or am I the only doomed person on the planet with this kind of color-blindness? (This is where you offer tremendous sympathy and make me feel better about things like my new downstairs bathroom.) =D
Thursday, May 14, 2009
I have a confession . . . I kill plants. I don't know if it's a curse or a defect, but I am horrible at growing things. I cringe when I receive a potted plant on Mother's Day or when I speak at a ward or community group and they give me a "thank you plant" because I know its fate. The minute the plant is placed in my hand . . . certain death! It doesn't matter how much I want to keep it alive, or how hard I try and be careful, I am as nurturing as a dementor when it comes to plant life. Do you know how easy it is to take care of bamboo? It literally requires no skill whatsoever and a minimal amount of water occasionally. Yea, I killed some. Cacti? It doesn't even require water. All dead. If it's supposed to be green, don't give it to me, it will magically turn to brown. Thank goodness my husband plants the garden. He worries every time he goes out of town for several days that he'll come back to a dead garden. We've never lost the whole thing, but many plants have met their demise this way.
I used to care that I was this way. I would fret and fuss and worry about keeping the hanging baskets of Impatiens and Petunias alive in my backyard. I'd poke little vitamin sticks into their soil and remember to water them. They still died. My poor husband calculates in his head how much money is wasted on buying flower baskets as he's toting them to the garbage.
There have been times that I've skipped the fretting and fussing stage and literally walked the plant straight to the garbage right after someone gave it to me. We know the end result, right? What's the use?
Also, you should know, I'm an equal-opportunity plant killer. From the tiniest sprout, to the largest stalk, I can kill it. Whether indoors or outdoors, it's as good as toast, if it is in my care.
I'm sure that everyone who has a green thumb, could tell me everything I'm doing wrong, but honestly people, I seriously have tried my darndest to grow stuff, and it just won't work.
Thank goodness for silk plants. In fact, one year, I had all of these beautiful geraniums in my window boxes in front of my old house. (This whole notion was a throwback to my mission in Germany and the beautiful windows boxes spilling over with color on every house and lamp post.) You guessed it, they all died. But clever me, I went to the store and bought flowers that looked just like the ones I'd planted and one evening when it was dark, I quickly replaced the almost dead blooms with the fake new ones. Ha! I've never received so many compliments on my flowers. You see, the trick isn't keeping real plants alive, it's being able to buy fake ones that look real. However, this does not work with vegetable plants. Plastic tomatoes do not taste the same as the real ones.
Just in case you were wondering, my children, so far, are all still alive. I guess this is really what's most important, right?
Next time . . . Confessions of a Non-Scrapbooker! Followed by Confession of a Non-Homemade-Bread-Baker.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
I just had a scary moment. I wanted to pull up my draft for my Meridian column to sketch in another review. It wasn’t there, not in my document file, not on my desk top, and not in any other file on my computer. I crossed my fingers, stuck in a memory stick, and voila! There it was. I deleted a lot of no longer needed files earlier today on my computer and must have accidently removed that much needed file. Fortunately the frequent power outages we have here convinced me long ago to back up everything I write on an external drive. I hate to even contemplate the What if I hadn’t backed up that file.
This experience got me thinking about the other What ifs in my life and that poem by Robert Frost about making a life changing choice. What if I’d taken the other road? I know, we can never clearly see where the other path might have taken us, but sometimes I can’t help thinking of that other choice and wondering. That’s not to say that I regret the paths I chose; I just wonder where that other path would have led me.
In college I was offered an opportunity to write a script for the Patty Duke Show. I was busy, in love, and had a major role in the college production of Charlie’s Aunt. I didn’t write that script; I thought the opportunity would come again when I was better prepared. It didn’t. But what if I’d written that script and it had been used? There are times when I’ve wondered what difference it might have made.
A couple of years after I left journalism and gave up my job as a newspaper editor, I was offered a position as a foreign correspondent for a newspaper syndicate assigned to the Moscow, Russia bureau. I’ll admit, I was tempted, but I didn’t want to raise my children in Moscow. My husband would have had to give up his job. It didn’t seem to be the right choice for my family---or maybe I just wasn’t brave enough to tackle such a big challenge. A year or two later, the Berlin Wall came down, the USSR was broken into smaller states, and I wasn’t there to see it or to report it. Someone else wrote those stories that screamed their way around the world. I couldn’t help wondering, What if I’d accepted that challenge?
Right after I left the newspaper I got a call from the County Commission Chairman inviting me to serve on the Salt Palace Advisory Board. I was shocked and didn’t know how I could possibly say yes, but for some inexplicable reason I ended up agreeing. There were only two women on the board including me and a panel of some of the biggest names in business, arts, government, and religion in Utah. I met dozens of stars who performed at the Salt Palace, shared a parking space with Mark Eaton, shook hands with Marvin Jenson, strolled down a long hall with Ronald Reagan before he made a campaign appearance, handed Larry Miller a tissue, attended concerts, cheered at ball games, and took my children to ice shows and rodeos. One unforgettable moment was when Elder Ballard invited us to call him “Russ.” Serving on that board was a fantastic experience, but what if I’d said no. I know what I would have missed, but what would have happened in my life instead?
Sometimes indecision makes choices for us, some times we make poor choices, other times we choose the best of all roads. This holds true professionally and in our personal lives, but whatever choices we make Frost was right. The road we choose makes all the difference. Still like me, do you sometimes find yourself wondering What if . . ?
Monday, May 11, 2009
Now and then our modern conveniences fail to operate as they should and we need to get help, and usually that help costs money. On Sunday I was faced with paying a plumber to help us get one of our modern conveniences in particular to get up and running, so to speak. But I didn't really have the money to pay a plumber, plus it was Sunday, and I didn't want to go to a store to find a snake or a better plunger or whatever people use for these kinds of problems. So I googled "home remedy" and "clogged toilets" and found a little forum where people exchanged ideas. Some involved some purchases that were relatively minor but would need to wait so for the short-term, I found two suggestions that worked. The first was just pour bucket after bucket of hot, not boiling, water into the toilet until it cleared on its own. That went a long way to taking care of the problem but didn't quite fix it. So I tried another remedy, which was a can of Coke and dishwashing liquid (half a bottle) and let it sit a half hour before flushing. The remedy called for Dawn soap and diet Coke, but I decided to use what I had and it worked just fine. Some people also said to put root killer down their drains, which sounds like a good idea since my house has trees everyone, including several growing very near the house.
I also found a homemade deodorant that looks interesting (no parabens, which is supposed to be a good thing) and a remedy for athlete's foot, soak your feet in Listerine (I'll keep you posted on how that works but for now my feet are blue because I used mint Listerine).
I'm not quite ready to take on Heloise, but it made me feel very smart and handy this weekend, a good way to feel on Mother's Day.
Friday, May 8, 2009
I didn't know we were poor when I was growing up because basically most everyone else in our little Mormon community in Idaho was in the same situation, and because we had enough to eat and other necessities. But it was Mom's management skills that made the difference between poverty and getting by with grace. I'll be eternally grateful for learning those skills from her.
She taught me to pray. I found her on her knees many times pleading with the Lord for whatever blessing or skill she needed. I watched her accept callings that absolutely terrified her because she didn't feel she was capable of fulfilling them. But she accepted them, and did her best, and the Lord made up the difference. That taught me faith. I learned that with the Lord's help, we can do the impossible. I'm so grateful for that knowledge!
Mom didn't do anything halfway - she became an accomplished seamstress, having learned the art from her mother and grandmother. She made all of our clothes (I have three sisters) and all of our doll clothes from Santa. She then graduated to making exquisite lingerie and heirloom quilts. She passed to me that love of creating with fabric and I even dared to make two of my daughters' wedding dresses, figuring if Mom could do it, I could too. She taught me self-confidence in that way.
I'm grateful for my mom andblessed by all I learned from her, but Glenn's mom taught me many important life lessons, as well. She was in every way my other mother. She taught me unconditional love and forgiveness. Of course, that is a lesson I'm constantly working on to perfect, but she showed me how it was done and what incredible results it could bring.
Glenn's mom had an inquisitive nature and wanted to know the name of every flower and tree she found. When they traveled across the US to visit us wherever we were stationed, she stopped and picked a leaf or blossom and researched it, then put it in a scrapbook with all the photos of that trip. She loved learning new things. Though she has been gone for ten years now, I still find myself wanting to call her and say, "Guess what I found today!"
Both of our moms were excellent cooks and set a beautiful table. They both loved entertaining, whether their circle of friends or gathering family around. Holidays just aren't holidays if we aren't surrounded by family - patterns and habits learned from our mothers.
I hope I've been the kind of example to my children that our mothers have been to me. I was heartened when my daughter-in-law related a little episode between her and my son. She was struggling with some decision in a calling and asked for Greg's advice. He asked, "What would Jesus do?" She said she couldn't visualize the Savior being in this situation so she was still at a loss as to how to handle it. Then Greg said, "What would my mom do?" Shannyn said, "Then I knew what to do because I knew how you would react." That was the ultimate compliment. Just maybe I'm on the right road and setting the proper example, as did our wonderful mothers!
Happy Mother's Day to all you beautiful, special mothers!!
Thursday, May 7, 2009
This can lead to some pretty awkward situations. I don’t know how many times I have gotten that far away look in my eyes when someone in the family has said, “Uh oh, she’s thinking again.” I have found my son waving his arms in front of me calling out, “Mom, Mom, are you there? You’re thinking about a book, aren’t you?”
One late evening I sat at work down in the Temple cafeteria. People had cleared the dining room for the evening and we were getting ready to close for the night with only minutes to go.
I work with a man who has an extensive knowledge of the great outdoors and since I would soon be leaving to go home and write for a time, my thoughts had turned to some questions I wanted to ask him about a mountainous area.
He had walked out to the cash register, in case anyone did come in those final minutes, I would be then be available to help him or her. I proceeded to tell him I wanted to bury someone alive. Now obviously if she was buried too deep, there would be no oxygen from the soil and she would die. I only wanted her MOSTLY dead…. if the Princess Bride taught me anything, it is that there is a big difference between dead, and mostly dead. Anyway if she was buried alive closer to the surface, she could fight her way out and live. But again, I want her mostly dead and unable to free herself. What did he suggest? Perhaps, locking her in a wood box at a cabin would work better? That was my alternative option. Before he could advise me on the conditions, I heard a gasp behind me. I was so enthralled with explaining how I wanted this lady mostly dead, I never heard a patron walk up behind me. There are no words to explain the look of horror on her face when she heard me express how this lady must be mostly dead and could not fight her way out of being buried alive. I learned several valuable lessons that day the very biggest being that I should be wise enough to pick my topics of conversation in the Temple. It was inappropriate, I realize, but at the time, I thought it was perfectly innocent. I now know better. It wasn’t one that invites the Spirit and I was wrong. I had to explain very quickly to this lady why I was asking about the outdoor terrain but as she walked away, I wasn’t entirely convinced that she believed that our conversation was all in the name of research.
Upon researching mechanical affixation my husband asked what I was doing. I told him I was learning about burying someone alive. He looked at me with shock and shook his head. “You scare me sometimes, you really do,” he said. Yeah well, if it helps any, I scare me too.
While writing my third book, since it took place in Denmark, I suddenly had this huge interest in names and where they originated. Again, at work, I looked over many name tags and asked of their history. I learned quite a bit of interesting facts about names that people loved to share. One day I noticed a common name but her tag said LE Coordinator on it. I asked if she spoke French. The Temple has several languages spoken there and I was impressed that this good sister knew French. Upon my asking about her speaking this language, she looked at me as if I were from another planet. After a far too lengthy pause and a strange look, she asked, “Why would you ask me that?” Wasn’t the answer obvious? “Your tag says, “Le coordinataire,” I replied with a French flair. She looked at me and burst out laughing. Then she told me what it stands for. She was a Living Endowment Coordinator. She said, “That’s so funny! Can I go tell the other sisters?” All I could think of was, “Yes, please go tell them all and make sure they know it was me making a tremendous fool of myself.” Seconds later I heard an entire table burst out laughing. What I wouldn’t have given for the ground to open up and swallow me whole.
Research. Pondering. Visions. (Watching the story play out in our heads) What we don’t do to put a story together to get it down just right on paper. We watch shows, read up on books, research topics on the Internet, and even ask police officers questions that no one else would consider asking (like how to sell street drugs and not get caught- yeah I did that too. Try that one and see the reaction you get!)
We do some pretty strange things, all for the love of writing. But maybe, just maybe, I get a little too caught up in things when a story goes running through my mind.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
At the school gates I got chatting to a couple in their late seventies who had found themselves, through no fault of their own, having to bring up their three young grandchildren, two of whom were in the same classes as two of my children. The grandmother sorrowfully told me how exhausted they were, that their only income was their state pension and they had no respite care at all - no holidays, no support.
I had been looking for some sort of service I could perform, and whilst not in a position to offer financial help, I offered to collect the children from school one afternoon a week, feed them their tea, and deliver them at home before bedtime, giving the grandparents a free day once a week. Unfortunately there were no weekday afternoons which were convenient due to the children's various commitments, and Saturday is our family day, so I offered Sunday afternoons. I added that if they wanted a whole day free then the children could come to church with us on Sunday morning too. They were thrilled at the prospect of a restful Sunday to catch up with the washing, and readily accepted.
Illness halted the plans for a week, but on Friday I chatted with the grandmother at the school gates, giving her directions to the church so that she could drop the children off there since we didn't have room in our car to take them all. On Saturday the grandfather telephoned to say that the children would not be coming to church, or to my house, ever. They - he and his wife - didn't trust me, and didn't want to speak to me again, and would I kindly have nothing more to do with them.
I was, naturally, very upset. I struggled to understand how my efforts to help could go so very badly wrong. I wondered what I had said to offend them. I arranged for my husband to take our children to and from school so that I could respect this couple's wish not to have to see me.
The light dawned when I confided my distress to a good friend who pointed out that something major had changed from my initial, well received offer. I had identified which church it was I would be taking the children to. And now all the prejudices about Mormons were playing against me, and this couple were convinced that each Sunday my sister wives and I would be indoctrinating their children to be racist, worship the dead and bow down before icons of Joseph Smith.
Sometimes it's an uphill battle being a Latter-day Saint in a country where only 10% of the population ever go to any place of worship, and many of those that do are taught at their churches to mistrust Mormons. But I don't have pioneer ancestors, so perhaps it's times like this that remind me that I am, with my family, forging my way to the promised Zion. Not a physical place, but a time when the Church is understood and respected within the community, and the love, service and kindnesses of its members are accepted in the spirit they are given.
Sorry if this post isn't as uplifting and heart-warming as the contributions of my fellow-bloggers, but I will try harder next time, I promise! (And Mother's Day here was in March, so I don't have that subject to ruminate on.)
Sunday, May 3, 2009
My mom loved nature and adventuring. She died three years ago and I miss her. But whenever I take a hike in the mountains or through a meadow filled with wild flowers I feel close to her.
It's the week before Mother's Day so, in honor of my sweet mom, I'm sending pictures of beautiful blossoms to celebrate. And since a picture is worth a thousand words, I'm going to limit my own puny attempts at description and let the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy!
Friday, May 1, 2009
As many of you know, I'm a Type 1 diabetic. This was a concern for my husband and our bishop. Both cautioned me with regard to this particular activity. Neither of them thought I should attempt this climb. I assured both men that I would be fine. I promised to carefully watch my blood sugar level, to take along carb snacks, and to pace myself. I figured I was in fairly good health, all things considered. After all, I walked 5 days a week with a good friend. We usually walked about 3 miles at a somewhat brisk pace. That mountain didn't scare me--until I was halfway up, struggling beyond what I had envisioned.
We began this exciting adventure near the base of a mountain known in our neck of the woods as Baldy. (It earned this nickname from the lack of trees on top. In comparison to the neighborning mountains, it looks bald.) It's also the left eye of what is also commonly known as "the frog" here in Bennington. If you look at the picture posted above, you may see how it received that name. ;)
I figured we would start climbing Baldy right off the bat. It wasn't until we had all gathered at the designated meeting place that we learned we would actually be climbing two smaller mountains\hills first. It would be a seven mile hike straight uphill.
Gathering my courage, I was still determined to participate. This was the first big activity for my oldest son in the YM's program and he had been excited to hike with me that day. Plus most of my Mia Maid class had come to take part in the climb, and they were cheering me on as well, since quite a few of the adult leaders in our stake had bowed out of this activity.
Things started out well. We were all in good spirits and eager to prove ourselves. Then, about halfway up that first hill, my left leg began to cramp up in a horrible fashion. I figured it was because of the damage this leg had experienced a few years earlier due to a blood clot adventure. The circulation has never been very good in that leg as a result. Later on I would learn that I was in the beginning stages of a crippling form of rheumatoid arthritis (ankylosing spondylitis), and it was the true culprit that day.
I was in so much pain by the time I reached the top of that first hill, I was ready to throw in the towel. In fact, I did just that. "I'm sorry, I can't go on," I told my son and my Mia Maids. They said they understood, but the sad look in their eyes haunted me. Doing my best to ignore that, I limped to a nearby pine tree, sat down, and ran a check on my blood sugar. Severe pain tends to drop that level and it was on its way down. So I relaxed against that tree in the shade and sipped apple juice, watching as everyone else went on without me. (A couple of the other leaders had volunteered to stay with me, but I assured everyone I would be fine by myself, and that I would wait there for their return later on that day.)
As I watched while the others climbed the second, taller hill, I felt a little nudge of guilt. I've usually never been one to give up easily. And yet, I had allowed some discomfort to stand in the way of accomplishing something I knew in my heart I had really wanted to achieve. Gathering my courage, I stuffed everything back inside my backpack and continued on my way.
It wasn't too bad going downhill. I was still limping, but my leg functioned somewhat normally. Then I began climbing the second hill and found I was in just as much pain as I had been in earlier. I did my best to ignore it, sucked on pieces of hard candy to keep my blood sugar level where it needed to be, and I made it to the top of the second hill.
Winded, but determined now to finish this thing, I hobbled down the back of the second hill. About halfway down, one of the stake YM leaders who had been assigned the "difficult" task of driving his truck up to the base of Baldy with a load of water coolers, spotted me limping down that second hill and he drove up to where I was struggling. He told me to climb inside the truck, which I obediently did, and he then drove us down to the base of Baldy Mountain. Along the way I received a lecture about overdoing, and was counseled to give up.
"You don't need to finish this climb," he stressed to me. "I can tell you're in a lot of pain---you've more than gone the extra mile with this activity, just relax now and wait for everyone to return."
I sat there for a few minutes, recovering, but as I watched everyone else struggle up Baldy Mountain, I couldn't ignore what I was feeling inside. This had become a personal vendetta between myself, my wayward body, and Baldy.
Climbing out of the truck, I thanked the nice stake leader for his concern and told him this was something I needed to do. I couldn't explain why that was to either of us, but I was determined to see this thing through to the end.
With renewed vigor, I began to climb that final mountain. And it was more difficult than the other two hills combined. Halfway up, my left leg collapsed on me, and I nearly rolled down the mountain as a result. I sat there, uncertain of what to do. Above me, I could hear my son and Mia Maids calling to me. Around me, since I had managed to catch up with some of the other leaders, I was being told to stay put. Closing my eyes, I prayed. I explained to our Father in heaven how much I wanted to finish this climb, but I wasn't sure I could. I asked for His help, and it was granted. A thought came to mind quite strong, and I knew it was my answer. I remained in a sitting position, and began to use my arms and right leg to propel myself up the rest of that mountain.
That climb took everything I could do, and then some. But when I finally reached the top of that mountain, there was such a feeling of exhilaration. An emotional reunion took place as my son and Mia Maids hugged the stuffings out of me. They had seen how much I had endured to make that climb and we all cried together.
After several minutes, I was able to put weight on my left leg. I stood, and gazed out at the view before me, pondering all I would have missed if I had stayed in the shade under that pine tree down below.
A strong analogy came to mind that afternoon, as it was impressed upon me that sometimes, during painful trials, we have to trust in God, gather our courage, and continue on. The climb, though arduous, is always worth every effort made.
Six months later, one of my Mia Maids who had climbed Baldy with me that day, was killed in a car accident. That experience of climbing Baldy would help us all to survive the pain of losing Julie. The bond formed while climbing Baldy, would prove crucial as we pulled together to climb that mountain of grief.
Since that time, I have often pondered the lessons learned on that day of climbing mountains. I even wrote a poem about it I entitled Alpiniste, which is French for mountain climber:
It is too much
I cannot climb
The sheer rock
That slices ‘til I bleed.
There is no strength to face this challenge.
But I have come this far—
To give up now makes a mockery of all that has passed before.
Closing my eyes, I am led by an inner peace that beckons,
Reminding me of a presence that has been there all along.
Slowly, I make my way, clutching at handholds that guide—
The Sun shines bright upon my face as I make the final stretch,
Reaching for what most would deem beyond my grasp.
It is finished.
I have learned to face the wind
I have conquered the fear that held me back.
At the summit is a beauty that was always there
Beyond my limited sight.
I turn and see another mountain—
But I have learned to climb.
Cheri J. Crane
I will end with a thought given to me by a wonderful friend who is facing an entire mountain range at the moment. It is simply this: "Remember when you see a woman on top of a mountain, she didn't fall there."
(If you'll click on this picture, it will enlarge for a closer look. It was taken the day we climbed Baldy. You'll possibly spot me on the front row, kneeling in the midst of my Mia Maids. A camera case is slung over one shoulder. Julie, the Mia Maid we lost 6 months later, is the blonde on the back row, second from the left. My son, Kris, is also on the back row. He's wearing a light blue hat.)