Tuesday, March 31, 2009

In the Mood to Write? By Michele Ashman Bell

I haven't stopped to smell the roses lately. I haven't even stopped long enough to see them I've been in such a whirlwind. So, my blog will not be wonderfully profound (not that any of mine have been) or eloquently written (again, not that any of mine have been), or even that insightful (hopefully one or two have been).

Instead, I've decided to write about something that readers will hopefully find interesting, writers will be able to relate too, and others will shake their heads at and think, "What an odd bunch readers and writers are."

As are the lives of most women, especially those within the LDS church, my life is FULL. I have two very big church callings (the Lord's trying to keep me out of trouble - it's working), I have extremely involved and busy children, and the mere fact alone of being a wife and mother pretty much fills in any spare nano-seconds I have.

What has this got to do with writing? Well, I have been trying to get a novel written. I don't even know how long it's been since I started this thing, I just know that anything and everything that could possibly get in the way of writing has prevented me from making much, if any, progress.

Well . . . I finally finished the book, and all in all, am pleased with the way it turned out. I accomplished what I set out to accomplish and I think readers will enjoy it. But I'll be honest, it was extremely difficult to write because life kept getting in the way. And now, as I look back, I have to wonder, (I would love some author input on this part), each time I sat down to write and was either so tired I couldn't keep my eyes open, or actually fell asleep; each time I had a free hour to write, even though I wasn't particularly in the mood to write but knew it was then or never; each time I was in the middle of writing and the phone rang, my family needed me, my ward needed me, the school needed me, or umpteen other interruptions occurred; how much different would the end result have been, had I been fully awake, completely in the mood and totally uninterrupted? Would the story have been different? Would the characters have been different? Would that have made it better, or worse, or just different? I actually would love to know the asnwer to this because I've been thinking about it a lot and I really don't know the answer.

The funny thing is, sometimes I actually will read through something I've written and not even remember writing it. Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised that it's good, and sometimes horrified that it's so bad.

So the question is, is the story going to happen regardless of how I feel when I sit down to write, or is there some mental mind-set that needs to be achieved before I put my fingers on the keyboard so I know that I can write the best possible story I can write?

The scary part is, I don't think "ideal" writing situations will ever exist for me. I will never ignore my family when they need me. I will probaby continue to stay up late and get up early, because I've done so for my entire adult life. And, I will always have a church calling that I will devote my time too.

So, either I'm doomed, or I'm like a lot of other writers who are just trying to keep those plates spinning and keep balance in their lives.

In the mood or not, I'm a writer. I write because I can't not write. Even though my life is crazy, somehow having the outlet of sitting at my computer and creating, keeps me sane.

Has any of this made sense? I would LOVE to hear what you think.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I'M A CRITIC

I’m a critic. And I mean that in the nicest way. I’m not the sort of critic that enjoys pointing out faults and flaws. I’ve been accused of being hurtful, but that’s never my intent. What I aim for is improving LDS fiction. I believe in LDS fiction and want to see it get better and better. My way of doing that is by pointing out where improvements could be made---and applauding what authors get right. It is also my goal to inform readers about what is available in this fast growing field and encourage them to try new authors, let them know when an old favorite has a new release, and generally serve as a cheerleader for LDS fiction.

Most writers both want and dread having their books reviewed. I’m one of the lucky ones who get to do the reviewing. One of the questions frequently asked of me is what I look for in books I review. I also get asked by authors how they can get their books reviewed in Meridian. Others wonder what good is a review. I’ll try to answer those questions.

I’ll start with the last question. Review columns such as mine serve a dual purpose 1) to inform potential readers of new books that are available and help them decide which books to spend their money on and 2) to improve the quality of books offered to the public by informing writers of those areas that need work and which areas they got right.

Most of the books I review are sent to me by the various publishers, though occasionally I receive a book directly from an author, especially if it is self-published or published by a publisher who doesn’t ordinarily publish LDS fiction or handle their own distribution. I review only LDS fiction—that is fiction written by an LDS author and/or has LDS elements. I try to read everything I receive, but that isn’t always possible. And I’ll admit I don’t finish every book I start. I don’t have time to read poorly written books or books that espouse a point of view contrary to LDS Church values.

When I first began reviewing, I only reviewed books I liked. Even a bad review is publicity and I was squeamish about giving free advertising to books I couldn’t honestly recommend. Now, because my readers have requested it, I review the majority of the books I receive whether I like them or not. My reviews are shorter and sometimes less kind, but I can honestly say most of the books sent to me by LDS publishers have merit, though some are certainly better than others.

The first thing I look for in a book is whether or not it stands out from the crowd. I want books that catch my attention right from the start and hold it. A great cover is a good start, but I’m more interested in the actual words that start the story and whether or not the book starts where the real story starts. Excessive backfill and info dumps in those first couple of chapters ruin what might otherwise be a good story. I want valid research, plots that make sense, and characters that grow or change because of the events in the story.

I’ve heard it said there are only about sixteen basic story plots. Off hand I can’t name them, but I do appreciate a fresh approach to tried and true themes and it’s a delight when an author chooses a topic that hasn’t been done to death. Often I receive several books with the same basic storyline. They may all be good, but I’m going to review the one that has a different or new way of viewing the theme. Sometimes when faced with two comparable books, I’ll choose the one by the author who is new to the genre. I’ll admit there are a few authors who write so well I would like to review every book he/she writes, but if time or space is limited, I will most likely give the established writer a pass unless the work is unusual or outstanding for that author.

I look for good writing. I prefer books that have been thoroughly scanned by a good copyeditor, but there’s more involved than proper grammar and freedom from typos. A good writer doesn’t keep me guessing from whose point of view a scene is being viewed and he/she doesn’t arbitrarily switch points of view in the middle of a scene. Also too many points of view create cluttered writing. Childish sentence structure will lose me, as will pompous over-blown sentences and paragraphs. The same rules that govern excellent writing in the general market hold true for LDS novels. Also the premise or theme of the book must be weighty enough to carry throughout the entire book.

Since I review LDS fiction there must be a connection to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for books to qualify for my review column. That connection may be as slight as the author being a member of the Church and that the book follows standards that are commonly acceptable to members of the Church. The books do not have to be products of an LDS publisher, but most are. I don’t review books that present the Church in a negative light or ones that take a stand in opposition to Church policies or tenets. I prefer books that simply tell a story set in the context of the LDS culture, rather than those that preach or attempt to convert.

Character development is important to a story and I look for characters I can feel are real and I want to like the protagonist. I want to see characters that grow or are somehow changed by the events in the book. I like plots that have a beginning, a middle, and an end with twists and turns that hold my attention. The setting isn’t as important to me as character and plot, but it still plays an important role and it helps if the author gets details of the background right.

Every reviewer has a few personal idiosyncrasies and strong likes and dislikes. We’re human and we each set the criteria by which we judge a novel to be strong or weak by varying standards. I don’t like unrealistic behavior from supposedly mature adults, helpless females that have to be rescued by a man or a miracle, or going beyond an acceptable level of literary license when dealing with historical or scriptural characters. I’m very picky about speculative fiction and “near” history as well. I enjoy both well-written genre and literary fiction, though I’m not a fan of extremely esoteric literary works. And I’ll admit I’ve developed a real distaste for the weak, maudlin type of tears and tragedy story written primarily to evoke tears. I also find excessive violence and disregard for life as off-putting as pornography.

When I first began reviewing it was difficult for an LDS author to get his or her novel reviewed. The few reviews that appeared in papers or magazines were generally scornful of those early books. The magazine I work for, Meridian at www.ldsmag.com and the AML group, were pioneers in this endeavor. Now there are many sources of reviews of LDS novels. Many online reviewers have sprung up and some of them are excellent. I believe all of these reviews are playing a role in making LDs fiction more satisfying to read. I’m always looking for reader feedback and would love to know what others like or dislike in LDS fiction. Also how do readers and writers regard the role of the critic?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Healing

I have a lot of favorite blogs. I look forward, every morning and throughout the day, to seeing updates and reading about people's lives and talents.

There are two blogs, however, that I've begun watching with a very close eye. One is Nienie's Dialogues. This is an incredible blog, written by a woman who, for a few years now, has amassed a following of readers who love her wit, humor, and love of life. She was in a plane crash with her husband last August, and she is just now getting to the point where she can post little snippets about her life to recovery. I have been like a watchdog waiting for her posts, as I know so many readers have been.

The other blog I've begun to watch closely, Savor Every Moment, is written by a friend of mine who recently lost her daughter under tragic circumstances. My own daughters adored this girl, and I have admired and respected this friend since meeting her some five years ago. She is an incredible woman who is experiencing a hell right now that I can only begin to imagine. My heart aches when I think of her, which happens often throughout my day. My friend is a gifted writer, as was her daughter, and the fact that she is occasionally willing to express her grief through her blog is something that humbles me and inspires me to stay close to a medium I love, even when times are painful and hard. Writing can be frustrating and hard and it is somehow also therapeutic. It is a gift, and one that she certainly possesses in spades.

So I watch these two incredibly strong women heal, one who has scars primarily on the outside, one on the inside. I ask myself why life has to be so incredibly hard sometimes, why such horrible things happen to such good, good people.

One of my favorite verses of scripture is found in Proverbs: Hope deferred maketh the heart sick. There are days when I cling to hope- I know we all do- and it is a beautiful, merciful gift. If one can grasp that hope, and hang on with the very fingertips, if necessary, there remains a little spark of light in the heart that makes it possible to see it through to the next hour, the next day, the next week. There have been a couple of isolated, very rare occasions in my life where I've experienced the temporary death of hope, and it is the darkest place I've ever been. I have come to realize what a tender mercy hope is.

So I wish for these two women the gift of continued hope, that when hope makes an exit, that it returns quickly. I wish for them that the arms of the Savior continue to enfold and comfort, love and strengthen as they move through their own painful healing journeys.

And I thank them, from the bottom of my heart, for allowing me to share in those journeys, that I might also learn something along the way.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lost?

Our bishop spoke in Sacrament Meeting on Sunday - twice. Our stake president gave instructions to the bishops that they were to periodically address their wards as they felt the need, and our bishop felt the need. He's involved in the financial world and for his company, he watches the stock market carefully to insure that their stocks are doing well and getting the best return for their money. He is also on the board of FEMA and flies to Washington D.C. at least quarterly to "sit in council."

On his last trip on the long flight there and back, he thought about our scary financial situation in the United States and how it is affecting us as individuals and families. He, like us and countless others, have watched their funds decrease by thousands of dollars. So many people are feeling lost and afraid. As he read his scriptures on the flight, he felt inspired to offer four "mutual funds" to invest in for peace of mind. So he was the first speaker, we had a congregational hymn, and then he was the concluding speaker. This was his advice.

Learn the doctrine
Obey the commandments
Serve others and serve in the Church
Temple attendance

By doing these four things, (which our Prophets, Seers and Revelators continually urge) we will be able to stand without fear and without feeling lost, alone, totally overwhelmed and helpless.

I admit, I am concerned about what kind of world my grandchildren will have to live in. Our government seems to be rushing headlong into a socialist state which terrifies me. But I have no control over that. Writing to my congressmen is laughable. My two senators are the most liberal in Congress - Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer - two who do the most damage to our Christian conservative constitutional way of government. And Nancy Pelosi is also from California. What can I say. We are in deep trouble.

But our Church leaders are right. If we do the things we've been commanded to do like putting our own houses in order and having enough to feed our families for a few months and ways to keep them warm and comfortable, and staying out of debt, and if we're staying close to the Lord and receiving personal revelation as to what WE should be doing personally, we really don't need to fear. The Lord is in charge after all. (I keep reminding myself of that vital fact!)

Then two weeks ago, one of the grown sons of our good friends (who happens to be our stake president and his wife) was killed instantly in an automobile accident. The other driver crossed the yellow line and plowed headlong into him. Chad left a wife and two small children. President Porter spoke Saturday at our Relief Society Birthday dinner and program.

He said there are three things that will get you through any crisis or tragedy life can throw at you: Faith in the Lord and the knowledge that our Heavenly Father knows you personally and loves you unconditionally; Family, and Friends.

He agonized (as we all do in times like this) as to why, when they were giving their all in service to the Lord and being totally obedient, something like this would happen to them. His wife is a temple ordinance worker and works in the Family History Center and teaches Gospel Doctrine. Why? And he received the calm, peaceful assurance that the Lord knew all of this, and that Heavenly Father loved them and appreciated their service. But He was in charge. It was for a greater purpose.

He came back to California on Friday as he had ward conference to conduct on Sunday and a missionary to set apart but Kris stayed with her sweet, grieving daughter-in-law. President Porter said he got up Saturday morning and wandered the house in his pajamas, unshaven, not knowing what he was doing, but going from room to room in a dejected daze. His daughter worried about him being alone, so she called us and asked if we could please go to Johnny Carino's and get his favorite pasta dish and take it to him, since they would not deliver. Please take him some comfort food to let him know his daughter was thinking of him, she asked.

I was away speaking at a library event and Glenn answered the phone. He immediately called and ordered the lunch and took it to President Porter. When he opened the door, they fell into each others arms and wept, then sat down together and had a "cry fest," as he described it. We also lost a son, so my husband, who tries to appear tough and crusty but has a very tender heart, knew in part how he felt.

Family - his daughter, concerned about her dad, and a friend who could weep with him and offer comfort.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ gives us so much peace, hope, love and comfort in desperate times. How do others who don't have these blessings cope with life? I'm eternally grateful for my sure knowledge of the truthfulness of these things and the blessings they bring each day.

"...if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son (and daughter) that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good."

He is in charge and knows what we need to polish and bring perfection to our "rough stone."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Look for the Good

by Gale Sears

Malign. It’s a harsh word. Some of its synonyms are slander, smear, and libel. To malign someone or something means that you are intending to be negative, harmful, damaging, or destructive. The person who uses this tactic in making a point better be very sure that the object of their criticism deserves the myopic assessment. They’d better be sure that there’s no positive side which deserves attention—a positive side which the maligner often chooses to ignore.

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and recently, as a church body, and as individuals we have been the focus of several flawed assessments.

One: We do not hate homosexuals. We love all of God’s children. All. What we will not do is condone a homosexual lifestyle.

I have a master’s degree in theater arts, and as such, have spent many years in the theater as a writer, actor, and director. I have had many male friends who have been homosexual. One of my dear friends, Nick was a talented actor and director. He was also a faithful Catholic. A conversation I had with him, some thirty years ago, made such an impression on me that I remember it to this day. Nick told me that he had decided to live celibate for the rest of his life, because he knew his sexual persuasion was in conflict with his religious convictions. It was a monumental decision for him to make, and we cried together, knowing the difficult life he was facing.

Two: We are not a cult. We believe in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. We are decent, hard working individuals who try and live lives of service, serenity, purpose, and joy. Though there are some bigoted, cranky, Latter-day Saints, the majority are good caring people.

Three: LDS temples are sacred not secret. Temples are sacred places of worship. There are now 129 temples around the world where peace and hope abide in abundance. Temples are holy places where faithful LDS members can go to learn lessons of truth and make commitments to goodness. As a person of conscience and courtesy, I respect the beliefs and sacred edifices of all religious sects and anticipate that others will treat my faith with the same civility.

This morning I was in the Draper Utah Temple as it was being dedicated by a Prophet of God. It is a beautiful building where one is taught the path back to Heaven. There were 2000 Latter-day Saints inside the temple listening to words from several apostles and from our prophet. It was serene and uplifting. It was positive and renewing. It was a chance for us to rededicate ourselves to living more Christ-like lives.

My heart-felt prayer for those who would malign members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is that they’d get to know us before making unjust judgments. Remember, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

Friday, March 20, 2009

Create

I have started writing this blog so many times that I have lost count. Over and over again I have deleted lines, topics and paragraphs trying to come up with something that may be of interest to anyone who might take the time to read it. Yet here I sit, with a perfectly blank page before me.

Taking a break when nothing brilliant seemed forthcoming, I went through my emails. On most days, unless the person is my friend, family, or the topic is of interest, I delete many emails that come through my inbox. Between work, family, obligations, and a hope of writing, I simply don’t have the time to read everything that comes through cyberspace. Today however, something did catch my eye, just as I was highlighting the bar, getting ready to delete it. For some reason, I stopped before actually sending it to the trash bin. Instead, I clicked to open it.

The email opened and the message simply said,

A little inspiration for your day… now go write.

Whatever could that mean? Well, if nothing else it had my attention, so I figured I would at least open the attachment. What I found left me not only filled with a gentle peace, but with gratitude and certainly some needed inspiration.

I sincerely hope readers of this post will forgive me for not writing a blog of my own words but for passing along a little inspiration for your day… I could never attempt to describe or rephrase what I saw and heard from this clip, nor would I want to. I was so touched by the message of one of my favorite speakers as he appeared on the screen and I wanted you to hear the same message as I heard it.

May I ask you to please watch this clip in hope that you too will feel gratitude, peace, and inspiration. May you feel uplifted and blessed in your efforts to create.


video

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Giving Up Gracefully

by Anna Jones Buttimore

Writing a novel takes a very long time, a lot of effort, frustration and determination. This I know because I have written about eight of them. Three have actually been published. The rest will never see the light of day. I have given up on ever seeing them in print, and am viewing them as practice pieces on which I honed my skills and learned my art. All the same, it is dififcult to see manuscripts I put so much effort into languising in my "Archive" folder.

One of them, tentatively titled Kept in Trust, was, until yesterday, being reworked into my next submission. It's the story of a newly widowed young New York cop who decides to escape his grief by accepting an exchange placement, and finds himself culture-shocked in rural North Wales where he meets a very independent, prickly and determined single mother with an unpleasant past. Naturally he falls in love with her while at the same time trying to protect her from some nefarious drug-dealer types who are trying to kill her because she shopped her drug-trafficking brother to the police, and because she has information which might implicate them. And needless to say, she has no idea what this information is.

I know; so far it sounds OK, and in the hands of someone else (Kerry Blair) it might be, but having spent the last four months trying to rework it into something viable, I have come to the conclusion that it is dull and predictable, and beyond redemption. If our novels are indeed our precious children then I have just committed the cardinal sin of abandoning this one on the steps of the orphanage because, quite frankly, I don't feel I can help it reach its potential and give it the love, time and dedication it deserves. I don't like it, and I'm the author, so I can hardly expect the readers to open their hearts to it. I have spent years on this manuscript - but I could do better, and I want to do better. Part of being a good writer, I think, is knowing what isn't good and being prepared to let it go, however much you have sweated over it.

Of course, sometimes you are certain something is good, only to find that others disagree. I feel that my first two books are rather saccharine and overly emotional, and that Easterfield is the best thing I have ever written, but Easterfield was rejected by several publishers, and I have had far more fan mail for Haven and A World Away. I think it's fair to say that you never know how the buying public will react to a book.

Anyway, I have started the long, laborious process of writing a book from scratch. I am 2,000 words in Finders Keepers (only 98,000 to go) and filled with enthusiasm and hope that this baby will grow into an exciting, funny, stimulating novel which I will be proud to submit for publication, and even prouder to see on a bookshelf somewhere. But there is always a risk that after - let's think - about 1,000 hours of work, it might only end up in my Archive folder, another practice piece which isn't good enough to share shelf space with the likes of Kerry Blair, Jennie Hansen and Stephanie Black.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Happy Belated St. Patrick's Day

Since yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, it seems like a good time to wax sentimental about Ireland. We lived in Ireland for two years—near Limerick, for you Angela’s Ashes fans. I’m completely non-adventurous, so when we discussed moving overseas for my husband’s work (we were living in Boston at the time), I was scared to death. But I knew it would be a great opportunity for the family, so in the summer of 2002 we hopped aboard Aer Lingus and winged our way toward the Emerald Isle. We arrived on a cool, damp July day—Ireland doesn’t really have summer, just a lot of spring. We drove from Shannon Airport to the home we’d rented and discovered that—oops—my husband’s keys, including the keys to our new house, were at the airport security check in Boston.

But he sorted that problem out, we got settled in, and I discovered that driving on the left-hand side of the road wasn't nearly as scary as I’d feared. Even roundabouts weren’t too scary, and shifting gears with my left hand in our standard-transmission diesel minivan (really a micro-mini van) quickly became second nature. Roads in Ireland are a lot narrower than I was accustomed to. On back roads, you can’t believe that two cars could actually pass each other, and you haven’t lived until you’ve driven over Conor Pass in County Kerry where you have to stay out of the way of oncoming traffic without falling off a cliff (hint: if you suck in your stomach and hold your breath, it will make your whole car skinnier).

All road signs in the Republic of Ireland are in English and Irish. The Irish language is a core subject in school, like math, but only a small percentage of the population actually speaks it fluently, and only in some small areas on the west coast do people speak it as a primary language. My two younger children studied Irish in school and quickly came up to speed. My oldest daughter was exempt; she was old enough when entering the school system that it would have been hard for her to catch up with peers who had been studying Irish for years. That gave her a lot of free time during Irish class, which she didn’t mind at all (go figure). School was an adjustment for the kids, but they settled in and did fine—and I loved the school uniforms. The kids looked so classy in their jumpers (sweaters), ties and wool skirts or trousers. I even learned how to tie a necktie, though I've forgotten that skill now.

We discovered that some things are a lot more casual in Ireland. When I wanted to enroll my son in an after-school program I was waiting for official announcements or forms or what all and finally found out that it wasn’t like that. You want him in the program? Just say so and leave him there. In the U.S., you’d have to fill out forms, say which hours you wanted to leave him and fill out insurance forms and medical releases in triplicate or quadruplicate or quintuplicate with one copy for the teacher, one for the school district office, one for the school’s district’s lawyer, one for your lawyer . . . man alive, but American schools generate a lot of paper.

One thing I had to get used to was the absence of drinking fountains. In the United States, every museum, school, theater, or mall has a drinking fountain. In Ireland, not even the church had a drinking fountain, which blew my American mind. (But . . . but . . . it’s an LDS church!) Speaking of church, there is a wonderful branch in Limerick and when it came time to head back to the U.S., it was very difficult to say goodbye to these wonderful people who had been our support system.

Ireland is a spectacularly beautiful country. Since we knew we’d only be there for a couple of years, we did as much sightseeing as we could. We even kissed the Blarney Stone. Dingle, Connemara, Mizen Head in West Cork, the Giant's Causeway in Antrim . . . ah, so gorgeous.

One last thought--I think it’s ingenious how the Irish supermarkets make you stick a euro coin in the shopping cart in order to unchain it from the queue. Then when you return the shopping cart, you get your euro back. Voila! No carts all over the lot, since every shopper wants her euro back.

Erin go bragh!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wearin' O' the Green


Happy St. Paddy's Day to one and all. I decided I would be showing a tremendous lack of respect to some of my ancestors if I didn't touch on this glorious event today. ;) My maternal grandfather (Glenn Sibbett) is a descendant of Samuel Sibbett who left Ireland in 1803. Samuel fled Ireland rather hastily since a bounty had been placed upon his head by the King of England (George III). Samuel had served as a leader in Robert Emmet's rebellion, yet another attempt by Ireland to dispel English rule. Robert was hanged until nearly dead, then drawn and quartered. Not a pleasant way to leave mortal mode, but the punishment for English treason was quite severe back in the day.

Two of Samuel Sibbett's brothers were caught and sentenced to life in Australia. Upon crossing the great ocean, one brother was murdered by his English captors. The other brother was never heard from again. It is not known if he survived the voyage to Australia.

Samuel escaped to the United States, leaving ahead of his wife and three sons to avoid capture. His family later joined him in America and they lived from that point on in the Cumberland Valley, Pennsylvania where they dwelled in a place called Big Springs among other Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. In this location they were blessed with four more children, including my fourth great-grandfather, Samuel Sibbett Jr., who was born in 1803 in Big Springs, Pennsylvania.

So as you can see, I possess a bit of Irish blood. It blends well with the Scottish heritage I also possess compliments of my maternal grandmother. ;) I suspect I inherited character traits like stubbornness, determination, and perhaps a bit of courage from both. We won't discuss the fiery element I might have also been blessed with. It surfaces rarely, but when it does, 'tis a wonder to behold. =D

'T'would be fittin,' no doubt, to share a bit of fun facts about Ireland upon this important day.
St. Patrick's Day is a traditional feast day. In our family it is a tradition to prepare corned beef with cabbage and potatoes. It is a festive dish my entire family loves. Because we'll all be absent later tonight due to varied activities, I prepared this meal yesterday and we savored it last night. And yes, it was yummy. ;)

St. Patrick's Day is a religious holiday, one that honors St. Patrick, a patron saint of Ireland. It is rumored that he banished all snakes from Ireland, but this is a myth. He did conduct important missionary work upon the Irish Isle, converting numerous souls to
Christianity. Blue, not green was the traditional color associated with St. Patrick. It is believed that green became the color of choice for St. Patrick's Day as it was a tradition to wear a shamrock to celebrate this holiday. Hence the phrase, "The Wearin' O' the Green."

The all-important potato crop in Ireland was traditionally planted on March 17th, and that is why potatoes are part of the traditional fare during St. Patrick's Day feasts.

Leprechauns are yet another fun feature of Irish folklore. This myth was alive and well long before the Celts invaded Ireland. Most believed that these small fairy-like creatures were extremely wealthy and if caught, they would hand over their treasured pots of gold. Leprechauns were known for being mischievous, but relatively harmless, still, it paid to give them grudging respect to avoid future trouble.

When I was about a year old, one of my uncles returned from an LDS mission to Ireland\Scotland. He brought me a leprechaun doll that I have always treasured. It currently resides within the confines of my cedar chest. As I write this, I'm thinking I should pull it out and hang it in a place of honor in my computer room---at least for the day. ;)

As for the traditional Irish colors, here is a brief explanation of what they mean:

We wear green, because it represents Gaelic tradition, and independence. It is also associated with the large population of Catholics who reside in Ireland.

We wear orange in honor of the Protestants. This color is symbolic of William of Orange who defeated the Irish Catholics during the 1600's during the Battle of the Boyne.

As I mentioned earlier, blue is yet another hue of Ireland---it is the traditional color depicting Irish pride.

The Irish flag is composed of three colors: green--for the Catholics of Ireland, orange--for the Protestants, and white to symbolize peace between the two factions.

So on this traditional day of Irish pride, wear a bit of the green, or orange, or blue. Not only will this keep you from being pinched throughout the day, but it will show that you are Irish at heart.

Erin go Braugh! (Ireland Forever!)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Giving When It Hurts--Then What?

I had this niggling feeling I had a blog due this past few days but ignored it. Always dangerous to ignore those feelings, right? But as is often the case, I was absorbed in the various unpredictable challenges of life and family. My older brother just moved back to Utah and in with me since he hasn't been able to find work for nearly a year. And right after he moved in, I was laid off and the unemployment people are giving me grief because I teach one class a year at BYU, which means I am employed and don't qualify for help, not to mention the occasional freelance project.
So now my house has two brothers, a niece, her two puppies, her boyfriend (time for a talk there), my cats--oh, and me. Which is a bit funny because my life, though categorized as "single" has almost never been alone. Which provides lots of learning experiences.

Oh, and my cats are sick and sneezing like crazy and apparently passing their infections around, so once again, despite being single, I think I'm getting a very full family experience (at least it's not the flu being passed around here).

However, in spite of all this "busy-ness" one challenge in particular is sitting here staring me in the face and other than give it time and space, I'm not sure what to do. A woman I know well and care about and respect a lot is feeling serious burnout from helping her family. She has a stressful job, lots of church responsibilities, and lots of needy people in her life and she is a naturally giving and generous person--so you know where this is going.

Rather unexpectedly this week I found myself included in the people she was frustrated and angry with because I had been among the takers, though I sincerely didn't realize it and have tried hard not to put demands on her. I had gone to her looking for some talk and insight some time back and left with some money, feeling grateful but without an inkling that I should have turned down the offer. So now I'm feeling a bit frustrated myself, being the object of her resentment and blame. I communicated this to her, but the result was not a happy one. Maybe it was just too soon and too raw to talk about.

I've heard that it's common for people--maybe women especially?--to hold back and try to carry on and pretend that nothing's wrong until finally it all hits and then the anger and frustration come boiling over. If I still had a halfway decent memory, I might remember doing that myself. (And if I don't resolve this situation with my brother and my niece--who just came in with her boyfriend at 5 am--I may be getting a new experience with it.)

Part of the problem may be giving and serving and being happy to do it until—well, it suddenly stops being fun and you realize that people are expecting it and not appreciating it or showing it. And you feel like you're the only one giving.

So I'm just thinking aloud trying to make sense of all this and knowing that the others who post here are sensitive, intelligent, giving women with a lot of life experience. Any ideas?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Finding Inspiration in Strange Places by Michele Ashman Bell

The other day I was sitting in the car, munching on some pretzels, waiting for my daughter to come out of the school, when I happened to turn the pretzel bag over. On the back was Chapter 4 of "The Life and Times of Uncle Ray". Still munching, I read the short story entitled, Can't Tell a Book By Its Cover (or a chair). He (I'm assuming Ray) proceeds to tell about being a young boy of 10 and living in a housing project where his family was extremely poor. Ray tells how he became very resourceful and learned at an early age that sometimes loose change could be found in the cushions of couches and chairs. His neighbor had put an old, overstuffed chair out for the garbage man to pick up, so Ray proceeds to rummage through the chair, finding close to a dollar in change. In the process he has torn the chair apart, leaving just the bare frame. The woman comes out to see what he's doing and discovers that without all the upholstery and cushions, she likes the chair again. She tells Ray to "keep the change" and take her chair inside. Ray is excited because he now has enough money to go to the movies for an entire month.
The lesson is that sometimes we can find something wonderful in the places we least expect it. Ray found money in an old chair, the woman found a treasure inside something she thought was worthless and I found an inspiring story on the back of a bag of pretzels.
That's what author's do. They observe life and find inspiration in the strangest places. Sometimes it comes from watching people, listening to the news, watching a sunset, or traveling to a new place. A heightened awareness of what's going on around us gives us greater appreciation for others and our world. Instead of judging, we seek to learn about new people and places, then we are able to understand them better. Gee, maybe authors are onto something. Maybe if everyone would seek to understand our differences we would be more accepting of others.
I'm not sure how this blog turned into a "world peace" diatribe, but then, inspiration does come from the strangest places!!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

SCARED


Glass exploded inside my car as the vehicle shot sideways across two lanes of traffic. Slamming on the brakes, I tried to control the small car, but brakes only work on forward movement. A loud roar rang in my ears and it took a moment to realize the sound came from a jet liner taking off to my immediate right. I remembered seeing it backed up right to the fence that separated the runway from the highway heading west out of Salt Lake City.


Trembling and shaking, I proceeded toward the exit that would take me to the airport. Somehow my brain put together the obvious as I drove, peering through a cracked and shattered windshield with tiny beads of glass from all of the other shattered windows scattered about me. When the jetliner revved its engines for takeoff, I was in the direct path of the huge blast of air released. That blast broke my rear window and every window on the right side of my car, turned my windshield into a crazy map of lines that were rapidly spreading as I drove. It also blew my car from the outside lane to teetering on the grassy verge of the inside line.


As I considered the odds of abruptly leaving my lane to scoot across two other lanes in rush hour traffic without hitting another vehicle, I not only shook more, but grew angry. I stormed into the airport terminal and sought out the airline desk for the company with a big red W painted on their planes. I stood nervously tapping my fingernails on the countertop until I got someone’s attention. The young man called his supervisor and the supervisor called security.


The head of security was polite, but wary as I explained what had happened. He accompanied me outside to examine my car. In minutes he had a crew out vacuuming out the glass and covering the windows with cardboard. He called my insurance agent and a company that installs glass. He wanted me to go to the hospital to be checked for cuts, but I assured him that the only injury I received was a broken fingernail which happened when I stood at the counter drumming my fingers.


“I need to call my husband,” I said. “He’ll be worried because I’m so late.”


“Uh, what are you going to tell him?” the security chief asked.


“That I got hit by an airplane.” I grinned. I was well past being shaky by then.


The security chief watched me carefully for a few moments, then a wide grin spread across his face before he spoke, “I’d love to see that pilot’s face when he lands in Seattle and learns he’s wanted for hit and run in Utah.”


Though the experience was certainly frightening, it has since become a fun story to relate. Not everyone can claim the experience of being hit by an airplane and living to tell about it. (Yes, I know, technically it wasn’t the airplane that hit me.)


There are a lot of ways to be scared and I’ve never gone out of my way to experience any of them—except maybe stage fright. I used to like to act, though there were nearly always a few moments when I wondered if I’d lost my sanity by putting myself in a spot to be stared at by people and having to remember lines. When other teenagers went to the Friday night horror shows at the local theater I went bowling. I’ve always gone to great lengths to avoid anything scary, but scary things happen to me anyway. I nearly stepped on a rattler once, I was called as a Federal Grand Jury witness one time, being in a hurry and not watching what was happening around me I stepped between a man with a gun and the politician he was threatening, I caught my foot between the cliff face and a large rock when I was stupidly climbing alone, I’ve lost my wallet, I’ve missed my bus, I’ve had cancer as have two of my daughters, and on and on.


I think I’ve been scared too many times in real life to enjoy being scared vicariously through reading scary books. I like horror even less than sci-fi (Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish which genre some titles belong in.)


Today’s world is often referred to as scary, but it doesn’t have to be. If we’ve taken our prophets’ advice and prepared physically, financially, educationally, and spiritually we’ll be all right. That doesn’t mean we won’t face some hard times; some challenges may appear insurmountable, but faith in God will get us through.

Monday, March 9, 2009

My Bucket List

As I scanned the blogs this morning (good thing I did! It's my turn!!) it was fun to see which direction everyone went this month. I have to admit, my eyes lit up when I read Michele's because that is something near and dear to my heart. I don't really think I'd ever put down on paper places I wanted to go in my lifetime or things I was going to do. I had a mental list that kept changing but I'd never specified "this is a place I am definitely going to go before I die."

When my son came home from his mission, he said his mission president had him make a list of things he wanted to accomplish in the next five years, the next ten years, and so on. They even discussed it before he came home. So Greg asked me what were my goals - did I have anything I really wanted or needed to do and had I made specific plans to accomplish them? Mmmm. No.

At the time, we'd only lived in California for three years and really did plan on moving when my husband finished his employment and retired the second time (first time from the Air Force.) So my list included ten places I wanted to go in California before we left. I actually have been to all of them - some 21 years later. As our financial circumstances improved, I set my sights a little higher and made a list of places I wanted to see in the world. Some I have made it to, others, I may never get there, but am not giving up hope just yet. One of my goals is to spend a night in every one of the Grand Lodges in each of the national parks.

Every time I pick up a magazine - I guess I'd better stop here and explain the magazines that cover our coffee table: The Ensign never makes it there - it is always by my reading chair in my study. But National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler, Biblical Archeology and Archeology, and The Smithsonian Magazine bring new and exciting possibilities into our home every month. In fact, the last Smithsonian had a list of ten must-see endangered cultural treasures. I noted the site in Turkey, the city of Hasankeyf, that is going to be covered with water forever when the dam is finished. My husband served a 15 month remote tour of duty in Turkey at Adana near Ephasus and has always wanted to take me there. Now it is a must!

But I digress. I read a short article on what one gal does instead of making resolutions: every January she makes a list of "Things I've Never Done" and it reminds her of all the wonderful possibilities open to all of us if only we dare try them. Years ago when I was young and foolish and had no children, my mental list included walking on the wing of a bi-plane. I would already have done that except it cost $25 and we didn't have that much money. My husband was a poor young lst Lt. and we couldn't afford that luxury.

Next on my mental list was parachuting out of an airplane, riding a mule down into Grand Canyon and back up again, floating the Colorado River, and other fun things. Many years later I added climbing Masada to watch the sun rise (my son said Mt. Sinai was great at sunrise so I needed to do something different.)

Mt. Whitney and Death Valley are only a few hours drive from here and are the highest spot and the lowest spot in the Continental United States. I wanted us to play golf in Death Valley - they do have a lovely little course there - spend the night, and early the next morning race to Mt. Whitney and climb to the top. It isn't a really strenuous climb - you drive up to within about 12 miles of the summit, I think - but not a walk in the park either. But I waited too long for that. I'm afraid my knees won't let me - nor will I be climbing Half Dome with my son as we'd planned. Even if I got to the top, I could never get back down under my own power. The knees don't like coming down - even my front steps!

I think fervent prayer got me up and down all the steps at Angkor Wat last year and up and down the Great Wall of China. Without it, I'm sure someone would have had to carry me down!

This year I have made a list of day trips I want to do (last year's 50th anniversary binging with our 25 day trip to the Far East and all of our family celebrations led me to a much smaller and less ambitious effort.) They include seeing the monarch butterfly migration on the coast which is so incredible! Did you know the monarchs come from Mexico and rest along the coast, hanging in ten foot clusters from the eucalyptus trees like blossoms of wisteria - only they are orange instead of purple and much longer!

I will visit the newly restored Getty Villa in Malibu; spend an entire day at the Huntington Museum and Gardens (the Chinese Pavalion is now finished and a wonder to see!) The biggest Buddha Temple in the US in in Los Angeles. I want to see that, and both the Raegan Library and the Nixon Library. All of these things are within a two-hour drive of my house. Is this going to be easy? It should be. But like most things that are close and handy, it is too easy to say "Next month I'll do it." And never get there.

Like other important things, these have to be put on the calendar - in ink - or it will be easy to put them off and never go. That would be unfortunate. Glenn would really rather be playing golf so I hate to ask him to give up a day of what he loves best. But I have grandkids who love to explore and discover new things, so now I'll entice the new generation to plan fun adventures and get to know their world. Then next year - Turkey! A must see, before the waters of the Tigris cover up one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world, spanning some 10,000 years of history. Dreaming is important. It gives us something to look forward to. But then we have to make plans and put those plans into action. I'll report back on how thing go!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Women

by Gale Sears

This morning I attended a Women’s Conference. The speaker was Ardeth Kapp; a woman of strength, service, faith, and gracious inclusion. She’s one of those speakers with the ability to pull you into her stories as though you’re the only one to whom she’s speaking. Somehow, you just forget about the other 200 women in the room.

The theme for the conference was ‘Steadfast and Immovable’, and was a topic which clearly resonated with all our hearts. We are weary and careworn by the conditions of our country, and concerned for the unsettled aspect of the world, so, as women of faith, it is imperative for us to stand strong and immovable in our standards and commitments.

In word and song it was a rousing call to service, and it’s safe to say that we all answered, “YES!” Yes, we’ll stay faithful. Yes, we’ll endure challenges and not falter in our testimonies. Yes, we’ll hold up the struggling soul, and yes, we’ll pass on our witness and standards to future generations.

I left the gathering feeling uplifted, fortified, and encouraged. I also left with a huge amount of gratitude for the hundreds of good (actually GREAT), women I know.

I wish to share one quote from Sister Kapp’s talk. “One woman is helpful, ten women are influential, one hundred women are powerful, and one thousand women are invincible!” And you know, that’s exactly how I feel when I’m in the presence of great women—invincible!

So, to all the great women of the world, thank you.

Friday, March 6, 2009

What Was I Thinking?

On this, my son’s birthday eve, (his words, not mine…) I find myself thinking back over the years of his life. I am so blessed to be a mother. For as long as I can remember, all I wanted to do was find a good husband and have children.

My kids have brought a lot of love and laughter into my life. Their antics keep me young, even though I blame them for my gray hairs. Today I sat and watched my son playing with his friends, I observed some of the strange things they did and I had to laugh.

Now tonight my mind is wandering back to the time when I was near his age. As some of the memories flood my mind, I can’t help but question what in the world I was thinking.

I recall once that I stuck a huge wad of gum in my sister’s hair as we slept out in the camper one summer’s night. I was curious to know if it would come out easily if it were to get stuck there. I had planned to stick it on the wall to save until morning but feared it would fall in our hair through the night. Just in case it did, I “tested” it on my sister’s hair, first. Sure enough, if it had fallen through the night, disaster would have struck. I remember she felt me playing with her hair. She rolled over and asked what I was doing. The problem was, I hadn’t had time to remove my gum yet. (So much for my sister’s beautiful long brown hair!) I made her swear she wouldn’t be mad when I told her what I was doing. I even remember making things worse by trying to get it out myself before she ran in the house and told on me. I hid behind the couch trying to see what sort of trouble I was in for. After ice, peanut butter and finally the scissors, they got the mess out. What was I thinking???

I loved riding my bike down this hill near our house, peddling as fast as I could. One day I put my feet up on my handlebars and enjoyed the breeze as I went zooming by. I lost control a bit and the handlebars shook. Going the speed of lightening, I thought it rather fun to wobble in such a manner, so I purposely made my handlebars do that again. The next thing I know I was zigzagging from one side of the road to the other out of control before I finally face planted it right in the middle of the street. I had road burns where I didn’t even recall hitting. My chin, my arms, my knees, everywhere! I broke a few spokes in my bike, bent my handlebars, and scratched my really cool banana seat.
What was I thinking???

My list of brilliant moments could go on and on. Thinking things through to the end was obviously a bit of a challenge for me.

I somehow made it through those years of unthinking moments. (Okay, I am still having them, if I’m honest.) I like to hope they make me a little more compassionate when my own kids do crazy things. It’s while in those moments when the first thing that wants to come flying out of my mouth is, “What were you thinking?” I catch myself and think for just a moment. Someday we’ll all look back on these moments. Perhaps we may cringe a little but hopefully we’ll all just laugh a lot.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Domestic Goddess

By Anna Jones Buttimore

Over here in the UK we have a particularly attractive cookery-guru type called Nigella Lawson. She is known as the Domestic Goddess, and with good reason. She looks gorgeous, she cooks amazing food, and she sells hundreds of thousands of copies of her books to those who slavishly follow her TV shows. (It may even help that she's the daughter of a slightly less attractive but nevertheless well-known politician. Famous family is always a boon in becoming famous yourself.)

I have given up buying Nigella's books, because when her pert lime and mint souffles positively ooze deliciousness, mine just ooze. On her TV programmes she invariably presents the finished perfect dish with her nails manicured to perfection, her subtle make-up radiant and unsmudged, and not a single lustrous dark hair out of place. Whereas I always look hot and sweaty, with flour in my hair and sauce all over my face. And don't get me started on what my kitchen looks like. (At the moment, actually, I have no kitchen. We are in the process of having a new one fitted and all the units have been ripped out. The electrics and plastering are being done today, plumbing tomorrow. So it looks only marginally worse than after I have cooked a meal in it.)

Needless to say, my children generally refuse to eat my offerings. They will peer suspiciously at any dish I set before them, ask what's in it, and then declare "I don't like that" and go off to make themselves a sandwich. My two hours of chopping, boiling and seasoning seem to count for nothing. At least Hubby Dearest will gamely try a few forkfuls.

But now I can call myself a Domestic Goddess because I have three recipes in a cookbook! The World Wide Ward Cookbook by Deanna Buxton (who I'm sure is Utah's answer to Nigella Lawson) is a selection of recipes from Latter-day Saints around the world, and no fewer than three of those recipes were contributed by Yours Truly. I've yet to see the book, so please go out and buy a copy, and let me know how wonderful it is. In the meantime, I shall sit here and feel smug.

You too could be a Domestic Goddess! Deanna is now working on the World Wide Ward Cookbook - Christmas Edition, and she's looking for contributions from across the USA and the world. But time is running out - your Christmas recipe has to be in by 7th April. Go to www.worldwidewardcookbook.blogspot.com for more information.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Boulders and Rollercoasters

I’m happy to report that my current writing project is going well. It’s exciting to watch a new novel taking shape. Right now I have about 46K—that’s about 164 pages of manuscript—which is probably more than half of my first draft. Whee!

Writing does not always come easily for me. I read about writers with so many ideas that they’ll never be able to write them all, or how they can barely type fast enough to keep up with the flood of words coming from their heads. I, um, don’t think that’s ever happened to me. Sometimes writing a novel is like pushing a huge boulder, though at least not uphill—I haven’t yet had something I’ve written roll backward and squash me. Then again, maybe that’s the rejection part of writing. You . . . get . . . (gasp) almost (pant). . . to . . . the . . . top (urgh!) . . . of the . . . hill . . . and then . . . aiyeee! (splat). I love this quote from Thomas Mann: “A writer is someone for whom writing is harder than it is for other people.” After it’s taken me twenty minutes to write an e-mail because I keep editing it, I can definitely agree with that.

But it’s not always the boulder. Sometimes, like with my current project, things really start to flow. The adrenaline pumps. The words pile up, scene after scene. I love it when that happens. It’s riding a rollercoaster, as opposed to boulder-pushing.

Prior to the publication of my first novel, writing involved a lot of rollercoasters. I did it purely because I loved it—it was an absolute blast. I scrambled for the computer every chance I got. But one thing I discovered post-pub is that to be successful, you need to keep new books coming—even if you can’t always find the rollercoaster. Sometimes you’re pushing the boulder, which is frustrating and difficult. I still struggle with staying focused. When I’m boulder-pushing, it’s easy for me to get distracted and waste time that I should spend writing.

But even when the boulder gets stuck in the mud, I can remind myself that I can do this—I’ve written novels before; I can do it again. Maybe I’m struggling with the current story, things aren’t flowing like I want, the plot is thin and boring, the villain is painfully obvious, and all my characters have spinach between their teeth and 80s hairdos, but it will come together.

Some days it's boulders. Some days it's rollercoasters. But either way, there's going to be a book at the end of the road.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Through the Glass Darkly


I love imagery. While reading a good book, I've always been able to picture the images hinted at compliments of a vivid imagination. Symbolic icons often help me understand important concepts.

One of my favorite scriptures possesses symbolic imagery. Taken from one of the epistles of Paul, it is as follows:

"For now we see through a glass, darkly . . . now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

To me this means there will be times in our lives when we won't understand everything that is taking place, nor why it has to be. Those are the moments when we have to cling to faith and hope for a better day. And someday, possibly when it won't matter anymore, we'll comprehend why we endured a particular trial or challenging test. I think what matters most is how we respond to the set of circumstances during the traumatic event. Did we allow it to be a learning experience, using it later on to help others who may walk a similar path? Or did we allow this hurdle, whatever it may be, to block us from continuing on? Was it a stepping stone, or an obstacle? Often it is our attitude that determines the outcome.


A popular adage states that an optimist sees the glass half-full while a pessimist focuses on the fact that it is half-empty. Or to quote a poem I memorized in school years ago:

"Twixt the optimist and pessimist
The difference is droll:
The optimist sees the doughnut
But the pessimist sees the hole."

McLandburgh Wilson


During my adventures in life, I have tried to look on the bright side of things. I don't always succeed in this. There have been moments when I've thrown tremendous temper tantrums over
challenging obstacles. Like the time I was told that I had Graves Disease. Shortly after this diagnosis, I remember walking with a good friend, venting quite a bit about my unwillingness to endure this particular trial. Wasn't the fact that I was already dealing with diabetes and lupus enough? Did I have to endure this current affliction as well? I threw myself quite a pity party for a short time.

In an interesting twist, a part of me refused to believe that I had to deal with this condition, too. The stubborn part of myself came to the fore and I beat the odds. The Graves Disease faded into nothingness, kicking into remission on what I hope is a permanent basis. My doctors were stunned. They had told me from the beginning that I possessed a 1 in 1000 chance of winning this particular battle. They had been trying to decide if surgery or an interesting chemo treatment would be required to fix the problem. My vote was neither . . . and I won. Not necessarily because I was being a good sport about things . . . I just refused to believe that I would be saddled with this condition. I suppose it was the power of positive thinking . . . my version. =D

I am learning that thinking in a positive manner is one of the keys to succeeding in life. When we focus on the negative things taking place and ignore the good stuff going on, it can plummet us to the depths of despair and discouragement, two of the adversary's favorite tools. It takes courage and determination to rise above the dark thoughts that plague us all---the doubting fears that hold us back.

A few years ago, I experienced an extremely vivid dream. I know most dreams are silly nonsense, our mind's way to clean house, but I also believe that once in a while we can receive an important message through that format. This dream was one of those.

In this dream, I was making my way through a darkened tunnel with three others that I know and love. We were understandably frightened, not knowing what lay ahead, or if we would ever see the light of day again. Finally, we came to a sheer drop-off. Pausing, we looked things over, in agreement that to continue would be extremely dangerous. And yet, I was drawn to continuing forward.

It was pointed out to me that the cliff that descended below was made of glass. I was cautioned that I would be cut to shreds if I pressed on. I knew what my fellow travelers were telling me was true, but I couldn't ignore the strong impression that burned within. To find what I was seeking, I had to continue forward.

Shaking their heads, those who had been with me, turned around and trudged back the way we had already come. I stood, uncertain, contemplating all I would suffer by climbing down the cliff. Then, gathering my courage, I did just that. And it wasn't as bad as I had feared. I did receive a few minor cuts, but for the most part, I wasn't seriously injured. Turning, I saw the end of the tunnel ahead, something that had been out of view from the top of the cliff. I had found the way out of this particular tunnel by pressing forward, despite the risks involved.

Elated, I hurried toward the light that I could see, and walked out into the sunshine, where I was surrounded by loved ones.

I've reflected on that dream quite often through the years, especially when trials descend. I hope I will remember the lessons I have already learned and keep my face toward the sunshine, where all shadows fall behind, to quote Helen Keller. We do indeed live during a challenging time, but to my way of thinking, as long as we'll hold tight to hope and keep our faith intact, we'll eventually walk out of the darkened tunnels that lie ahead.