Monday, August 31, 2009
My other challenge at the moment is “under employment,” as I’ve written about before. I left a full-time job several years back to teach part-time at BYU and UVU, thinking one or the other might develop into full-time but, nope, I need a Ph.D. for either, which isn’t something I’m interested in right now. First, I can’t justify more education if my current education can’t support me, and second, I’m ready for a change, just not sure in what direction I should go.
As I said, my life has had its whirlwinds but whenever my life has slowed down, I think of a talk by Elder Neal Maxwell, when he said that “the seeming flat periods of life give us a blessed chance to reflect upon what is past as well as to be readied for some rather stirring climbs ahead. Instead of grumbling and murmuring, we should be consolidating and reflecting, which would not be possible if life were an uninterrupted sequence of fantastic scenery, confrontive events, and exhilarating conversation.”
In fact, his talk on patience, which he first gave at BYU in 1980, seems to have followed me through my life. I’ve read it so many times I have passages memorized, much like my patriarchal blessing.
The first time I heard the talk, Elder Maxwell was speaking at a BYU devotional almost 30 years ago. I wasn’t a student at the time; I heard it on TV. I was impatiently waiting to put in my papers to go on a mission but it was four months to my 21st birthday..
A year or so later the devotional was printed as an article in the Ensign and once again it had a powerful impact on me; ironically, I was on my mission and struggling with patience in the place where I had wanted so much to be.
Some months ago I printed out a copy for a nephew who was impatiently waiting to go on his mission. History repeating itself..
One of my favorite images from the talk is that long, empty road. I don’t expect I have any more of them than anyone else, but when I’ve had them, they’re certainly frustrating. Patience, said Elder Maxwell, “helps us to use, rather than to protest, these seeming flat periods of life, becoming filled with quiet wonder over the past and with anticipation for that which may lie ahead, instead of demeaning the particular flatness through which we may be passing at the time. We should savor even the seemingly ordinary times, for life cannot be made up all of kettledrums and crashing cymbals. There must be some flutes and violins. Living cannot be all crescendo; there must be some dynamic contrast.”
Sometimes we are asked to be patient with events in our lives, sometimes with people. Patience reminds that God values our agency. At times we may feel irritated or inconvenienced by the need to make allowance for the agency of others, but the Lord asks us to be patient and long-suffering as others experience their own learning process. “When we are unduly impatient,” he said, “we are, in effect, trying to hasten an outcome when this kind of acceleration would be to abuse agency.
“When we are impatient, we are neither reverential nor reflective because we are too self‑centered. Whereas faith and patience are companions, so are selfishness and impatience. It is so easy to be confrontive without being informative; so easy to be indignant without being intelligent; so easy to be impulsive without being insightful. It is so easy to command others when we are not in control of ourselves.”
That’s one reason we need time. Elder Maxwell used the example of Esau and Jacob to point out how “generosity can replace animosity when truth is mixed with time.” And patience and love, he added “take the radioactivity out of our resentments.”
Thank goodness for time. Now, the trick is just to be patient while time does its stuff.
Last of all, a few more favorite quotes from Elder Maxwell’s talk:
“The patient person can better understand how there are circumstances when, if our hearts are set too much upon the things of this world, they must be broken‑‑but for our sakes, and not merely as a demonstration of divine power.”
“There is in patience a greater opportunity for that discernment which sorts out the things that matter most from the things that matter least.”
Life has plenty of whirlwinds. For the moment, Heavenly Father is giving me some downtime to practice patience—again.
For the full text of Elder Maxwell's talk, go to http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6735
Friday, August 28, 2009
This week was supposed to be catch up from being gone all last week. And I'd scheduled a trip to the Los Angeles temple taking several older sisters who don't drive and look forward to getting out (because it not only involves going to the temple which is a treat for us all, but lunch!) And training for my new FH calling, and cleaning out more family history boxes, and lots of dehydrating.
When I got home, I discovered my Hawaiian friend's new care giver had scheduled an eye appointment for her. I've been taking care of Margaret's medical needs for ...mmm... three years now, I think. I take her to all her doctor appointments (which are many!) and for a couple of years I gave her daily insulin shots, then for months when I went every morning to do her insulin shots and give her eye drops (she was going blind) and make sure she took her medication, I also had to dress her burned hand. So this has been an on-going process.
But I digress. An unplanned item on my calendar, but not an unpleasant task! I get to read while she is waiting to see the Beverly Hills retina specialist. Her appointments range from three to four hours and I get to read!! I picked up Dan Brown's Deception Point as I ran out the door to get her, not having any idea what to expect. Another DaVinci Code or Angels and Demons type? Absolutely not. But when did he start writing techno-thrillers? I couldn't put it down.
My next digression from my planned schedule was peaches. The birds were eating them faster than I could pick and dry them. (I don't can anymore. I freeze and dehydrate everything.) So instead of doing my scheduled new.familysearch.org training, I did peaches. Then the birds went to the apple tree. So even though they weren't as ripe as I'd have liked, they had to be picked. If you sprinkle a little cinnamon and sugar on the slices before you dry them, you have a sweet-tart product the kids love.
Hadn't finished the apples (just ignored the fig tree because I already have about four batches of jam finished and the birds flocked all over that one before I could even approach it!) when my daughter called. She had a project with a Monday deadline and hadn't been able to do any more than the research. Could I come and baby-sit? Baby Julian was teething and needed a lot of extra attention. So I finished the apples I'd picked, left the rest for Glenn to pick when he got home, and yesterday I left the house at 4:45 to make the 6:30 session at the temple. She only lives 20 minutes from the temple, so I always take advantage of the trip to Los Angeles to go to the temple. The traffic isn't fun!
I got to put Julian in the stroller and walk Violet to pre- school, then spend the rest of the day cuddling Julian. I walked to Shelley's favorite restuarant and picked up lunch. (Julian loves going for rides in the stroller!) Have you ever had soft pretzel bread with chicken curry? Delicious!! Then we walked to get Violet at 5:00 to bring her home from school. Upside - I lost one of the pounds yesterday that I gained last week eating out while at the reunion!) :)
Brought Violet home with me last night so I could drive in the commuter lane and Shelley brought Julian. For the next two days I get to be a full-time gramma while Shelley finishes her paper. Swimming, park, walks around the block, reading books, and making goodies. Violet has already given me her list of treats: peanut butter balls, pudding, and cookies. See what you have to look forward to, Jeri! And congratulations!
So though I have accomplished next to nothing on my to-do list, life gave me greater opportunities by getting in the way of my own dreary schedule. Sometimes those blessings are greater than we'd have asked for ourselves.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
You know you’re getting older when the era in which you graduated from High School is now a Halloween costume category.
Yep. Funny. From my era, the little hobgoblin celebrators could choose either groovy hippy garb, or the ever popular disco mania ornamentation. Hippy clothes were especially…well, hip. We knew we were so cool in our bell bottom jeans and leather fringe vests. I actually wore a leather headband a couple of times. (Not good if one is caught outside in a rainstorm). Besides bell bottoms and leather vests, I actually tie dyed several shirts and wore them! I wore India print dresses and necklaces with butterflies and crystals. The crystals were supposed to balance your karma—something like that.
I’m glad I can look back and laugh about those wacky times. I suppose perspective is one of the perks of getting older. I’m heading off for my 40 year class reunion and I need all the perspective I can get. I’m nervous because, when I look in the mirror, I see all the physical changes that have shaped my body, yet, I know, more importantly are the years of vital life lessons that have shaped my personality; like caring for sick family members, trudging around disappointments, and gritting my teeth through times like when my son and his cousins flushed their GI Joes down the toilet. It was some sort of navy seal training mission, and it cost us a whopping $100.00 for the plumber. Good times. Important times.
I keep reminding myself that my classmates have all traveled the same number of years, and that we’ll have shared memories to laugh about.
Hey! Maybe I’ll dig out my leather vest and headband! Hmm. Maybe not.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
My son Tyler and his wife Felicia are expecting their first baby and last week we found out the baby is a boy. He already has his name. I’ll save that surprise for the announcement of his birth. I just have to say I couldn’t be more thrilled.
I know this isn’t a usual blog but I have started writing one over so many times tonight but all I can think about is how blessed I feel.
It was in the freezing cold of last January that Sian Bessy made her way on a dark stormy night to find my son and his wife at their apartment. (They also lived in her same hometown) That day they had had a miscarriage and I was devastated as a mother that I couldn’t be there to help them, or be near them in case they needed me. I mentioned in an email that they had lost their baby and how terrible I felt. The loss of that baby was so difficult on us and as a mother I just wanted to be near them. Sian knew just what to do. Being such a loving, caring friend, she found their apartment and hugged them for me and told them I loved them. She took warm bread from the oven and homemade jam and spent time with them until she knew they’d be okay. She did all of this for me because I couldn’t be there. Then she called me to reassure me that in time everything would be okay. In turn she touched not only my heart, but my son and daughter in laws as well, in ways she’ll probably never know. That memory still brings tears to my eyes. I have the most kind hearted generous friends a girl could ever be blessed with.
Now, it looks like we’ll be meeting our first grandchild this coming January. What a wonderful blessing he already is to all of us who are so eager to meet the little guy.
Anyway, like I said, I know it’s not a usual blog—Forgive me for using this place to make our big announcement. It’s just that tonight, my water level is a little high and the happy tears aren’t drying up.
I’m gonna be a grandma!
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Our "local" LDS Bookshop (about 50 miles away) has started sending me regular emails about the special offers available, and the new releases now available instore and online. They've got some tempting offers, and it's the only place in the UK you can buy root beer, so I called there a couple of weeks ago. The bookshop is in the gorgeous village of Godstone, near the London Temple (there's business acumen for you) but the downside of being an LDS bookstore in the UK is that everything you stock has to be imported from the USA, which makes it all extremely expensive, even with the tempting offers. So I usually salivate over the stock (Paper and stickers for a baptism scrapbook! Family Home Evening plaques on which you can hang the names of each family member! Salt Lake Temple tea light reflectors!) and plan what I will fill my spare suitcase with next time I visit the USA (April 2010).
I found, on visiting the shop, that there are only five small shelves dedicated to LDS fiction. It's not a big shop, and they have all those other lovely things to stock, but I still couldn't help wishing there were a few more titles.
I can see the reasoning; inspirational, spiritual and scholarly works are probably bigger sellers, and Church members can't get those anywhere else. Whereas, fans of fiction can go into any supermarket and pick up several really well-written (and much cheaper) novels. After all, a novel is a novel; surely it makes no difference whether or not one of the characters happens to be LDS? And given this fact, why do we, on the V-Formation, keep writing LDS fiction?
I happen to believe it is very important. Speaking as a convert living in a place where few people have even heard of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it can feel like a lifeline reading about other members, even fictional ones, and the lives they live in far-off places where others don't view them as an oddity. what's more they are people who go through challenges and trials, romance and adventure, whilst staying true to what they believe. They set a good example, and they can inspire as much as anything in the more cerebral works. And fiction is so much easier to read!
Yes, the market is awash with secular fiction, and much of it is wonderful. But much of it, too, contains scenes which, if in a movie, would be given an 18 (R) rating, and unlike movies, books don't show the rating on the cover. The characters often behave badly, make wrong choices without suffering consequences, and hold views which are contrary to the gospel. Whilst there is a great deal of very good literature out there (most of it over 50 years old) there is also plenty that offends the spirit. The discerning LDS reader might prefer to relax with a good good book.
I also have to put in the point that choosing to buy LDS fiction rather than that of the general market is supporting LDS publishers, distributors, printers, agents, bookstores and, darn it, authors too. I haven't read much LDS fiction (see note above about bookshop not stocking it) but what I have read has been every bit as good as anything by any bestselling author stocked in my local (1 mile away) supermarket.
That is basically why I will be taking advantage of those special offers and buying at least one LDS fiction book every time I got to the LDS bookshop at Godstone (that's every month, when I go to the Temple). I want them to know just how popular well-written LDS fiction is. And when I go to Florida next year, I'll be taking an extra suitcase with me so that I can visit Boyd's LDS Books in Orlando and take home an entire case of LDS fiction.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Lately I've been thinking about storms. Some come quickly into our lives, blowing in without warning, leaving as quickly as they arrived. Others reveal themselves long before they descend, giving us a chance to prepare, to brace ourselves to survive.
There have been many storms in my life---numerous challenges that descended without warning. One example: following the birth of my first child, a series of blood clots formed in the main vein of my left leg. The largest clot was the size of a golf ball and all of them were in a direct line to my heart. I was told by my doctor that my life was threatened by their presence. As such, for 10 days, I had to lie very still, giving them a chance to dissolve, and\or anchor themselves with scar tissue--to preserve my life.
Those 10 days were among the longest that I've ever endured. My baby went home without me---he was cared for by my mother and husband. As I lay there that first day, I was filled with resentment. Wasn't this supposed to be a time of joy? Instead of going home to enjoy and love my newborn son, I had to remain in the hospital---for 10 days!!! So at first, I didn't take the warning seriously that I had been given. I was in pout mode. When I dropped the remote to the TV, I leaned over the bed and retrieved it from the floor. If the phone rang, I leaned over the other direction to answer. A little while later when an inexperienced intern arrived with a wheelchair and asked me to climb out of bed and into it for a ride to the x-ray lab, I obeyed. I reasoned that he must know what he was doing, and away we hurried down the hall to the x-ray facility.
When we arrived and the intern told me to climb up onto the cold metal table, I did just that. Then the x-ray tech arrived, looked at my chart, and freaked out. "HOW DID YOU GET UP THERE?" he roared. When I answered, he freaked out again. "DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND HOW DANGEROUS THIS IS?!!!" Once again I received a lecture on the evils of moving around with blood clots in my leg. I tuned it out, deciding that I had been moving around just fine without any negative consequences. These people were making a mountain out of a molehill.
I did feel sorry for the intern who was waiting out in the hall with the wheelchair. He received a Scotch blessing from the lab tech and I overheard most of what was said to the poor young man. It wasn't very nice.
After the series of x-rays were finished, four nurses made an appearance with a gurney. They each carefully lifted one of my limbs, gently placing me on the gurney. I'm almost certain I was rolling my eyes during the entire ordeal. Then slowly, carefully, I was pushed back to my room which was now next to the nurses' station. All four nurses cautiously picked me up, and placed me on the bed. Once again I was warned to avoid all movement---everything would be done for me, yada, yada, yada.
By then, I was truly feeling sorry for myself. I was angry, frustrated, and bored. Then the unthinkable happened. Another woman who had developed blood clots following a c-section was being transferred to the x-ray lab. Unlike my earlier adventure, all precautions were taken to gently lift her from her bed to a gurney. Then as she was carefully pushed down the hall toward the x-ray lab, one of the clots hit her heart. This happened right outside of my room. Suddenly, my door was slammed shut and I heard an alarm sounding over the intercom. Even with the door closed, I could hear a lot of commotion taking place. Several minutes later, all was silent. Nearly an hour later, my doctor opened the door to my room. There were tears in his eyes as he revealed that the other woman had passed away. Despite every precaution taken, she had lost her life. Once again I was given a lecture on just how dangerous my situation was. This time, it sunk in. I was terrified and I hardly dared to breathe.
Those 10 days were horrible, and yet, they were a Gethsemane moment for me. I discovered the importance of relying on the Lord. Daily, I prayed that my life would be preserved so I could raise my little boy. Priesthood blessings gave me much-needed assurance that I wasn't in this battle alone. And slowly, bit by bit, the storm passed by. I survived. Battered and somewhat bruised, I hobbled out of the hospital ten days later for the return trip home. Sadder but wiser, I had learned lessons not possible any other way, grateful for this second chance at life.
In today's troubled world, we are all facing numerous storms. They batter against our defenses, weakening us in places we never dreamed would crumble. I can testify that the only way we will survive this daily bombardment is to do those simple things that will bring us needed peace of heart and mind. Read the scriptures daily. Pray daily. Attend the temple as much as possible. Heed the important commandments and standards that we've been taught our entire lives. Steer clear of temptations that will drag us down into the depths of despair. Adhere to those things that will bring us the most joy.
A few years ago I taught a Sunday school class for teens. At the time, we were studying the Old Testament. We spent several Sundays in a row learning about the trials that Moses and the children of Israel endured. One story has always struck a chord within. During a time when the children of Israel were in whining mode, complaining about their lot in life, turning their backs to those things that would bring them joy, God sent fiery serpents into their midst to teach them a lesson. If bitten by these serpents, they could die. It took something that drastic to inspire humility and repentance. When that finally happened, Moses was instructed to fashion a brazen serpent and affix it to a staff. The only thing the Israelites had to do was to look upon the brazen serpent and they would live. Look and live. Sadly, despite the simpleness of the way, many turned away from that which would have spared their lives. They turned from God and died. What they failed to understand was this is symbolic of how our Savior, Jesus Christ, can preserve our immortal souls. It is up to us to accept His sacrifice on our behalf. (See Numbers 21:4-9; Helaman 8:13-15; 2 Nephi 25:20; Alma 33:19-29)
All we have to do is look and live. We must turn from foolish pride, and humble ourselves enough to understand all that our Elder Brother has tried to teach us---then we will find the happiness we seek. I know this is how we will survive the darkened skies of today. Look and live. Allow our Savior to heal us through His Atoning sacrifice. I'm living proof that when we place our lives in His very capable hands, we will survive whatever storms descend.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I’ll post the first chapter on my web page shortly. My daughter, Janice, is my webmaster and she has pneumonia, so needless to say, I won’t be pressuring her to hurry. The book has almost six weeks until its release date so there’s plenty of time. In the meantime, tell me what you think of my new cover.
So that's what we did. My companion and I taught her one of the missionary discussions, had a wonderful experience, then changed our clothes and went outside for our first "aerobics" class.
Well, long story short, Barbara did join the church and here I am twenty nine years later, doing aerobics. In fact, I've been teaching aerobics since 1982, which means I've been teaching twenty-seven years!
Lately I've felt like I was in a rut, then my daughter talked me into going to a Zumba class with her. I was nervous at first and was afraid I'd make a fool out of myself, but after the first song, I realized, I didn't care. I was having so much fun I didn't care what I looked like, and neither did anyone else in the class. Zumba is an aerobic form of exercise that incorporates moves from many dance forms; salsa, cha-cha, hip hop, Bollywood, folk dances and everything in between. I loved it and cannot get enough of it. Discovering Zumba has really helped me want to eat better and take better care of myself. I was so glad I gave it a try.
Now, I'm no specimen of health. I admit, I've gotten lazy in the past few years and don't deprive myself of goodies as much as I should. But there is one thing I have been consistent with and that's exercise. I believe very strongly that we need to take care of ourselves, especially as we age. I've talked to the ladies in the classes I teach about retiring. I just turned 50 this year and probably should. But my ladies tell me that we are all growing old together, so why should I retire? They have a point. Besides, I absolutely love teaching still. The hardest part of the workout is getting up at 5:45 a.m. in the morning.
Along the way I've learned many things that I thought I'd share with you. Bottom line is this, you are never too old to begin working out. I occasionally teach classes called, "Silver Sneakers" to the elderly population and these people are doing amazing things and having fun doing it. They are an inspiration to me.
Here's my list:
1. Be Personally Responsible For Your Health
If you don’t take good care of your health who will? Strive to be healthy. Give yourself reasons to stay healthy, whatever they are - such as an upcoming event you’re looking forward to. Take ownership of your health.
2. Think About Your Health Often
Your health is very important. Put your health in the forefront of your mind. Instead of running out for fast food, plan ahead and make healthy meals at home. You'll save money too! Give children healthy snacks. We have an obesity issue in our nation’s children and its very unhealthy. Teach by example.
3. Make Healthy Choices
In this day and age it’s easy to consume excesses without even trying. Decide for yourself if you can live with a half a portion instead of a whole one. Select water over soft drinks MOST of the time. Drink plenty of water. Sleep enough. Exercise your body and your mind. Get outdoors for some fresh air and sunshine. Enjoy life.
4. Eat more organic foods
Organic foods taste better and are better for you. Plus, getting the least amount of pesticides into your blood stream is best for your overall health and for the health of our planet.
5. Eliminate Hydrogenated Foods From Your Diet
This includes crackers, cookies, chips, and many of the quick foods we reach for when we just want a snack. Read the Labels. Hydrogenation masks the fact that your food could be rancid.
6. Read the Labels
Pay close attention to the wording on labels. Sometimes you think you're getting something that is whole grain or 100% whole wheat, but in reality you're not.
7. Work on Ensuring Healthy Relationships
Stress from Relationships is draining and wears you down. This is one of the greatest steps you can take toward positive health.
8. Develop a Positive Attitude
Attitude plays an enormous role in health and healing. A positive attitude is a key trigger for maintaining your overall health. A negative attitude drags you down and, frankly, everyone around you.
9. Educate Yourself on How to Improve Your Health
Read books, watch videos and attend classes and seminars regarding healthy living, cooking and lifestyle. Invest in your health, it's worth it.
10. Take extra Vitamins and Minerals
Today’s food is void of many of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to stay healthy. A good bio-available multi-vitamin will help you stay healthy. To tell the bio-availability of a vitamin drop it in warm water (about 97 degrees – or roughly the same as our normal body temperature) and watch what happens to the vitamin within the first 5 minutes. Does the vitamin still have a hard coating around it or is the vitamin infusing with the water? What happens after 10 minutes. The infused vitamin is the more bio-available and works faster to deliver the nutrients your body needs.
Now I know it's hard to change everything at once. So, just change one thing this week. Just one. Work on it until it becomes a habit then start on the next one. Our health is something we should never take for granted.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I've been thinking a lot lately about the danger of Someday.
Someday I will take that trip. Someday I will actually ride that roller coaster. Someday I will learn how to sew something useful. Someday I will go back to school. Someday I will read that book sitting by my bedside. Someday I will be brave and befriend that new neighbor. Someday I will begin an exercise program. Someday, someday, someday...
The problem is that Someday often doesn't come. Someday doesn't make itself manifest until we create it. Oftentimes, the Somedays that we yearn for are secret longings of our hearts, things we don't tell another soul about but quietly wish we could or would do.
The problem with waiting is that none of us know how much time we're allotted here, and how sad would it be to get to the other side of life only to realize that while we did our best and what was required of us, we could have experienced a lot more, found much more enrichment and joy along the way.
Maybe I'm all introspective because I turned 40 last month and I'm now doing the whole Am I Where I thought I Would Be thing. Gratefully, I have accomplished much of what I envisioned when I was 18. I have waited, however, for other things that could have brought me joy much sooner.
For example, I've been a Someday I'll exercise person for years. I had a gloriously fast metabolism as a kid and then I hit 30. Oy. Those insidious pounds crept on one by one until I looked at myself in the mirror and wondered what had happened. Again, maybe because of the milestone birthday and maybe because I managed to lose a couple of pounds from a brief illness--whatever the reason, I decided to keep those few pounds off and begin melting away the rest.
I've exercised and eaten smart, and have lost roughly 20 pounds since May. My goal is another 20. It's gratifying to see real results and knowing it's coming because I'm working at it is that much more satisfying. Who knew I would come to look forward to jogging? I used to be winded climbing a flight of stairs.
Am I sounding like an infomercial for weight loss? I don't mean to. I just want to throw this out there, that I have a renewed sense of faith in our secret dreams. The only thing holding us back is ourselves. I know this to be true, because I've done it. I came across a quote the other day, and now I can't remember where I saw it, but basically it asked if we are hanging out in the rear mezzanine of life.
It hit me squarely. I don't want to be standing in the shadows of my own life. I don't want you to be standing in the shadows of your own life, either. Rabbi Zusya said, "If they ask me in the next world, 'Why were you not Moses?' I will know the answer. But if they ask me, 'Why were you not Zusya?' I will have nothing to say."
We are all unique, and we all have talents, some of the bizarre. Doesn't matter how weird or inconsequential we think they are; we have an obligation to ourselves and those in our realm of life to use those talents and pursue our secret dreams.
Take that class, go on that walk, take that vacation with your sister, do something carefree with your kids, read that book, write that book, learn to play that musical instrument, save a little pocket change for that silly froo-froo home decor thing you really want but don't really need. Love your family with abandon, their faults and all. Think of one good thing your spouse did for you last week and give him/her a big, fat kiss for it.
There is so much good in this world, and so many opportunities for us to do those things we want to, whether small or big. Beware of Someday and instead, reach inside to where you are uncertain or self-conscious. Rip that secret dream from its hiding place in your heart and put it down on paper. Smile.
Friday, August 14, 2009
When I finished the manuscript, I was blessed to go to a writer's conference at BYU-Hawaii and as we flew over the volcano in a helicopter, Pearls and Peril's outline came to life. Everything we did, every where we went became the places for Bart and Allison's honeymoon perils. I had started a short story titled "The Island" and I incorporated the house and island and Kat from that into the portion when Allison was kidnapped.
An article in the travel section of the Los Angeles Times reporting the grand opening of the Museum of Modern Art and a diamond exhibit created the setting and story line for Diamonds and Danger. I had killed off the bad guy in Pearls, but everyone thought he was such a great villian that I resurrected him for Diamonds.
I had such fun with place and setting on those books that I stuck to the formula: pick a location, research it, visit, discover the history, explore it extensively, then throw my characters into the mix with a problem to solve. Someone had been kidnapped by terrorists somewhere in the world and held for ransom, so I figured the Three Tenors were definitely worth a huge ransom and Anastasia should be the group to save them in Turquoise and Terrorists. The mystical aura of the area lent itself to Allison's talents and connection with her father. My husband and his mother had a spiritual connection - she knew when he was in trouble. It was a natural thing for me to gift Allison with a similar (though more pronounced) gift.
Interntaional smugglers made headlines about the time I was ready for a new location. I've always been intrigued by Siam and the exotic Far East, so my next trip was to be to Thailand and Sri Lanka and incorporate those problems for my characters to solve. I love this book because I loved the possibility that while Allison was searching for her husband and pretending to be the wife of a fellow agent, she is thrown from a frightened elephant and has amnesia. Through all the mechanizations of Oz who has always been in love with her, she stays true to her husband. Several of the events in this book came about because my traveling children had things happen to them there and they became part of the story.
Amethysts and Arson came about because of a single tiny two paragraph filler in the newspaper reporting churches in the south had been burned to cover up robberies. The police had found a cache of the stolen goods, but none of the said churches claimed an antique amethyst altar cross. Voila. My active imagination conjured up an entire book around that!
And throughout all of them, a gem had to be included. Emeralds is my favorite stone so that was the first one. Pearls fit Hawaii. Diamonds for the exhibit in San Francisco, turquoise, of course, for Santa Fe, amethysts for the stolen cross, and sapphires come from Thailand and Sri Lanka.
I went to a gem and mineral show to find an amethyst ring (I have a ring for each of my books) and found a lovely little malachite lion. I love malachite! So I e-mailed JoAnn Jolley and said my new book was going to be Malachite and Murder. Did she like that title? She said yes. No problem with it. I wrote the book about this little lion, using some of the travel experiences and places from Amethysts in the south. When I submitted the book, I was told I had to change the name - murder had not appeared in any LDS book titles and Covenant wasn't going to be the first to do it. No matter that Susan Evans McCloud had a great book entitled "Murder by the Sea." So I had to change the gem to Jade. But again, in this book, location and place heavily affect the story.
I was born and raised in Idaho - an hour's drive from opal mines - and never knew they were there! One of my very good friend's father actually was half-owner of one of the big mines up there and I had no idea. So when I discovered that, of course, Opals and Outrage became the next book set in my own backyard. Osama bin Laden was in the news, so he became the epitome of the terrorists bad guys Bart and Allison had to vanquish. One of my favorite characters ever is Injun in this book. Again, because of the location, he had to be there. The Clarence in the story is fashioned after my uncle.
Bear with me - only two more! Rubies and Rebels was born in Armenia while we were on our mission. 9-11 happened while we were there which influenced this book. I loved the monasteries we were privileged to tour so I peopled this book with real live characters from Armenia and had the action take place in some of our favorite haunts.
Topaz and Treachery came from our tour of Italy and cruise of the Greek Islands. Everywhere we went, I could visualize Bart and Allison pretending to be tourists and making themselves available for some unknown person to pass them the precious Topaz stones from Elizabeth's necklace. Again, history was a huge part of this book, so I was able to incorporate lots of actually historical data and people.
And that - in a rather large nutshell, is where my ideas and characters come from. Maggie McKenzie is another story for another time. :) I'm looking forward to hearing from the rest of you on this fascinating subject. Thanks for asking, Gale!
Thursday, August 13, 2009
The Buddah instructed that to reach Nirvana (heaven) one had to become selfless and serve others. In fact, the word Nirvana means "the putting out of fire." The fire is the fire of selfishness.
It didn't seem possible that the simple act of dropping off a meal and chatting for five minutes at each stop would make a difference, but it did, especially in my life. The folks I served had made it through a myriad of life experiences and struggles, and most had come through with more resilience, compassion, and humility.
I grew to love Mary, with her down-to-earth sense of humor, Tom with his fascinating stories of growing up in China, and Bea with her quiet kindness. I even grew to love crusty ole Viola with her acerbic tongue and unreasonable demands. Service and love can accomplish amazing things.
I had a great time writing, The Route, because it gave me the opportunity to go back and remember all the wonderful characters and life changing lessons. It was also a way of saying thank you to the amazing older folks who let me share a part of their lives.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
A commonly asked question of an author is “Where do you come up with your ideas?”
So I wanted to ask everyone out there, where are some of the places or what are some of the things that helped you to come up with ideas for writing?
Did you “dream” them up? Did ideas pop up as you were writing along? Did you pick a profession and base a story around it? Or did your ideas come from a personal experience? I would love to hear where everyone has come up with material for writing – be it articles, poems, books, anything you wish to share with us.
While we’re sharing, I’ll start the ball rolling.
My first book was based on a profession. I thought cops were cool. I have a ton of personal added touches to my first book but, there you go… the storyline idea itself was because of a “cool profession”.
My second book was a little of the same. The main character was into landscaping. My dad has a real knack for yard design so the idea to have her involved with that was because of my dad. Again, more personal added touches too, but…
My third book is totally family history stuff but changed a bit to fit the storyline. I will say on this one I had no idea as I was writing what the meaning of the “mystery” was as I was writing it. (Sorry, that may seem confusing but I don’t want to give anything away to those who haven’t read it. No spoilers here! J I usually have an idea of who dunnit, how, and why they did it, but on my last book, there were a few things that I didn’t know the meaning of as I wrote them. The mystery was a mystery even to me. I have to say that I really had fun not knowing what I was going to end up with (though at times it was frustrating and nerve wracking) and in the end I had to go back and fill in a lot of holes to make it all work together. But it was a lot of fun to write that way.
The book I SHOULD (the keyword here is should) be working on is-- hmmm, I guess I’d say I just think there’s a story worth telling and hopefully I can find a way to tell it that does this group of people justice.
So that’s my story in a nutshell. I would love to read about yours.
About that dream… it’ll never “go” anywhere but it may stop me from “going” back to sleep tonight. ICK!
So, what about you? Where do you come up with your ideas?
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
In 1990, Joanne Rowling was travelling on a train when Harry Potter "Just strolled into my head, fully formed." Nine years later began the phenomenon every writer dreams of - book sales breaking records, children discovering the joy of reading, and no financial worries ever again.
I don't begrudge her any of it - I love those books too. But until recently I was twisted with jealousy over the way her character, and presumably his story, came to her so easily. If you read these blogs regularly you'll know that I am struggling with my current work and even gave up on it a few months ago, before taking it out and dusting it off again with a sigh (and a sneeze). I think I'm finding it particularly difficult because my last book, Easterfield, was a joy to write - it pretty much just fell out of the ends of my fingers.
Two days ago I experienced an exciting flash of inspiration when the character of Amelia Druce swam into my head, fully formed. Yes, she really did swim, and not only was I able to see that she could do with losing a few pounds around the waistline and freshening up her hair colour, but I knew all about her failed marriages, her cossetted childhood, and her love of snow globes. I knew how she thought, which of her friends she liked the most, and exactly what funny things were going to happen to her in the course of the book.
Half-an-hour later I had not only written a whole introductory chapter about Amelia, but I knew how her story would intersect with those of her friends, and how her friends' characters complemented and contradicted hers. (Her friends didn't swim into my head - Maralee marched, Dolphin danced and Jen jumped. Tip for writers: always avoid affected, awkward and annoying alliteration - but when you get to know these characters as I have, you'll see what I mean.)
Unfortunately when I say "written", I mean "composed" because, as always happens with flashes of inspiration, I was nowhere near a computer at the time. I was, in fact, in the steam room at my gym, my second-favourite place in the world for quiet time, introspection and deep thought. (A banana for whoever can guess the first.) Not really somewhere I can take a laptop.
Even more unfortunately, Amelia Druce is not a character in the book I am currently labouring over, but the one I will start once I have finished it. So you may have to wait quite some time to learn about the tangled love lives of Amelia, Maralee, Dolphin and Jen. And in the meantime, as Dory would say, Amelia can just keep swimming. And I can be thankful that, once in a while, I can share the creative experience of a really great writer.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Yes, this is a stroll down memory lane. ;) Sorry about that, but I've been thinking about a pageant experience from my high school years. There is a reason why I've pondered this event in recent days. Earlier this summer, I was asked to write the script for this year's Miss Bear Lake Valley Pageant. It took some doing, but I was able to complete it on schedule, despite several last minute changes.
I've never written a pageant script before. I've written countless roadshows, camp skits, a musical for the YW I served with a few years ago entitled: "The Adventure of a Lifetime," and it was; a Christmas musical for the tri-stake area, and a community Christmas production. Writing a pageant script was a new experience for me. As I struggled to pull it together, I began reflecting on the one time I endured a pageant adventure.
I had never planned on participating in a pageant. But when it came time for the 1979 Jr. Miss to be crowned, a couple of good friends talked me into vying for the title. They made it sound like this would be the greatest experience of my life. I believed them, especially when they pointed out that I would have a chance to hone my talents.
A budding performer, I embraced this opportunity to write and sing one of my own songs. Singing and songwriting was something I had been dabbling with for years, and this seemed like the perfect chance to see what professional judges thought of my abilities. And there was a chance at a scholarship that was offered through this venue which was also tempting.
I wasn't thrilled over the idea of dancing in public. Blessed with two left feet, I was very concerned about this portion of the program. But my friends assured they would help me practice until I got the hang of things. I pointed out to them that there were reasons why I didn't do things like march with the drill team. The one time I tried out for this organization was an adventure in humiliation. I always seemed to be doing the opposite of everyone else. It's a gift, I know, to march to the beat of a different drummer, but this tendency of mine was not appreciated by the woman who was the adult adviser over the drill team. I was quickly cut from the team during the tryouts. I tried not to take this personally, and went on to participate in other activities that didn't require me to be graceful, like drama, journalism, Honor Society, and the entertainment club---an organization that provided entertainment at dances, assemblies, and so forth.
True to their word, my friends helped me learn the dance we were to perform during the night of the pageant. I spent hours trying to catch onto the dance steps, and finally, after several frustrating practices, I could almost dance as well as a lame duck. ;) Maybe a little better than that, but I knew that dance routine would not be my strong point.
For weeks, I had been told by the other contestants, the adult advisers for this event, and anyone else who had been watching us practice, that I had the talent award all sewn up. I believed them, and worked extremely hard on preparing for that portion of the pageant.
All too soon, the pageant week arrived. One by one, fourteen of us were interviewed by the judges. I felt extremely tongue-tied during my interview. I was scared to death by the frowning set of adults who faced me in a semi-circle. I was asked questions about my current interests, future plans, and personal preferences. When I was asked who my favorite author happened to be, since I had listed on a form I had filled out earlier that I loved to read, I blew it. That should have been an easy answer, since at that time in my life, my favorite author was Agatha Christie. Instead of sharing that information, I hesitantly stuttered that I thought Erma Bombeck was hilarious. While that was a true statement, and I enjoyed her books, she wasn't my favorite author. I was tempted to kick myself when I left the room that afternoon. I had allowed a tendency to be shy to hamper my interview. Instead of exhibiting confidence, I had displayed terror. Most uncool.
In way of good news, I had two very pretty dresses to wear. Both were extremely modest formal gowns. One was light blue with long sleeves and a high neck. The other was a Gunnie Sax design, for those of you from that era. It was a beautiful dress that you can see in the picture below.
This dress had wonderful lacy sleeves, and yet another high neck. I'll admit it--I was a teenage prude. I wasn't comfortable wearing anything that even smacked of being immodest. It may have been part of my shy nature, but that's just who I was . . . and who I am today. I've never been one to wear anything that causes embarrassing discomfort. Unless you count the times I've dressed up to render silly singing telegrams . . . but I digress. ;)
Back to the pageant adventure . . . the big night finally arrived. We had been told that we would be paired to walk in with members of the high school basketball team. I don't know who paired us up, but I was assigned to walk in with one of the tallest members of the team. This kid was well over 6' 8", and since I was only 5' 2", I was about eye level with his belly button.
Now, bear in mind, this was 1979, and platform heels were all the rage. That night I was wearing a black pair of platform dress sandals that looked sharp with both dresses. They elevated me to nearly 5' 6". I didn't realize these factors would collide into disaster. As I was escorted from the back of the auditorium to the stage at the front of the room, my arm at an uncomfortable angle since my escort was still a foot taller, I managed to step into the hem of my new blue gown with the platform heel of one sandal, and I face-planted it in front of everyone. For a few seconds, I wished for the floor to swallow me. Then I was tempted to kick my escort on the leg. He just stood there and looked at me, while the audience tried not to laugh. As I managed to rise to my feet, he then gallantly took my arm and hustled me up the stairs to the stage. I heard later on that he was mortified over how I had embarrassed him. Ah . . . a true gentleman. ;)
That was an indication of things to come. While I didn't fall down during the dance as one poor girl did, I was still off here and there with the differing dance steps. I hoped no one would notice my continued lack of grace, and I psyched myself up for the talent segment of the evening. Fortunately, my song went better than I had expected. The audience cheered loud and long after my performance, giving my ego a much needed boost. The rest of the night passed quickly and it was finally time for the winners to be announced.
They started with the specialty awards. When it was finally time for the talent award, I waited eagerly. The emcee said quite loudly, "And tonight's talent award goes to Ch . . ."
I knew all of my hard work and humiliation had been worth it. Gathering my courage, I stepped forward to accept the award.
"Ch . . . ari Salter!"
Once again, I wished to be swallowed by the floor. Instead, I graciously shook the hand of the young woman who had won the award, and retreated back to my place in line with the others. When I thought about it later on, Chari really had deserved the talent award. She had performed a singing and dancing routine from a musical production, and she was the epitome of confidence. She had scored the highest with the interview and the talent segments, and she was proclaimed Ashton's Jr. Miss in 1979, going on to represent our school in the state competition. She was awarded the Miss Spitfire award in Boise, doing her best to bring a sense of pride to our small town.
I'll admit, immediately after the pageant in Ashton, I felt disappointed. One of my close friends had placed as the first runner up, and I was thrilled for her (she was one of those who had talked me into participating in the pageant) but it stung knowing I had failed to win anything that night. But when my friends and family came backstage to congratulate me on how well things had gone, (I know, they were being exceedingly kind) my spirits lifted. I knew I had given the pageant my best. Some things hadn't turned out as I had envisioned, but I had learned so much from that experience. Among other things, I learned to laugh at myself. My friends and I would laugh about that pageant for years to come, as we relived my less than shining moments. And so many people talked to me later on about my talent number, it made me feel like I had accomplished something fairly neat.
Because I had been courageous enough to take part in that pageant, a few months later, I was asked to write and sing a special musical number for my high school graduation. That was a highlight of my high school days, and that opportunity was the direct result of my efforts during the pageant.
It is my hope tomorrow night, when the new Miss Bear Lake Valley is crowned, that all of the girls who are participating will come away with a feeling of self-worth, regardless of the outcome. They are all winners in my book, for possessing the courage to get up in front of a crowd to perform. It is these type of experiences that shape our characters, and help us to discover who we really are. And when we embrace the new growth that can be ours from these learning experiences, it doesn't matter who walks away with the crown.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
People are different and their tastes vary, that’s why we have different genres of fiction. In fact, most people don’t find a single genre appealing throughout their entire life. As I trace my own fiction preferences, I started out being crazy about animal books: The Black Stallion, Old Yeller, The Yearling, My Friend Flicka, Lassie, Tiger! Tiger! From there I jumped to mythology and fairy tales, followed by the usual mystery and adventures of Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon, The Hardy Boys, and Tarzan. I went through a Perry Mason phase, a Martian Chronicles phase, and a Louis L’Amour phase before falling in love with epic novels such as Exodus, The Big Fisherman, the Delderfields, The Far Pavilions, The Winthrop Woman, and Desiree. For years I loved romances, then moved on to romantic suspense and historical. I now enjoy a broad spectrum of genres, but continue to like books filled with action. Since I review LDS fiction for Meridian Magazine, I’m glad that LDS fiction now comes in so many different genres.
I find something I like in almost every LDS novel I read, though granted, I have to look pretty hard in some. Some books, I don’t care so much for, fail to appeal to me because of personal taste. They might be well-written for their particular genre, but they don’t appeal to me. Other times a book isn’t particularly well written, but the research and basic story are so interesting I like the book anyway.
Some readers enjoy a slow leisurely read while others crave action. Some enjoy stories based primarily on the characters and their thought processes and evolution. Still others are more interested in following a convoluted plot than concerning themselves with the twists and turns going on in the characters’ minds. Fantasy is popular now because it provides total escapism from this world’s problems. Romance is always popular because almost everyone falls in love at some time, or hopes to, and can relate to the emotions and crisis involved in finding a perfect mate. There are those who feel they are learning something as well as being entertained when they read historical novels. Others thrive on the challenge of outwitting the characters in a book (or the author) to solve a mystery.
I’ve served as a judge for quite a few writing contests and I write a review column for an internationally recognized online magazine which are the reasons, I assume, that I’m sometimes asked what makes one book good or successful and another not so good. I can only answer with my own personal criteria. First is something I call personal appeal. The subject matter or premise of the book must be appealing to the reader. Next is packaging. This means a cover that stirs a potential reader’s imagination. Then follows style and accuracy. The first page of a book needs to start where the real story begins, using words that intrigue or capture attention, copy errors must be at a minimum, and font and print size need to be right for the projected audience. The heart and meat of a novel are plot and characters. Readers who find they care nothing for the characters in a novel aren’t likely to finish the book and they won’t recommend it to their friends. If the plot is soft and predictable, the reader has no reason to continue turning pages. A book can be a good book if it accomplishes all this for one person. But unless it accomplishes all this for a large number of readers, most people won’t consider it a success.
Surprise! Surprise! There is no magic formula for writing a perfect super successful novel. Not even J. K. Rowling managed to appeal to everyone. Just as people and their individual tastes vary, so do the imaginations of readers and writers. Some writers’ imaginations are too extreme, too dull, or too repetitive for some readers even if other readers find them just right. Most writers can only aspire to appeal to a large enough group of readers with like imaginations to develop a profitable following.
If someone tells me a book is great, I’ll probably give it a try, but I’m not surprised when I don’t like it as much as they do. And if I sing the praises of a certain book, it’s fun if others agree, but I’m never surprised if it doesn’t strike the same chord in another book lover as it does for me. Sometimes two or more readers discover they like the same book and tell their friends, who like it too, that’s how a book becomes a best seller. So keep sharing with your friends the titles of books you like. You’ll agree on the merits of some and disagree on others, but that’s part of the fun of being able to read.
Monday, August 3, 2009
What good posts everyone has written this past week. They've all felt like they were exactly right for me. After reading Jennie's post, I dove into some cleaning and organizing I desperately needed to do so I can create the psychic space to focus and get some work done. I have several editing projects to do, and this morning I had three projects in particular I planned on tackling. Now, roughly 12 hours later, I have done precisely one of them. So in the midst of running and scrambling to put out fires, I thought of Gale’s post on not running faster than I could edit—or type—or walk—or whatever I was trying to do. I feel better already, Gale!
(Happily, I still have the whole week to get back to organizing and I plan to work towards FINISHING, Jennie! And Lynn, not only did your post motivate me to give some attention to some photos and keepsakes (like cards from friends) that I’d like to keep in a special place, it made me feel a lot better that my task is really, really small compared to yours!)
Anyway, after rereading Gale's post, and Anna's, it occurred to me that I need to follow Anna and go someplace new and have some adventures in my life. And I need to have a few dreams to look forward to (although at the moment, my dream consists of a full-time paycheck again—funny, I’m looking at a job that pays half of what I’ve been paid in the past and I’m thrilled at the thought of all I could do with the money). Life is just full of surprises, isn't it?
And that brings me to Jeri’s post, which reminds me that it’s important to adjust and change my expectations for myself and my accomplishments—and see changes with appreciation for new opportunities.
Cheri always reminds me there’s plenty to laugh about (or get frustrated about, but it’s better to laugh). And to think I once thought it would be cool to grow up in a small town and be a big fish in a little pond. (So, tell me, Cheri, what kind of TP do you favor? I’m not picky but I draw the line at one-ply; every time I visit UVU I swear to myself that I’m going to BMOTP.)
So I didn’t get everything done today, or even 50% of what I’d hoped. But besides feeling some satisfaction from the few things I did do today, I'm feeling grateful for some things that got done today that I didn’t have to do. I didn’t have to replace the alternator in my car (my brother did) or mow my lawn (again, my brother did—love that smell of freshly mown grass, Nancy!) and I didn’t even make my sandwich for lunch (Hogi Yogi did—fresh veggies, Nancy, does it count if I didn’t grow them myself?) nor did I pay for it (my other brother did).
And something fairly small that I did (mail a book for my favorite site paperbackswap.com) is a big thing for someone else. I mailed a coffee table-type book about the old West to a woman who belongs to a group of reenactors in Pennsylvania and this book will help them all keep their costumes authentic. I LOVE sharing books!
Well, I don't know that I can get much else done today. So maybe I'll just go to bed early and get a good start tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day, right? (Oh, Scarlett and Ms. Mitchell, did you ever dream that those words would live on and provide comfort to so many?)