Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Following Michele's stirring post about leaving her daughter in New York with just Moroni for company, and Val's thought-provoking quotes on writing, my post will be completely pointless and frivolous. Sorry about that. My pathetic excuse is that the temperature here just hit 86 degrees, and that's about as hot as I have ever been. I can't switch the fan on because it makes the computer screen flicker, British houses don't have air conditioning. So whilst those of you who live in Arizona, Florida or anywhere else really hot may think I'm a wimp, the truth is that I am too hot to think of anything more inspiring or meaningful than Teeth.

I have finally discovered what the deal is with teeth. Since my last post I have had a visit to both the dentist and the hygenist, and some serious discussion with them has helped me to understand why the Americans (and I'm guessing that most of my readers are from the USA) think we Brits have bad teeth. We don't, by the way.

At the dentist I had a filling and a wisdom tooth extracted. This involved four injections into the gum (ouch) and for an hour afterwards I wasn't able to move my right eyelid. I had to drive home one-handed (not easy in a manual car) with the other hand holding my sore eye closed. The following week I saw the hygenist for a scale and polish and some advice on interdental brushing (apparently floss is now so last year).

The cost of these two visits was £80 ($120) and I was scandalised. Dental treatment has been free here for as long as I can remember but apparently because I am over 16 and under 60, not pregnant and in employment, I have to make a contribution to the cost of my treatment. At least my daughter's braces will be free.

In the last General Conference, Elder Richard G. Scott (I think it was) commented that when a Temple is built in a particular location, Saints living near the Temple actually attend less than they did when they had to travel further. Those living far from the Temple sacrifice and plan and make the effort to go as often as possible; those living nearby seem to hardly bother to go at all.

What does this have to do with teeth? It made me think that if we don't have to sacrifice for something, we subconsciously think it isn't worth much. So when dental treatment is free, we don't bother going to the dentist until the toothache sets in. If we actually have to fork out £20 ($30) to have a tooth filled, we are darn well going to make sure we don't get a cavity! And perhaps that's why Americans all have such perfect, dazzling teeth. They have to pay and sacrifice for them, so they know they are worth having.

Actually, that's not the only reason. I asked the hygenist how much tooth whitening costs. As a cosmetic procedure, it's not available on the National Health Service, and would cost up to £600 ($900). BUT, the hygenist told me, it is better to fly to America to get it done. Not only is it considerably cheaper, but the bleaching agents used there are far stronger than those permitted here. So that explains why British teeth look so much duller than American teeth. I'm flying to Florida in April! Anyone know a good dentist there?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Thoughts on Writing

First, Cheri and I have traded weeks so if anyone is thinking, shoot, her again?, well, you're right. Me again. Second, I've been down with the flu for over a week so I hope everyone willl forgive me if I offer a few borrowed thoughts instead of something of my own. These come from a book I stumbled across once upon a time and recently was able to get a free copy from my favorite used book website, paperbackswap.com, which I've written about before. (Just a side note: One of the things I love about the site is that it has a map to show all the places you've sent your books, and from where you've received them, and it makes me feel a bit more involved in life, even when I'm doing little more than sleeping and wandering around listlessly in between taking naps).

(From Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers by Susan Shaughnessy [HarperSan Francisco 1993])

You've got to be smart enough to write, and stupid enough not to think about all the things that might go wrong. (Sarah Gilbert)

A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any other invention in human history, with the possible exception of handguns and tequila (Mitch Ratcliffe)

A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something. (Frank Capra)

If you have a skeleton in your closet, take it out and dance with it. (Carolyn MacKenzie)

Writing is so difficult that I often feel that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter. (Jessamyn West)

When I'm not writing, I can't make sense out of anything. I feel the need to make some sense and find some order, and writing fiction is the only way I've found that seems to begin to do that. Even if the story or the novel ends up saying there is no sense and there is no order, at least I've made that much of an attempt. (Alice McDermott, National Book Award)

The ark was built by amateurs, and the Titanic by the experts. Don't wait for the experts. (Murray Cohen)

Even if my marriage is falling apart and my children are unhappy, there is still a part of me that says, "God! This is fascinating!" (Jane Smiley, Pulitzer Prize winner)

And here are a few other thoughts I've come across recently, but not from Walking on Alligators:

To share our stories is not only a worthwhile endeavor for the storyteller, but for those who hear our stories and feel less alone because of it." (Joyce Maynard)

We are made to persist. That's how we find out who we are. (Tobias Wolff)

Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. (Vaclav Havel)

We must try harder to understand than to explain (Vaclav Havel)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

We Are Never Alone

I know I keep harping about this, and I sound like a broken record, but it's my turn to blog so please indulge me.

Last weekend my husband and I took our sixteen-year old daughter to New York City. She is attending a ballet camp for five weeks with the School of American Ballet. Luckily she's done these camps for two summers in Seattle, so she is used to being gone from home. But New York is a big city and she's just a young girl. She will be living in the dorms that are located right at Lincoln Center, just above the ballet studios. There are also Julliard students that live on the top floors of the building. The place is oozing with talent and creativity.

Before we checked her in (on Sunday) we decided to go to church, which is located directly across the street on the third floor of the building where the Manhattan Temple is located. To get there from our hotel we took a cab. If you've ever ridden in a cab in New York it is scarier than any thrill ride at Six Flags. The traffic is crazy and the drivers are insane. Needless to say, we made it out alive.

Feeling a bit shaken we stepped off the busy streets of the city and rode the elevator to the third floor. When the doors opened the sweet sound of organ music playing church hymns greeted us. We were home. Members of the Manhattan 1st ward greeted us with handshakes and smiles. We sat through a lovely meeting where the spirit was strong and the congregation sounded like a choir (I'm sure there were some professional singers in the group). As soon as the meeting ended we sought out the Young Women president who was thrilled to meet our daughter and promised to take care of her for the five weeks she was there. We even exchanged phone numbers. Another woman walked up and wanted to meet us and also offered to help out if our daughter ever needed anything even just a home cooked meal.

Encouraged, we went across the street to check her into her dorm room and to meet her roommate and the other girls in her suite. Once we got her settled and her stuff moved in, it was time for us to leave so she could go to an orientation meeting and start her SAB experience. It was apparent that none of the other girls were LDS, which was perfectly fine, but her roommate had a particular fondness for a four-letter word that started with the letter "F" which started freaking me out. Also, there was a tangible competitive element that let me know, each of these girls came to be noticed and to be the best, and wouldn't let anyone stand in their way.

Keeping my game face on I told my daughter how excited I was for her and that she was going to have a wonderful experience but inside I felt like I was throwing her to the wolves. While she gave her father a hug, I took in deep breaths to calm my emotions and not let her see how hard it was to leave her there alone. Then, I looked out her window. There, directly across the street was . . . the Angel Moroni. Peace filled my soul and I knew exactly what to tell my daughter, and myself. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you” (John 14:27).

No matter where we are, we are never alone. Sometimes we can feel lonely or alone, discouraged, forgotten, and even insignificant at times. We can never forget that we are never alone. It is during those darkest moments that we can grow the closest to our Savior, invite him in, and have his constant companionship and spirit with us.

Seeing Moroni out her window every morning when she wakes up, and at night when she goes to bed, is such a heavenly kindness that my daughter and I both needed right at that moment to help us remember that all would be well.

She will have hard days, but this experience gives her a chance to grow closer to her Savior and develop a love for him and a relationship with him that will take her through the rest of her life.


Speculative fiction is enjoying a lot of attention at the present time. Harry Potter and the Twilight series have seen mega success. Legions of lesser lights have become household names as well. Romance is the top selling genre almost everywhere. During times of uncertainty there’s always an upsurge in extreme escapism fiction, so it is to be expected that in today’s uncertain times Fantasy and Romance are the top sellers. Sometimes the genres even overlap to become Romantic Fantasies. When life gets really discouraging, then we’ll see an upswing in comedy. Don’t ask me why; that’s just the way it is.

Many people wrap themselves in a self-righteous mantel to poke fun at those who enjoy Romance or view FAntasy with disdain. This is a silly attitude since a touch of romance improves almost any book and being members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we profess to believe in strong marriages and eternal relationships. That kind of marriage doesn’t occur without a little romance. And those who never get too old to believe in Santa have a happy outlook on life.

As a former public library romance novel buyer, I still have a soft spot for an excellent love story and find something worthwhile in most LDS romance novels. Whether buying or reviewing, I divide romance novels into three categories; 1) Boo Hoos – These are stories weak in research and plot, while being strong in sentiment. Characters tend toward stereotypes. The stories are mainly designed to elicit tears and are particularly popular around Christmas, but can appear any time, and they are written by both men and women. Not all are man/woman relationship stories. 2)Formula – In these boy meets girl, an obstacle arises to keep them apart, obstacle is resolved, ends in commitment. These are almost always written by women for women and usually include a strong physical attraction element. 3) Love stories – These follow no formula, touch the heart, but are not calculated to be tear jerkers. Both plot and characters are strong. The love story is based on a realistic friendship, the relationship enhances and expands the life and sensitivity of the major characters. They grow as their feelings for each other grow. They demonstrate a willingness to make meaningful sacrifices for each other and are often committed to a cause grander than their personal relationship. Unlike 1) and 2) the ending of this third type leaves the reader feeling warm and uplifted.

I’ll admit there are a lot of bad romance novels available at the present time, many have more to do with sex than love, but occasionally a jewel appears. A truly good romance novel is a treat to savor.

Comparing Romance and Fantasy novels may seem a little strange, but they actually have a great deal in common besides their popularity in the current market and their extreme escapism value. Both stretch the bands of imagination and both have almost an addictive pull on their fans. Neither deserves to be lumped into a single mold and whether or not fans of one genre respect the other, some of today’s best writing is appearing in these books---some of the worst too.

I’ll admit I’m one of those who usually find Fantasy novels as absurd and useless as many readers find romance novels. I consider all the blood, gore, and absence of moral values in Fantasy novels as offensive as some find the kissing, sex, and bawling in Romances. Bloodthirsty violence is no improvement over lust. Please don’t confuse graphic sex or violence with “realism.” When either become the dominating factor in the story or even in just a scene, the plot is interrupted and realism is out the window.

Because I’ve been somewhat vocal concerning my dislike for most speculative fiction, I decided to attempt an open minded look at what I like and dislike in this popular genre. I acknowledge that readers of this genre, like readers of romance, may feel a need to escape from the pressures of their all-too-real lives. Face it, all fiction is escapism, but the two genres I’m discussing here are more extreme than other forms of escape fiction. Females who are less than pleased with the reality of their love lives may seek the blissful illusion of a dream lover found in a Romance novel, but this doesn’t explain all fans allegiance to the genre. Males who see themselves as leading less-than-heroic lives with little opportunity to be powerful hunters, explorers, or warriors can be the superheroes of their dreams in a fantasy novel. Here again, this theory doesn’t cover all fans of this genre either. There is something in the nature of these two genres that appeals to dreamers, both those who indulge in an occasional daydream to relax and those who continually live in an "other world" fog.

Speculative fiction generally falls into three broad areas just as Romance does; 1)Cinderella Stories - these are the light, fun fairy tale stories that are the stuff of daydreams, wishful thinking, and a means of reconnecting with the tales of childhood, 2)Alternative Reality – these stories involve a different world from the one we know, generally a dangerous one. They usually include strange creatures, magic, potions, war of some kind, and lots of hunts or chases. The hero or heroine has tremendous courage and skills beyond what is considered normal among humans. 3) Futuristic Last Days – These are plausible, realistic stories based on the author’s concept of what the future of the earth and humans may be like at some climatic point beyond the present. They are often based on scientific or religious concepts.

I recently read several very popular fantasy novels; some of those written for younger teens such as The Thirteenth Reality and Sun and Moon; Ice and Snow were fun; some were just silly. I thoroughly enjoyed Chris Stewart’s Great and the Terrible. I wasn’t impressed with any of the Alternative Reality novels I read until I read Servant of a Dark God.

Servant of a Dark God (due to be released in September) by John Brown sat on my desk for weeks before I picked it up. I’ll admit I wasn’t interested. Most novels in this genre have left me with a dark, annoyed feeling, but it was a review copy of a soon-to-be released TOR novel and I’d never received an ARC from Tor before. I received it because I review “Mormon” fiction for Meridian Magazine and the author happens to be LDS. Though I started as a reluctant reader, I soon found myself reading late at night, stealing moments when I should be doing something else, and just plain having difficulty putting the book down.

The novel has a medieval-like setting with a “cast of compelling characters and monsters.” But the monsters aren’t always distinguishable from the other characters. In fact one monster is so well-developed and multi-faceted, readers will have difficulty not identifying with him or feeling compassion for him. There’s a large cast of characters, but much of the story revolves around a young man called Talen, who is impulsive, selfish, arrogant and a little cowardly. He is torn between obedience to the Divine rulers and the promptings of his own heart in a “land where the days of a person’s life can be harvested, bought, or stolen.”

TOR’s press information describes the story as “The Clans muster a massive hunt, and Talen finds himself a target. Thinking his struggle is against both soul-eaters and their hunters, Talen actually has far larger problems. A being of awesome power has arisen, one whose diet consists of the days of man. Her Mothers once ranched human subjects like cattle. She has emerged to take back what is rightfully hers.
“Trapped in a web of lies and ancient secrets, Talen must struggle to identify his true enemy before the Mother finds the one whom she will transform into the lord of the human harvest.”

It sounds gory and brutal, not at all what I would care for, but those distasteful elements are handled well and within a framework of right and wrong; they don’t intrude on the real story. I also liked the fact that the hero learns that he has the power within himself to conquer his enemies without resorting to drugs or an infusion of some kind of magical stimulant. At first I thought the story was some kind of anti-God/anti religion book, but it isn’t. Instead it says a lot about all humans in the beginning being given equal great powers, but through the corruption and greed of those who wish to exert power over others, false gods and religions are invented to control those who aren’t aware of their own power or who are afraid to defend what is rightfully theirs.

Servant of a Dark God is a compelling, complicated novel written in a misleadingly simple style. As in the highest quality literary writing, there are lines and references that bring other great works to mind without actually quoting them. There are moments of cliffhanger suspense and scenes of tender compassion. Terrible things happen, but powerful good rises to meet the challenge, though this is no "and they all lived happily ever after" kind of story. Face it, a fantasy novel that pulled me in so thoroughly, has to be good.

Now for a challenge to all those who mock romance: Pick up one of the really good ones. A couple of recent ones come to mind, The Last Waltz by GG Vandagriff , or All the Stars in Heaven by Michele Paige Holmes. You may be as pleasantly surprised as I was by my foray into Fantasy. And Romance readers, try a few Fantasy novels; you may have only tried the wrong type.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Use Your Pain for Fun and Profit

Many years ago I spoke at a writing conference in Arizona and I recently came across the paper I prepared for it. I liked what I had to say then (of course, I quoted everybody and their dog) and thought I’d share some of it here.

There is a story in a book about publishing that tells how God decided to visit the earth. Strolling down the road, God encountered a sobbing man. “Why are you crying, my child?” he asked

The man said, “God, I am blind.” so God touched him and the man could see and he was happy.

As God walked farther he met another crying man and asked again, “Why are you crying, my child?

The man said, “God I am crippled.” so god touched him and the man could walk and he was happy.

Farther down the road God met yet a third man crying and asked, “Why are you crying, my child?”

The man said, “God, I’m a writer.” and God sat down and cried with him.

A man by the name of Arthur Plotnik, who has written several books about writing and editing, said in his book Honk if You’re a Writer:

“Like normal people, writers enter the world screaming. But normal people subdue the incessant cries; writers keep them up....Writing itself might be defined as edited crying. Even a child’s whimpering contains the elements of a literary voice. After all, why do children cry? Out of agony, terror, impotence, rage, and nastiness — the very arsenal of mature authors. To succeed as a writer, the sniveling brat needs only discipline and a good agent. When children begin to polish their whining— ‘she has infinitely more chocolate than I’ — they may be uttering their first cries as authors” (p. 19).

He goes on to say, “My honking is an anguished outcry on behalf of all writers, because writing is an anguish better shared than borne in solitude to the grave. And the better shared, the better such anguish (including my own) is channeled into writing that makes the whole world sorry it didn’t discover you sooner” (p. 13-14).

But writing can serve a more useful function than cultivated whining. It can be downright productive, as John Grisham says: “The good thing about writing fiction is that you can get back at people. I’ve gotten back at lawyers, prosecutors, judges, law professors and politicians. I just line ’em up and shoot ’em.”

Seriously. Whether you write to vent, to create, to whine, to serve, to avenge, to explore—think of the possibilities, for fun if not necessarily for profit.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Healing Thoughts and Places

Where do you go when you're tired, discouraged, sick, frustrated, out of patience or all those other negative feelings we experience from time to time - but you can't physically leave? William Wordsworth said when he was depressed (which he was, deeply and often) he returned in his thoughts to the serene Wye River Valley and Tintern Abbey in Wales. There was something so
beautiful, so peaceful, so restorative that
when he escaped to there from his dreary
day to day existence, even just in his mind, he was healed. It had that effect on me, too.

Do you have a special place that restores you? A place to escape from it all? Can you lock yourself in the bathroom for five minutes, breathe deeply, picture your place in your mind and go there? Does it help? Maybe yours is a special temple, a mountain canyon, a solitary desert, a corner of your backyard, or your favorite chair in your quiet bedroom.

Since our trip to Cambodia, I've loved to return in memory to Ta Prohm Temple ruins. It was so peaceful and quiet, I could understand why monks for hundreds of years came here to meditate. I could have stayed here for hours, listening to the birds, feeling the overwhelming spirit of serenity that pervaded the ancient place.

One of my most healing places is the beach. My husband and I love to walk on the beach and feel the pounding of the waves on the sand and rocks, to experience the healing powers of water that comes and goes in a steady rhythm like the heartbeat of the earth. If I can have five quiet minutes to go there in my mind, I can be totally rejuvenated. Of course, we can add to that a quiet prayer (plea!) for healing, faith that we are being heard and loved by our all knowing Father in Heaven who wants us to be happy, and the hope that comes with that faith, there is almost nothing that can overcome us.

If you've never tried it (though I can't imagine a mother in the world who has not!) be my guest. Think of the most peaceful place you've ever been and recall the feelings you had there. Then ask in prayer to be restored in mind and body and spirit and revel in the memories and the feelings that will come. It's not a cure all, but the closest thing I can think of at the moment. Sit back and enjoy!!

Thursday, June 18, 2009


by Gale Sears

I’m edging toward senior citizen—catapulting is more realistic, but I refuse to give in to the acceleration, and although I try to stay aware of current trends and technologies, I do notice several things that set me outside the current generation.

I learned to type on a typewriter. It served its purpose during the years of high school term papers and essays, but I did not mind chucking the archaic machine into the dustbin of history, along with carbon paper, and changing ribbons. I do like computers where you can easily erase a mistake or reposition paragraphs, or have the machine alert you when you’ve misspelled a word. The thing I don’t like about computers is how addictive they can be: searching the web, emailing, blogging, twittering, facebooking, computer games, computer dating, and computer shopping. One can get lost.

I remember when our family got our first television. Its guts were filled with big electronic tubes that had to be repaired by a TV repairman. It had a black and white picture and three channels that went off at midnight. Now our television is plasma, in color, with 100 plus channels. It seems like a vast improvement, but I wonder. Sometimes I find myself sitting in front of the TV bleary eyed and exhausted. I’ve just spent four hours surfing through shows and not being able to recall one thing I watched. Lost.

When I was young I played outside—a lot. During the summer my friends and I would roam the dirt roads in search of adventure. We’d build forts, swim in the lake, or look for frogs and snakes in the meadow. And, in the afternoon gloaming, we’d have neighborhood barbeques and softball games. Cell phones and texting did not exist. We’d yell at each other, and laugh and cry together; communicating face to face where you could hear the tone of voice and see the person’s facial expressions. I loved hearing my mother’s voice calling my name from blocks away—calling me to come home. Now the cell phone buzzes and the child looks down to see the words—CUM HOME. Lost in translation.

So…what am I doing writing this blog and what are you doing reading it? I guess there is good purpose in this new generation of rapid communication if we don’t go overboard, but I say we get together for a face to face lunch and perhaps afterwards a game of Hide and Seek. You can pretend to be lost and I’ll find you.


I was struck by an interesting question that was asked of me today. Upon learning that my sweet father in law has the same kind of cancer my mother passed away from, and through the experiences we have faced with the difficulties my son has had since birth with a seizure disorder, what have I learned from these trials?

Wow. I’m not sure my answer could possibly convey all that is in my heart. But maybe far too simply put I have come to believe in the power of hope, faith, prayer, and I certainly believe in miracles.

I also recognize there must be opposition in all things. There is no way to pass through this mortal existence with out it. But D&C 58:4 tells us that after much tribulation comes blessings. We must all endure to the end; we all have our struggles, trials, and challenges to bear. To rise above opposition we must have hope and faith. Faith and hope together can overcome our fears.
In one of my favorite talks given by Elder Russell M. Nelson, he reminds us that Faith supplants fear, hope displaces fear. And of course the scriptures tell us, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.) To me, what an incredible blessing to hold on to when I am afraid of the challenges that are put before me. I cling to that promise when my heart is full of fear.
To rise above opposition we must not only have hope and faith but a determination as well. There’s a poem about opposition that a kind friend shared with me. It touched my heartstrings because it talks about those who have had things put before them yet chose not to let it hold them back.

I don’t know who the author is, I apologize. But I believe it’s called Opposition.

--Cripple him and you have Sir Walter Scott
--Bury him in the snows of Valley Forge, and you have George Washington
--Raise him in poverty, and you have Abraham Lincoln.
--Subject him to bitter, religious strife and you have Franklin Delanore Roosevelt, the only U.S. President to serve four terms in office.
--Burn him so severely in a school fire that doctors say he will never walk again and you have Glenn Cunningham, who set the world record on 1034 for running the mile in 4 in 6.7 sec.
--Deafen a genius composer and you have Ludwig Van Beethoven.
--Have them born into a society filled with racial prejudice and hatred and you have Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King Jr.
--Have him born into a Nazi concentration camp, paralyze him from the waist down at the age of four, and you have Eatman Pearlman, the incomparable pianist.
--Call him retarded and write him off as uneducated and you have Albert Einstein.
--Amputate the cancer-ridden leg of a young Canadian, and you have Terry Fox, who ran half way across Canada on artificial legs.
--Take both legs away from him and you have Douglas Bater, an RAF fighter pilot who was captured three times by the Germans and who escaped 3 times on artificial limbs.
--Label him too stupid to learn and you have Thomas Edison.
--Call him dull, hopeless, and flunk him out of school in the 6th grade, and you have the famous statesman Winston Churchill
--Tell a boy who loves to draw that he has no talent and you have Walt Disney.
--Take a man who did nothing wrong to anyone, and spit on him, mock him, be his trusted friend the completely turn your back on him, and you have Jesus of Nazareth, The Christ and Savior of the world.

While the trials spoken to me today have not really been my own to bear but those of my loved ones, I have learned much by watching each of them as they face have faced their trials head on.

Never will I forget my son coming out of brain surgery, lying in intensive care. His little face was swollen to unrecognizable proportions. I asked him if he was okay. He smiled and said, “I’m great.”

My mother, when she was at her worst was asked about her cancer, “Why you?”
She just shook her head and said, “Why not me?” She went on to participate in research for one of the medications now being used to treat this particular kind of cancer. It is gratifying for me to know that some of what she faced was for the good of others.

And now as my father in law faces his challenges, I stand in awe for the calm determination in which he faces his treatments. Yes, full of hope and faith.

I do believe in miracles. I love and admire those who have taught me such valued lessons to rise above opposition with such grace, and dignity. It’s my hope that as my own trials come, I too can face them full of faith and courage.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Whatever the Weather

by Anna Jones Buttimore

We had our Fast and Testimony meeting last Sunday, since Stake Conference was the first Sunday of the month. A sister who is very dear to me - she has been through some of the worst possible trials, but is still the most loving and faithful woman I know - bore a very brief testimony saying that it was easy to be happy and believe in a loving Father in Heaven when the sun was shining, and when it was raining we should look for a rainbow and remember that He keeps his promises.

I could pretty much end there, I think. So much wisdom in one sentence. But we Brits love to talk about the weather, so I feel the need to continue the metaphor a little longer. On the Sunday when Sister Hornsey bore her testimony, the weather was wonderful. The sun was shining, and it was 23 degrees C (78 degrees F) which is about as hot as it ever gets here. Last night, as I was driving to Subway to collect the fast food we always have on Family Home Evening, the weather broke. Thunder clapped, lightening flashed continuously, and I got soaked through just running from my car to the restaurant. Now, British weather isn't as dramatic as American weather - we don't have tornadoes or hurricanes - but this was a pretty amazing storm all the same. I arrived home to find the children and Hubby Dearest watching it through the window, awe-struck, but just a little scared.

It reminded me of the truth of what Sister Hornsey had said. Good weather can't last long (at least not here). After a few warm days, there is always a storm - and that's when we need to look for rainbows.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Embracing Quiet Moments

We live in a noisy world. And while I enjoy music, being around people, watching movies, or shopping as much as the next person, I find that I also crave quiet time. I tend to be more creative and to think better during tranquil moments. Hence I do my best writing in the early morning hours before the phone begins ringing, and everyone else stirs for the day.

I yearn to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us. I'm very content to wander about, taking random pictures that strike my fancy. I'm sharing some of those today, photos that I took during the month of May. Someday I'm going to paint some of these pictures. It will be another serene activity that will instill a sense of peace.

Finding inner peace is often a difficult task. The world is filled with turmoil. The ability to access news 24\7 keeps us informed of every tragedy that is taking place. Very rarely are positive news stories shared. At the moment, the economy is spiraling out of control. There are indeed wars and rumors of wars, and violent acts of crime are on the increase. Despite all of this, we can fill our hearts and souls with serenity.

Every day I spend time in prayerful meditation. I experience soothing tranquility as I share my current concerns with my Father in heaven. I also peruse the scriptures. It is indeed true that we speak to our Father in prayer, and He answers us through the scriptures. I've lost count of how many times I have found the exact phrase needed that helps me continue on with renewed faith.

I usually begin my day with a relaxing bath. Not only does this help my arthritic joints to move in a better fashion, it also provides me with an opportunity to read a chapter or two from a good book. =D

I then ponder all that I need to accomplish that day. Lately, I've been trying to curtail a few of those activities. I possess limited strength, compliments of this less-than-healthy body I've been blessed with, and I'm trying to adjust accordingly. I pay a huge price when I overdo. I suspect it's Someone's way of letting me know I need to slow down and smell the proverbial roses. ;)

Writing has always been a balm for me. I feel better on the days that I write. It helps me sort out my thought processes, and at times, vent and release bottled up stress. I also find that walking with a friend or family member is another great way to unwind. This summer, I will be walking most mornings with a good friend. We started yesterday and I couldn't believe the difference in how much energy I had for the rest of the day.

It is important to work hard, but I've learned that leisure activities are just as crucial. For me that includes playing in the dirt. It's healing to work in flower beds or a vegetable garden. I always feel better after spending time in both. As I pull out weeds, or plant new flowers, it somehow restores my sense of self-worth and accomplishment.

As I already mentioned, I thoroughly enjoy playing with my camera. It is a hobby that my father shared with me years ago. He taught 4-H photography one summer to encourage me to enjoy something he absolutely loved. It has been an important part of my life ever since. Very rarely do I travel about without taking along at least one camera to record "treasures," along the way.

Since we're all different, varying things will help us to relax. For some it may be fishing, camping, hiking, or dancing. For others it may lie in creating music. I've played the guitar and piano for years, both by ear. I love jamming with my family; this is a great way to secure important bonds, and to have a lot of fun. My tiny granddaughter is already showing a great love for music. She bounces in time as we play songs that have been in our family for years.

Something else that I love to do, is to put jigsaw puzzles together. I know this activity drives some people up the wall, but for me, it's soothing. I love looking things over and then finding the exact piece needed to fill in a gap. ;)

So while this world continues to be crazy, spend some quiet time doing those things that bring joy into your life. I can promise that it will instill the needed peace of heart and mind to survive this complicated era.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

There Can Be Miracles by Michele Ashman Bell

This is a five generation picture of my 100 year old grandma, Norene, my father, Nolan, myself, my son, Weston, and his daughter, Halle. Norene is Halle's great, great, grandma!

When I was a little girl I used to follow my dad around like a puppy. We were buddies. He took me fishing, scavenging for antiques, golfing, and even tried to teach me how to play the banjo. I loved gutting the fish, digging through piles of junk to find treasures, running after stray golf balls and listening to my dad play songs. As I got older our relationship became strained. He wasn't active at all in the church and this caused a lot of friction in our home. My mom was a rock, holding steady as storms in our house blew through occasionally. It was a confusing situation at times and I'm sure I was the cause of plenty of contention between my parents.
I was one of four girls in our family and suffice it to say, all of us ended up getting married in the temple. It was difficult not to have my dad there the day I was sealed to my husband. I tried to understand but deep down I really felt bad he could be inside the temple with me on this very special day. My grandmother, who turned 100 years old on June 11th, always told us to never give up on my dad. She reminded us to pray for him, she was convinced he would one day become active.
A few years ago my father was diagnosed with cancer. It was devastating. I was so scared. I wasn't ready for him to go yet. I wanted more time with him.
Our prayers were answered. It was horrible watching him go through the pain and agony of chemo. For months and months he suffered through his treatments. But not only was his body breaking down, so was the wall around his heart.
This horrible experience became the greatest blessing in our lives. It was a miracle. My father emerged a changed man. Today he holds a calling and attends church every week. He is also a current temple recommend holder. I have never felt closer to him in my life than I have with him since he fought his battle with cancer. Before when I would call to talk, he would answer and hand the phone directly to my mom. Now, we can talk for hours. He is the most involved, loving, supportive, and proud father and grandfather I've ever known.
I'm so glad we never gave up praying, exercising faith and believing that my dad would survive cancer and that he would become active in the church. Miracles do happen.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


“Your father would be so proud of you.”
“Daddy would expect you to take your medicine like a big, brave boy.”
The visitor sat on the couch in the front room of the small house, feeling deeply impressed by how often the widow she visited reminded her children of her deceased husband’s love and concern for them. When the children were at last settled in their beds, she turned to her friend.
“Your husband must have been a wonderful father,” she said.
“What! That bounder? He never lifted a finger to do one thing for me or the kids.”
Startled, the visitor stammered, “But you told the children how proud he would be of them and little Johnny took his medicine willingly when you said his father would expect him to be brave.”
“Oh that!” the mother scoffed. “That worthless man never did anything to help with them when he was alive, but he ain’t going to get off without doing his share now just because he’s dead.”
For some reason, that story has stayed with me for years, both amusing me and reminding me of the importance of fathers.

I was fortunate to be raised by a father whose love I never doubted. He was a farmer which meant I worked beside him from the time I was a small child until I left home as a young adult. He taught me to weed, irrigate, milk, ride a horse or handle a team, pick spuds, drive a truck or tractor, and perform all of the other tasks there are never enough hands to accomplish on a farm. We played together too; he taught me to fish, run races, and dance. He encouraged my love for books and attended all of the plays and performances of my childhood. We shared many chocolate malts, cracked and ate a lot of nuts together, and argued politics. I believed implicitly that nothing could ever harm me as long as my big, strong, brave Daddy was near. I was fortunate to have such a father.

Sometimes I grow weary of the negative role fathers often play in today’s entertainment. Too often they’re cast as brutal and cruel or as childish morons. If only every child could be blessed with not only a wonderful mother, but a kind, loving father too. And I wish the media would portray fathers as positive role models.

Over on my blog I run a contest twice a month. This time the central theme is fathers. The prizes are books, LDS novels I’ve received from various publishers and authors for possible reviews which I write for Meridian Magazine. I’ve been writing reviews for a long time and I have books overflowing every bookcase in my house. I don’t want to throw them away, nor do I want to stuff them in boxes to be forgotten, but the sheer number has gotten out of hand. Books are meant to be read and I’m aware no one can buy every book he or she would like to read and some people live in areas where they have a difficult time acquiring LDS novels, so I decided to give away books to those who visit my blog and write a paragraph or two concerning the topic I introduce at the beginning of each contest period. This time the topic under discussion is fathers and I’m inviting readers of the V-Formation to share memories of their fathers or write a tribute to their fathers, husbands or men they consider exemplary fathers.

From now on (at least for the foreseeable future ) I’ll be extending my win-a-book contest to V-Formation readers. Responses here will be included in each drawing, not just this time but for each contest. Multiple entries are allowed. Every comment made during the two weeks of the contest, no matter to which of the blogs I write it is attached, during that two week period, will be added to the drawing. With each contest I display the covers and tell a little about several books that match the theme, but winners are invited to give me a list of alternative books they would like to read and if I have one of the books on the wish list, I’ll send it instead of or in addition to the proposed prize. The present contest which features fathers is already under way and runs until noon June 15. Prizes must be claimed within five days of announcing the winner and will only be mailed to US or Canadian addresses.

Recently I received duplicate copies of All the Stars in Heaven by Michele Paige Holmes. I’m adding my duplicate copy to the prizes for this contest because this book also has important things to say about a father/daughter relationship, though in this case the example is negative. However, the book is exceptionally good and you can read my review of it next week on Meridian. Until then let’s hear about your fathers.

Monday, June 8, 2009

There are days...

I posted this picture on my personal blog and said that, while I don't usually care too much for cutesy animal pictures, this one makes me laugh. My good friend Jewels said that sometimes she feels this way about her kids.

Now that really made me laugh.

Are there not days, though, when the thought of eternal parenthood as the ultimate reward seems like the ultimate punishment? I hope it's not just me.

Some days, my two teenage girls get along famously. They laugh, they get silly, they talk till all hours of the night. And then there are times when I swear they would dismember each other if they only had the proper tools.

Sometimes the four-year-old is charming and sweet. Then there are times when he uses the words he's learned from the older sisters and makes a stink when his little cousin, whom I babysit, tries to play with his toys.

Surely my siblings and I were not this much trouble for my parents. We were all that was good and lovely, charming and witty. We never burped, complained, whined, fought, back-talked, slouched or texted during meals. (Well, we couldn't text during meals. We would have thought it meant something like typing a research paper on a manual typewriter).

I know that I surely never sent my mother to bed emotionally exhausted because of my antics. I never left things out all over the house, didn't drop wet towels on my bedroom floor, didn't leave food crusted on plates in my bedroom.

Here's hoping my mother never sees this post.

Truly, though, and you knew this was coming, there are moments that make the hard stuff, (which really isn't THAT bad), worth it.

Like tonight when my son watched the girls trying to hula-hoop and said, "You guys can't hoop-de-hoop."

Or when the 14-year-old put her arms around my husband's neck this morning, despite a battle of wills last night, and said, "I'm sorry about yesterday, Dad. I love you. Happy Birthday." (Truly, the best part of that whole thing was that she reminded me it was his birthday. Oops).

It's all good, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. It does help, though, that I'm not the only one who looks at the vicious squirrel up there and sees herself attacking the children. Keeps them on their toes. ;-)

For Any Writer Who's Been Rejected

For seven years while I worked for an LDS publisher, I sent out rejection letters. I also sent out a variety of other letters, and have sent out rejection letters for other organizations, but most of my experience with fiction came from these seven years.

Because of my background in teaching (which means giving feedback in writing) and also my background as a writing student (which means getting feedback), I often offered suggestions to writers. I knew at the time that it was more time-consuming and that my employer probably would not appreciate me throwing away my time on books that weren't going to make a profit for the company but...the instinct was too ingrained. Now I hear almost universally that editors should not give any suggestions for rewriting. First, there's always the danger that a writer will rewrite and "fix" whatever's lacking so now the book should be acceptable. And second, another editor may like the manuscript as it is or want other changes. Some writers tell of resubmitting their manuscripts without making any suggested revisions and getting published, and many successful writers describe their experiences getting rejected 10, 20, 30 times before their book was finally accepted. John Grisham's first book, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 28 publishers. When it was finally accepted, it sold through its printing of 5,000 very, very slowly. His second novel was facing a similar list of rejections but fate intervened when some early copies ended up in Hollywood. Some movie producers were excited, Paramount paid $600,000 for it and not surprisingly publishers started begging for the chance to publish The Firm. And most people know that Dr. Seuss's first children's book was rejected by 27 publishers as being silly and nonsensical and "too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling." (That was And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.)

The stories could go on and on. I could list several examples in LDS publishing but I haven't asked permission so I think I'll just let the authors tell their own stories. I'll just say I know two lovely women whose first books I rejected (and I say "I" but in many cases books go through readers/evaluators and even committee meetings before a decision is made to accept or reject). Nonetheless, I penned the letters (it just doesn't work to say I computered or I keyed the letters and the day may come when no one knows what "penned" means, alas).

Both of these women have written 10 or 12 books now and have many, many devoted readers. I know of other authors who already received rejection letters (from yours truly) but who went on to publish several books and also have devoted readerships.

And just for variety, here's a story about a writer I worked with who had published one book and after very carefully evaluating the next four from this author, I had to reject all of them. It was a hard situation for both of us, possibly harder of the author but I was frustrated too. I wanted to accept a novel from the author. After some discussion, an idea came up, the author wrote a sequel and it was accepted easily as were the next several books.

A few more words on rejection. Agatha Christie's first book was rejected as "not suitable for our list." Mary Higgins Clark's first book "Journey back. to Love" was rejected as "light, slight, and trite." Ann Frank's diary was felt not to have "a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the "curiosity" level. The Time Machine was considered "not interesting enough." Irving Stone's Lust for Life was felt to be "a long, dull novel about an artist." Chaim Potok's The Chosen was "too long, too static, too repetitious, too ponders and a long list of other negative 'toos'...It is solidly, monumentally boring." Potok himself was felt to have "no novelistic sense whatever."Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities was considered "a sheer dead pull from start to finish." Jasper Fforde, author of The Eyre Affair, wrote four novels before getting published and got 76 rejections. And James Patterson, best-selling crime/mystery writer, also received many, many rejections, but check his book on Amazon and you'll see that that didn't stop him. And then there's Tony Hillerman, who was told his first book wouldn't be bad if he'd "get rid of all that Indian stuff."

So the moral of these stories is this: if someone rejects your manuscript, you're in good company.

If you want more stories, try Pushcart's Complete Rotten Reviews & Rejections. Many of these examples were taken from it.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Going Home

by Lynn Gardner

There is a sweet feeling "going home." I haven't lived in Idaho since I got married in 1958 and we left to finish school at Utah State, but Idaho is home. I'm staying at my sister's while I'm in Idaho Falls doing book signings and the heart strings get tugged at every corner we turn.It's constantly "Oh, that's still there!" or "This hasn't changed much." or "Wow! When did that go up?"

Our old "homestead" in Lewisville has changed so drastically it is hardly recognizable. They've taken out the huge trees that ringed our property, torn down the fence (or did it fall down?) remodeled the house so it no longer has a front porch. But the barn is still there and the garage, though both are pitifully small compared to my memories of them when we used to play "Annie I Over" the garage and slide down the barn roof when we had lots of snow in the winter time. I didn't know we were poor when I was growing up, but looking at the house, buildings and the tiny farm, I guess we were. But since everyone else in town was in about the same condition, none of us realized it at the time.

We had an idyllic childhood - the run of our small Mormon community. Each mother looked out for whatever kids were in her yard or home at the time. I'm sure there was a network on our party line where a mother could pick up the phone and call a neighbor and all the other neighbors would also pick up to listen and someone would know where we were, but in the summer we could easily be gone all day playing and not check in at home. We just had to be home by dark, but then after supper we could go back outside and gather on someone's lawn and experience the magic of fireflies and a zillion stars. Or meet under the street lights and continue whatever games or fun we had been having. We frequently slept out on the lawn with friends, never thinking for a minute there could be danger in the darkness.Strangers in town were very few. Everyone knew everyone else. No one even locked their doors. In fact, we didn't have a lock on our door for years!

On Thursday nights we had a movie at the church and everyone in town walked over to the church to watch it, then we all walked home in the dark down the middle of main street, with a few peeling off here or there to go to their homes. If mom or dad or both couldn't go, not a problem. We kids went alone. Every mother was a mother to everyone else's kids. And if you did something wrong, you got it from that mother, then got it worse when you got home.

My sister and brother-in-law drove me up to Jackson, Wyoming where we used to go at least once a month in the summer - sometimes we just rode up on a Sunday afternoon between Sunday School in the morning and Sacrament meeting in the evening. Everything was so green it took my breath away. California is going to burn up this summer as t is so dry already - no blade of green in the countryside except the farm fields. Usually we don't turn brown until July - this year the hot winds dried everything out by mid April. So I drank in the lush green grasses, all the varied shades of green in the trees, the huckleberry, chokecherry and haw bushes in bloom. I loved seeing the asparagus on the ditch and canal banks. I have such sweet memories of driving in the country to pick the wild asparagus every spring.

Jackson is booming. There were still some elk in the refuge where thousands are fed in the winter time, but most have gone back up into the hills for the summer. We saw buffalo along the road side, antelope, deer, and a couple of young moose. No bears this trip.We stopped at the new visitor's center at Jenny's Lake, but it was a cloudy, rainy day and we couldn't see the tops of the mountains. I marveled again that there are no foothills leading up to the majestic Teton Peaks. They just rise straight up out of the ground like some giant hand had grabbed a handful of earth and pulled it up to his chest, then walked along pulling up another handful and another as he took giant strides for miles. I loved the stainless steel lines at the visitor's center that pointed to each of the peaks showing their names and how high they were. I'd forgotten the names of some of them. The park ranger was captivating a group around the topographical map, telling them about the Pica and other animals found there. I wished my grandkids had been with us.
We did the loop, then stopped in Jackson for lunch at a bakery/restuarant. My sister and I ordered a Monte Christo and a chicken quesadilla and split them. Delicious - but the turtle cheese cake was to die for!

We headed back home and had to stop (full though we were from lunch) to get a square ice cream cone in Swan Valley - a tradition that goes back at least 60 years and maybe more. The dry farms are green with a new wheat crop and we passed mile after mile of rolling hills where deep snow had been only a couple of months ago. I don't miss the snow, but I do miss the green. Our little corner of the Mojave Desert in California is NOT green (except our backyard where you'd never know you were in a desert.) We stopped at the cemetary in Lewisville and took the wilted flowers from ghe graves of my mom and dad, my brother who was killed when he was 12, and our little son who lived only 14 months. I have grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins - and generations belong to my family in that little green spot next to sage brush covered hills. Going back to Idaho is always sweet - and sad - but even after living in our home in California for 25 years, Idaho is still HOME.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mom

Today is my mom’s birthday. She was born June 4, 1923, and passed away October of 2005. She was a pip. She loved adventure, road trips, and going down the water slides at the water park, with her grandchildren, when she was well into her seventies. She loved to read books and write letters. And though she’d get angry and worried when one of her kids or grandkids made goofy choices, she never gave up on any of us.

All these memories of her are bumping around in my brain and heart today, and they fill my soul with gratitude. I suppose I’m especially grateful because Mom was always supportive of my oddness. Oh yes, I was a bit odd growing up, as my two older sisters will attest. At five or six I began organizing “shows” with the neighborhood kids, which we then presented to the mom’s, dad’s, and older siblings. And if none of the kids wanted to participate, I’d put on a solo extravaganza. I liked to speak in weird made-up languages and talk in dialects. I’d sequester myself away in the back shed and write stories until Mom came out to drag me to dinner. She’d pat me on the back and tell me she couldn’t wait to hear what I’d written.

Fifty years later, it’s this memory that makes me weepy. Mom always encouraged my little stories, and would listen attentively as I read them to her. She’d clap at the story’s ending and tell me it was the best thing she’d ever heard.

It was this voice in the back of my head that made me consider, as an adult, to offer my poems and stories to the intimidating world of publishing. It’s worked out well. My first novel was typed into the computer by my mom. My second novel was still in manuscript form when I read it to her. It was two weeks prior to her passing away from cancer. She clapped at the story’s end, and told me it was the best thing she’d ever heard. I marvel at the power of a mother’s love and encouragement.

So, today I want to thank her. If they have access to computers in those heavenly realms, I’m sure she reads my novels and blogs, and cheers me on. Thanks Mom and Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Zion's Youth

by Anna Jones Buttimore

Last week I spent a whole day at the London Temple. I had to take a friend to Gatwick airport, and since it’s just five minutes from the Temple, I thought it was too good an opportunity to waste. So I took the day off work, and, having baptisms to do, arrived in the Temple baptistry at 8 am. with a few family names, each of which has attached a long and lovely story which will have to wait for another blog opportunity.

As usual, the baptistry was booked up by a group of youth, but I was invited to “tag along” in order to get my family names done. And so I found myself sitting in the waiting area with about 30 very good looking young people – all American. There’s a lot of waiting around to be done in baptisms and confirmations, but these youth were truly amazing. They regularly reminded each other to be quiet and reverent, and they sang. They each picked a favourite hymn and sang incredibly beautifully, with all the parts and harmonies. I commented to the young woman sitting next to me that if they had told me they were the youth section of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir I would have believed them. It turned out they were Theatre Studies Student from BYU staying in London for six weeks.

Occasionally as we sang one would comment that her grandfather had written the words to a particular hymn, or his great-great uncle had composed the melody. I came to realise that these truly were “Zion’s Youth”, and to understand why the Prophets and Apostles so often express admiration for the youth of the Church today. They were a great example to me and I wish I could have spent longer with them, or been somewhere I could have talked to them more freely. It was an honour to spend time with them, and I am especially grateful for the friendliness they showed me, in singing both my favourite hymn, “I Stand All Amazed”, and “God Save the Queen”.

Later that afternoon the youth of my own Ward went to the Temple – including my eldest daughter. I had returned home by then, but asked Gwen afterwards how the trip had gone. “Fine.” She said, “But there were only seven of us, and none of the Young Men went.” I asked what they did in the waiting area while others of the group were being baptised. “Me and Paige chatted about Britain’s Got Talent” she told me.

Those of Zion’s youth who don’t actually live in Zion have a lot to learn from those who do. Not least the harmonies to the hymns.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Parable of the Briar Patch

I suspect there are times in all of our lives when we feel the need to shift gears. This may happen when we realize that we’ve stumbled into a rut of epic proportions and it’s time to dig out and try a different path. Since I’ve always enjoyed imagery, I’ll share a bit of this now to illustrate my point.

Picture, if you will, a lengthy, meandering path, fraught with peril. Scenic beauty propels you forward, until you trip and land in a briar patch. The briars pierce your clothing and skin in an uncomfortable fashion, inspiring you to hold still. The more you move around, attempting to free yourself, the more intense the pain. The temptation is to never move, but to stay in place, avoiding untold misery. But if you remain in this position, you are stymied. There is no moving forward, no growth, merely stagnation. Only you can decide if removing yourself from this briar patch is worth the effort. Only you can choose to continue on.

There are a variety of briar patches that pop up in life’s pathway. Grief, disappointment, physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges test our very mettle. I’m finding in my own life, it is crucial to remove each briar, no matter how pain-filled, and to continue on, embracing the tests and joy that lie ahead. The adage: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” is indeed wise advice. I believe that we’ll be very disappointed with our earth-life experience if we avoid those paths less taken.

Someday we’ll all have to account for the lives we’ve led while in mortal mode. Will we be as the unprofitable servant who hid his talent to keep it safe? Or as the wise steward, who multiplied his talents as best he could? The loving Master, who bestowed these wonderful gifts, hoped they would be utilized to better the world and to help those around us. Each one of us must choose what it is we will do with this legacy.

As writers, we have a unique opportunity to share our gift of words. How we choose to do so is up to each individual writer. I fear there are times when we allow criticism to hinder us. Instead of using these moments as a chance to learn and hone our skills, we permit those barbed briars to pierce our skin and wound our hearts. Again, only we can decide to pull ourselves out of that patch and move on, refusing to be stifled. If words burn within, share them as you wish, embracing the chance to create, instill, and rejoice.