Wednesday, October 28, 2009

BIRD BLOG

Susan Corpany graciously consented to fill in for me this week. Life has kind of piled up and she volunteered to give me some breathing room. Susan has a delightful off-the-wall sense of humor and has written several books dealing with serious topics in a humorous way that drives home the points she wishes to make. She's also a fellow Meridian columnist and a super friend. Thanks, Susan, and I'm sorry I couldn't think of a snappy title for this blog.


I am filling in today as a guest blogger for Jennie. Since she asked me, I have been thinking a lot about the concept of the V-Formation. I have a laptop skin on my computer, mostly because I need to be able to identify it when I forget to take it out of the plastic bin while going through security at the airport. It shows birds flying in a V and it says, “DARE TO SLACK - When birds fly in the right formation, they need only exert half the effort. Even in nature teamwork results in collective laziness.” (Demotivational products available at despair.com) All those years in corporate America, and I had just seen too many “teamwork” posters. The pendulum had to swing back the other way for there to a balance in the universe.

It was hard to choose among all the different designs they offered, but when one finds oneself flying with the Facebook crowd, there is definitely some slacking going on, so I thought it might serve as a reminder for me to get back on task and spend less time playing computer Scrabble. Warped humor aside, though, there is definitely a lift that LDS writers and readers give each other, and I thought I would make that the subject of this blog.

Magic Feathers

Remember the scene in Dumbo where Timothy the mouse gives the little elephant a “magic feather” and tells him it will help him fly? Timothy already knew that Dumbo could fly, but since Dumbo was flying in his sleep, he needed to be convinced before he would try again. There have been many readers and fellow authors along the way that have given me needed words of encouragement that helped me to believe in myself and do what I was capable of doing that were magic feathers to me. Somewhere in my stacks of papers is a blown-up phrase from a long-retired dot-matrix printer. That paper was on my bulletin board for years, read in times of doubt and despair. Those few words kept me trying, because I knew they were sincere. Today I would just be another hit on Orson Scott Card’s website, but back in the early 90s, before the internet had taken hold, I was able to have a one-on-one correspondence with him through Prodigy. He gave praise to a short story of mine called A Month in the Life of a Relief Society President. Among other things, he told me I should try and write a novel. Then he gave me a priceless piece of advice, to find my own style, not to try and copy someone else’s style or think all writers wrote the same way. So I sat down and wrote a novel. I might never have done so without his encouragement.

We may never know when our words may do the same for someone else along the way. I taught a writing class for our local elementary school a couple of years back. In spending an hour a day for a week with a class full of third graders, I like to think that I lit a spark within a couple of them, especially the one who brought me a thank-you card with the alliteration and metaphors circled and labeled. And it was from that class that I got my all-time-favorite piece of fan mail. “We hope you come back and visit our class again. Let your conscience be your guide.”


What to Jettison

I am in the process of cutting a substantial amount from my upcoming novel, while trying to keep the core of the story intact and most importantly, not lose any really funny lines. It helps me be able to fly higher when I have input about what slows down the story or does not move it forward at all. Sometimes a writer just can’t see that as clearly as an outside pair of eyes.

I am always appreciative, although not necessarily at the precise moment, of friends who will tell me what I need to hear rather than what I want to hear. I remember a Sunday School class in college where the teacher read the quote by President David O. McKay: “It is better to be trusted than to be loved.” A fellow piped up from the back of the class, “But it isn’t as much fun.” It is fun to have people say wonderful things about your writing, but we learn more from our critics than from those who praise us. I am always grateful for those who will tell me about the metaphorical piece of broccoli in the teeth of my book so that I can improve my craft. I try to be gracious, and learn rather than take offense, hoping it is my skin that will be thick and not my head.

In checking on my Amazon listings the other day, I read with embarrassment and amusement the review my then teen-age son gave to my first novel. “Transcends the classics” is one phrase that readily comes to mind. We should never have our books reviewed by people who love us, possibly not even by people who like us, or if we do, the review should be tagged by hearts rather than stars so that the reader can take the possible bias into account.

Scott has now become much less generous and when he turns a critical eye to my work, I know I am going to get feedback that will send me back to the drawing board and help me turn out a better finished product.

“Mike shouldn’t get the girl, either, Mom. He was just as dishonest as Daniel was in his own way. She forgave him way too easily.”

“I didn’t see anything that changed in Austin’s life? Why did he suddenly decide to go on his mission? The way it is now, it looks to me like he’ll be a slacker missionary.”


Flocking Together

I am grateful for the new friendships I have made through my writing and for the opportunity I have, even though only once or twice a year, to get together with like-minded writers for whom writing to the LDS community is more a labor of love than a means of paying lots of tithing. I am always uplifted by their spirits and almost always by their writings, usually having to ship home boxes of books that I have bought or traded for, and always having several more on my wish list. I look forward to the day when I am not so far away from the epicenter and can participate more fully in the LDS writing community, but in the meantime, if anyone wants to fly west as well as south for the winter, I know a place on the Big Island that makes a great writer’s retreat.

Halloween - oh how times have changed.



Growing up, Halloween was absolutely the best holiday ever. My friends and I would start talking about our costumes in August. Back in my day, you couldn't go to the store and buy a costume. At least I don't think you could. We never did. Our costumes were put together at home. Our biggest options were either to dress up like a hobo or a gypsy. I don't know why, but that was the fall back costume if you couldn't come up with something else.
Sometimes our friends would have parties and we would play games like bobbing for apples and getting blindfolded and feeling peeled grapes (eyeballs) and cold spaghetti (brains). We would decorate sugar cookies with gobs of frosting and piles of sprinkles, candy corns and those silver balls that have now been outlawed because they contain something bad.
Finally, with our costume put together, we would grab a pillow case, and meet our friends at the corner where we would then commence trick-or-treating, unchaperoned, of course. True story, we never had a parent with us. We didn't want one. We literally ran from house to house for hours. We would trick-or-treat until it was late, filling our pillow case until we could barely carry it. And we weren't getting those pathetic little snack size candy bars either. I'm talking full sized Snickers, Hersheys or Reeses.
We would come home and dump our candy out on the floor and sort through it, picking out the sick stuff like apples, carrot sticks or popcorn balls. Once we had all the candy sorted into piles; suckers, hard suckie candies, Tootsie Rolls, chocolate bars of different varieties, M&Ms and licorice (plus many other categories) we would begin the trade. My sister was a serious chocoholic and I wasn't, so I had a lot of bartering power. I liked licorice so we would swap and trade until we were satisfied we had what we wanted.
We would stuff our faces with candy until we were sick and then we would finally drop into a sugar coma for the night.
Costumes today are so involved, expensive and sometimes competitive (Are they having contests at school? Are they being graded?) Parents would never dream of allowing their children to go door-to-door unattended and heaven forbid they eat a piece of candy before we've inspected it.
Yes, my children think I'm ancient, in fact, they were shocked that Halloween even existed when I was a child but I'm so glad for the great memories. What are some of yours? What was Halloween like for you?

Monday, October 26, 2009

What Do We Really Need?

I had to laugh at a sign on a dollar store's marquee: We have everything for your snacking needs!

According to various diet philosophies, a dieter should plan for those snacking needs, but I have a feeling there's not much at a dollar store that would meet those requirements. Maybe pretzels.

I expect a lot of us have had to make some choices about wants and needs through the years—and at times try to help others—but I'm thinking not just about what we decide we need but what Heavenly Father knows we need. I've decided that for some reason what I feel I need at the moment isn't what He feels I need. So I'm trying to figure out what He wants me to learn and why I need what He's giving me (or just allowing me to receive through life's challenges).

I don't know the answer to that yet. Some lessons seem a bit obvious. I really like and need my space but I'm currently sharing my living quarters with two brothers and a sister-in-law. I like structure, but my work right now is mostly freelance so I have to create my own structure, something I'm not good at. Last week I finally reached out to some friends and felt their warmth and support in a wonderful way. Clearly there are some good lessons for me to learn here.

Last week I also had an experience that I think is quite common for parents but one I was fortunate enough to miss out on, at least until now. A teen's ridiculously high cell phone bill. My brother and his daughter are on my cell phone plan and my niece asked if we could add her half-sister, my step-niece. She's a single mom and a hard worker and though I felt it was risky I thought a mom needs a phone. It seemed fine for a few months but then, wham! A $200 bill on top of the regular bill. I debated giving her a second chance. She didn't know her calls were so expensive, she said, and she promised to pay up when she could. Then double wham! a higher bill. Beyond high. She promised more payments and I'll take them but since I can't risk another phone bill like that the decision was made, quite easily this time. Her phone is off.

I don't know how this will end. Worst case scenario I lose my cell phone, go back to a landline, and make payments on her bill forever. Best case scenario, she pays what she owes and has the phone turned back in her name. And I get to keep my phone. But I know I'm not the only person to have this happen.

Sometimes I find comfort in other people's experiences and hearing how they survived them. I know this kind of thing has been common in the past with people, so I decided to google "parents" and "high cell phone bills." Guess what, people are out there talking about it. So I'm definitely not alone.

So what does this have to do with needs? Clearly I needed to be reminded that (1) things can always get worse so be grateful, and (2) other people are dealing with problems I haven't had to worry about, and (3) we all have a lot in common. We're all dealing with something. The trick is to learn from it and use our problems to bring us closer together, sometimes by communicating, instead of letting them isolate us from others. All things I clearly need to learn.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Split Personality

I have a split personality! I just discovered I'm actually two different people. (Does tht count when I get on the scale?) As we're preparing for our stake women's conference and I've been writing the script and editing and tweaking the words Mary and Martha are speaking, I'm totally sympathetic to both of them. I've always known I'm definitely a Martha-type, and probably always will be, but I'm discovering some things about me that I just hadn't realized. (Not surprising since I'm not an analytical person and especially don't go around analyzing ME!)

When I'm in a social group - wedding, funeral, ward/Relief Society social type setting - I'm really happy to just disappear into the kitchen and keep busy serving refreshments or cleaning up, or whatever needs to be done. I'm happy to go early and stay late, but much more at ease in the kitchen than in the cultural hall mingling with people and finding things to say.

But as I've given Mary a voice - she who feels totally inept in the kitchen, burning the bread and undercooking the stew - and despairing that her only talent lies in teaching, I've come to see a different side of these two scriptural sisters. And discovered that I am more like Mary than I ever thought.

I love sitting at the feet of our leaders and absorbing their thoughts and learning the things of eternity. I love studying the scriptures and reading the words of the prophets. And I love teaching the things I've learned. There is something exciting - something that stirs my heart - when I'm teaching.

So though I have always been a Martha, loving to serve and feeling more comfortable in the background, I have realized I have a direct kinship to Mary. I really love this picture of Mary and Martha by Simon Dewey. We received permission to use all his pictures in Emily Freeman's book (21 Days Closer to Christ) and to use her thoughts in our presentation. I've studied this picture closely and discovered that he may have captured the real Martha more than other painters have done before.

At first glance, Martha appears sad and the common perception would be that she is resentful that she has to serve and Mary gets to sit at the Savior's feet and learn. But if you look closely at Martha, I feel her expression is one of love for the Savior. I see that her expression mirrors that of Mary, just from a different angle. The sisters are both adoring their Master, and both are listening. Martha is just going about her tasks serving as she listens, content knowing where her talents lie.

So I'm pleased with my new discoveries of myself. I can still be happy in the kitchen, busily accomplishing important things, (after all, someone has to feed the masses) while I listen and heed my Master. And then I can revert to my Mary side, and go and teach the things I've learned. I can have the best of both worlds. Does it get better than that?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sweet Memories

It's interesting that I would have today as my day to post and share some thoughts about life, for today is the anniversary of my mom's passing. Four years ago she moved quietly from the here to the hereafter.

I'm in Lake Tahoe where our family lived for many years, where me and my sisters grew up, and where my mom is buried. I'm here with my one sister and we've been reminiscing about our sweet mom and her good life. It's a day filled with bright blue skies and the pungent smell of pine, and not one bit of sorrow. Oh, we miss her and her cheery optimism, but we know without a doubt that she's busy in a glorious place.

I learned many good things from my mom: why it's important to be kind, couteous, and dependable; that it's important to have fun, to be kind to animals, and to brush and floss your teeth; and that there is a God in heaven who knows and shares our joys and sorrows. Good lessons.

All morning I've been singing the hymn, Scatter Sunshine. It was her favorite. Once in a while I think I hear her humming harmony to my soprano.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Plum Crazy

Lately I have taken notice that several people who contribute to this blog do a lot of canning. I am really impressed by the list of items they have preserved this season. Secretly, I am jealous as I am not much of a canning person. Though I LOVE seeing things I have bottled, my joy is usually short-lived. Once I open a jar of anything I have canned, I end up dumping all my hard work down the drain. My jam turns out looking like syrup with green fuzzy stuff growing on the inside of the jar, applesauce looks like rotten pie filling, my pie filling looks like a glob of toxic sludge (my husband’s definition- I’m not insulted, I thought he was being rather kind) certainly not fit for a pie, and my pickles are soggy and bitter.

Freezer jam. I actually make freezer jam, but really that’s nothing to brag about since a first grader can make freezer jam.

Really, it’s just best if I don’t even bother to attempt to can food. I have learned my lesson. I have pretty much given up the idea of filling our pantry with home grown/canned items and instead, I try to hit the case lot sales for our food storage. No sense putting my families life at risk.

Putting aside my feelings of “canning inadequacy” I did decide to try one more thing that I had never attempted before. I went down to my dad’s to visit for a couple of days. He had two buckets of plums from his tree that he didn’t want to go to waste. He had been drying apple slices all week long so I came up with the brilliant idea that we could use his food dehydrator and make some fruit leather with the plums. How hard could it be?

I found a simple recipe on the computer and we proceeded to cut up the fruit. We decided to blend the fruit rather than “mash” it like the directions said. My dad was excited to use this high tech blender he had bought from my cousin who works for the manufacture of this supposedly wonderful device. The blender looked rather complicated to me and I was a little leery to use it, but my dad was so proud to try out his new gadget. So I shrugged it off and dumped the fruit in. I should have followed my instinct and gone for the blender made in the 50’s at the back of the cupboard-- “Good Ol’ Reliable,” she had never let us down yet.

I put the weird looking lid on the space age high tech machine and turned it on for all of two seconds. BOOM! The lid went flying off and purple mush flew all over the kitchen until my dad ran over to turn off the machine. I stood there in shock. Finally I looked at my dad. He had plum puree running down his face and in his hair. I couldn’t see his eyes through his glasses because they were completely coated with the globby mess. We had purple goop dripping off the ceiling and running down the walls. Clumps of plums and goo was slopping off my head and down my shirt. It was everywhere.

My dad took off his glasses and said, “What did you do?” I was speechless. I had no idea what I had done. After 45 mins., we had the kitchen cleaned up and we were ready to try it again. “I’ll do it this time,” he said, grabbing the lid from my hand. He put the lid on that crazy blender, tapped it a few times for good measure, and turned on the machine. BOOM! The lid sailed off and puree was everywhere AGAIN! I looked at my dad and said, “What did you do?” After a few choice words, “Ol’ Reliable” was looking better and better to him. We set about cleaning the kitchen for a second time. Then he called my cousin to find out what the lid’s problem was. It never occurred to either of us that it had anything to do with the operator of the machine. It was the lid's fault. Third time, after being given specific instructions to work the lid, it happened again. So once more we cleaned up the purple mess. By this time you’d think we would have learned our lesson, given up, and called it a day, but oh no, we’re a stubborn lot. This lid would not get the best of us. It didn‘t take us quite as long to clean up the kitchen this time. We had gotten it down to a system. The kitchen was cleaned and we finally figured out how to work the blasted lid on the fourth try. There was enough puree to make a batch of leather. We did it! We were so excited!

Several hours later, we checked our leather. It was done. Once it was cool, we sat down to strip the leather away from the waxed paper and planned to roll into plastic wrap. There was such a sense of accomplishment to know we had finally achieved our goal after such an eventful morning!

We started to pull the leather away from the waxed paper, but what did we find? To our dismay, we learned that the leather had cooked into the wax paper and wouldn’t peel away from it!! In the end, we had to throw it all away.

The good news is, my dad’s kitchen is really clean.

With the rest of the plums we made a small (very small) batch of freezer jam.

This is why I don’t can.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bad writing, and why it's a good thing

by Anna Jones Buttimore

I was recently asked to look at a novel someone else was writing in order to pick up any cultural problems since it was set in historical England (yes, I'm that old). I have changed it to protect the innocent would-be writer, but I'll recreate something along the lines of what I read in just the opening paragraph:

"I crept down the stairs in the early hours of the morning. I was the only one awake so early. I went into the parlour, sat in the armchair and closed my eyes. I watched as mother took the whistling teapot off the stove, and father said "Only another week until the holidays.""

I picked out several problems:
  • She said she was the only one awake, but mother and father were in the parlour
  • Her eyes were closed, so how could she see mother and father?
  • Teapots don't go on stoves, and they certainly don't whistle.
  • Every sentence begins with "I" which sounds boring.
  • The last sentence, where she "watches" as father speaks,could have been better phrased.
  • Over here, Christmas is called Christmas. We never refer to "the holidays". The word "holiday" has a completely different meaning.
Here's how I would rewrite it:

"I crept down the stairs in the early hours of the morning, sure that I was the only one awake so early. Tiptoeing into the parlour, I sat in the armchair and closed my eyes. I heard mother take the whistling kettle off the stove, and father say to her, "Only another week until Christmas.""

The problem is that's just one paragraph. Based on that, I suspect that the entire book needs to be completely rewritten. One of the difficult things about being a published author is that everyone knows that they could write a book, but they also know that they'll stand a better chance of getting it published if you'll help. But while everyone might be able to string together 90,000 words, not everyone can do it well.

I would include myself in this; I have had more books rejected by publishers than I have had accepted. It's very difficult to write with clarity and style, to evoke mood, to build believable characters and to weave an intricate story and still maintain continuity. I struggle with it, and envy those, like my fellow geese, who do it so well and apparently effortlessly.

I have decided to stick to my brief to the letter, and while I will correct the "holidays" and "teapot" I will not be telling the would-be author about her continuity errors, or poor style. Most people who write novels do so because they want to. I think - I hope - very few do it with dreams of being the next JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer. If everyone gave up writing because someone told them they were no good at it, we would have no JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer. I think we need to encourage everyone to write the novels that are within them, whether or not they are likely to be any good at the end of it. Writing is an incredibly fun process, and we can only get better with practice.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hope Floats


It does, you know. No matter how hard it is held under, hope will always float to the top. I suspect the reason for that is, hope is lighter than the opposite which is gloomy despair, or painful discouragement.

Last night I attended an auxiliary training for our stake. There I experienced both ends of the spectrum. We were introduced to next year's YW theme, taken from Joshua 1:9. This new favorite scripture of mine says the following:

"Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee, whithersoever thou goest."

To me, this scripture speaks of peace of heart and mind. It says in essence, that no matter what the days ahead may bring, we are not alone and things will be okay. True, we have to live up to our part of the deal--obeying the commandments is a solid guarantee that we will have the help of heaven to survive our challenges. It doesn't mean that there won't be any trials, for that is how we learn, grow, and prove ourselves while in mortal mode. What it does mean is that we shouldn't go around wringing our hands in fear. The Lord is with us, no matter where we are, or what we're facing.

So as I sat basking in the glowing warmth of the inspired scripture above, someone tried to pop my proverbial balloon. One of our stake leaders stressed that we need to be honest with our YW and tell them that the days ahead will be horrible. "These girls need to know what they will be facing, so they can be strong enough to do so. They need to know that things will keep getting worse and worse and that they need to be prepared."

Wow. Where did that come from? I'll admit, we live during a difficult time. Has it ever been otherwise? Has there ever been a time when there weren't challenges? Has the adversary ever crawled into a hole and left people alone for any amount of extended time? Nope.

I'm sure during both World Wars and the Great Depression, people weren't always dancing in the street for joy. Nor were they when the world's population waded through the dreary times known as the Dark Ages. So on and so forth.

In today's world, we enjoy more blessings than in any previous age. The number of temples now in operation should be reason enough to keep us rejoicing for a very long time. Despite the news stories that fill TV screens and computer screens alike, good things are happening in the world.

While I do plan to help our YW prepare for the challenges that lie ahead, I refuse to convince them that their future will "inhale" and it will be filled with terrible things. I've survived enough of those kind of trials to know that despite the very darkest day ever, there will be other days when the sun will shine brightly and hearts will fill with peace. It is my own opinion that we need to instill calming faith, not despairing fear inside the hearts of our vulnerable youth. Yes, there are a lot of trials currently taking place in the world, but dwelling on the negative things isn't what I think our Father in heaven would like for us to do.

During these turbulent latter days, we need to be a positive light in an ever-darkening world. Our balloons of hope need to be visible, dancing in the sunlight of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

That said, know that I didn't cause any problems during last night's meeting. I kept my thoughts to myself, but I did silently reflect on a phrase from the priesthood blessing I received the afternoon I was set apart as the fearless leader for our ward's YW nearly 3 years ago: "You will bring hope into the lives of these girls." I suspect that is an important thing. Am I wrong?

P.S. Now that I've stepped off my soapbox, I just wanted to let you know that I've posted a review for Jennie Hansen's newest book, "Shudder," on my personal blog something that you can find here: Cheri Crane's Blog

Thursday, October 15, 2009

TIME

I spent last weekend in Idaho visiting with my sisters. My older sister and our husbands decided to drive up to the mountains north of Sun Valley where our younger sister and the men in her family had set up camp for the opening day of deer season. The younger men were off tramping all over the mountains collecting blisters when we arrived. My sister sat snuggled in a heavy coat before a campfire with her husband beside her. We talked and laughed, but at one point my sister who has a severe form of leukemia remarked that she'd had to come to their annual opening day camp in spite of the snow and cold temperature because she didn't know if she'd ever visit that favorite camping spot again. "It's funny how we always think we have time, then suddenly we don't know if there's any time left at all."

What is it about the human experience that fills us with a sense of having time to do all the things we mean to do some day? I'm not talking about the "bucket list" of wild improbable adventures we dream about in our early years. Watching my sister come to terms with the probability that she doesn't have a lot of time before her, I find myself picturing myself in her place and I understand why she needed to camp with her son and grandsons one last time before winter settles in, why she derives great pleasure from just sitting in her garden, why she spends as much time as possible with her small twin granddaughters, and why she worries and fusses over her husband. It's not the big adventures we regret putting off, but the loved ones and dear familiar places that we thought there was plenty of time to enjoy that cause us to wish we'd paid them more attention sooner. Even when loved ones are the center of your life, it never seems that we've done enough nor spent enough time with them.

There are so many things we plan to do someday and assume we have plenty of time. For some it's becoming active in Church, for some it's attending more of their children or grandchildren's ball games and activities, some think there's plenty of time to begin holding family home evening when the children are older, most members of the Church plan to attend the temple more sometime in the future, some put off taking a class until a more convenient time, some plan to write a book someday or research our family's genealogy, and most of us assume there's plenty of time to tell the people we love of our feelings for them.

Neither I nor most of my writer friends actually have time to write; we make time. And so it should be with our friends and family. We need to make time for them and for all of the really important things in our lives. As my sister said, "we think we have time" meaning we'll be better parents, we'll do our genealogy, we'll go to the temple, we'll say "I love you" to the people who matter most at some indefinite time in the future. But what if we don't have time? Twice in Alma we are told that now is the time to prepare to meet God and to perform all our labors. Do you suppose this includes perfecting our talents, enjoying the beauty around us, strengthening family relationships, and performing acts of service? Perhaps we should live each day as though we're out of time.

An added note:
Hurray! My new book is actually in most LDS bookstores at last and I've mailed off copies to my numerous siblings and children. Now I'm really nervous waiting to hear what readers think of it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

PRAYER ROCKS - time to simplify


As my life slowing spins out of control I find myself reflecting on a story a friend told me. She had just been called into the Stake Relief Society Presidency and when the presidency met with the Stake President for the first time he looked at them and said, "Sisters, please don't get so caught up in making prayer rocks that you don't focus on what's really important." Well, of course this made no sense to them, so he went on to explain that his wife had been the Stake Primary President and had come up with the brilliant idea to make a prayer rock for each child in the stake to be given out at a big stake activity. She worked so hard collecting, cleaning, and painting these rocks that by the time the activity arrived, she was about to have a mental breakdown. She was so stressed because the rocks were still drying as she was loading them to take to the activity that she was in tears. She was short tempered with her husband and family and she had neglected many of the other obligations she'd had because of this huge undertaking. His point made a great impact on this new Stake Relief Society presidency. Every time they planned an activity and got caught up in ideas for decorations and projects, they stopped and asked, "Is this a prayer rock?" Using that as a measure of whether or not the effort was worth the result, they would then adjust to a more realistic and manageable approach.
Every once in a while we need to stop and prayerfully take inventory of our lives, just to make sure we're not so busy making prayer rocks that we don't focus on what's really important.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Aaronic Priesthood Choir


There he stood, dressed in a black suit, white shirt, and dark conservative tie.
He had just walked into my bedroom, (being that I was laid up in bed from a recent surgery) and said, “Well, I guess I am ready to go now. Do I look okay?”
My heart melted. Did he look okay? I got this huge lump in my throat that stopped me from answering and tears filled my eyes.
“Are you going to cry?” he asked with a huge cheesy smile. There’s something about a mother’s tears that makes my son happy. I think he knows that every time he makes me cry, it’s usually in my most proudest moments.
So he did the most manly thing he could think of. He walked over to the bedside and gave me a knuckle punch, then he hugged me, gave me a kiss good bye and promised to behave. He turned to walk out the door and said, “Oh yeah, I’ll also try to sing really loud--and try to not watch for the TV. cameras. The director said if we watch for ourselves or start to laugh, it looks really bad. I‘m just gonna go and try not to forget the words and hope that if they show me, it‘s at a part where I’m singing good.“ That’s my boy.

This night my son was attending the General Priesthood session of Conference. It was only the second he has ever had the opportunity to attend, being that he just turned twelve last March. What made this night even more special was that for twice a week for the last month and a half he has been going to choir practices learning the verses of four hymns that he would get to sing at the Conference center for the Priesthood session.

Having a difficult time, but refusing to give up, Bryan was unclear which verses would be sung of each hymn In the beginning, he didn‘t know any of the words to the songs, how to read several of them, or even what the words meant. The task to learn everything in time seemed overwhelming for him. So he and I sat together day after day working on memorization and comprehension. We sang together, talked about the songs, sentence by sentence, to gain a more clear understanding of what he was singing to clue him in to what he would sing next and why.

Slowly I heard my son learn to sing the hymns with understanding and conviction as he comprehended what he was singing. I too, gained a greater appreciation for songs I have sung for years but didn’t really take the time to listen to their meaning. What’s more, my son and I memorized all the hymns and all their verses so that he could keep up with the rest of the young men in the choir. It was inspiring for me to watch my son work so hard to accomplish so much in such a little time. It was hard work, but how I loved the time we spent singing together.

Bryan boarded a bus that took the Young Men to the Conference Center at 2:00 in the afternoon. The bus brought him back at 9:30 that night. It was quite a long day. While there, they practiced again and again. On the home front, I kept watching the clock wondering how he was doing. Tradition has it that after the Priesthood session, the men in our family get treated to dinner and on this special night, Bryan got to choose the restaurant. I was anticipating their arrival home. Finally I heard them come in the door and Bryan bounded up the stairs to my room. There he was with his big cheesy grin, “Well, I did it.“ He was so excited about his night. He went on and on about how much fun he had Then I noticed a reverence came over him. His eyes were shinning as he spoke of when the leaders of our Church entered the room. “You could feel Heavenly Father’s Spirit there.“ he told me. What an amazing experience he had had. My heart was filled to overflowing.

Brad found the broadcast on the internet. We all watched while my son sat beside me on the bed. The first sounds I heard took my breath away. Here was this incredible choir of young Priesthood men singing “High On The Mountain Top.” What an impressive sight! Within seconds, there was my own son, singing his heart out., keeping up with those around him. What a grand pay off!

We spent several minutes looking for others in our ward and stake, but when the last number came on, the tears poured down my eyes. (Insert here that Bryan rolled his eyes, said, “Dad, she‘s crying again and got another one of those happy smiles on his face) I just wish I weren’t so inadequate with words, but here were these amazing, handsome young men, the men who hold the Priesthood, singing “Rise Up, O Men Of God“. It was so powerful to me. And there amongst them was my son. Wow. I don‘t have the words to explain the love or the reverence that I felt in that moment as I watched and listened to those young men singing that hymn of praise.

Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and soul and mind and strength
To serve the King of Kings.

Rise up, O men of God!
In one united throng.
Bring in the day of brotherhood
And end the night of wrong.

Rise up, O men of God!
Tread where His feet have trod
As brothers of the Son of Man,
Rise up, O men of God!

I grew up in a family where music was an important part of our home. My mother was a member of the Mormon Tabernacle choir for over twenty years. Upon getting cancer one of the first things to go was her singing voice which nearly broke her heart, since she loved to sing to her grand kids so much. I remember clearly after she passed away, Bryan came to me and told me not to be sad. He knew where grandma was.
“Where is she, Bryan?” I asked. I was curious to see what insight he would have for me. “She’s singing with the Heavenly angels” he said. I hope he’s right, because she would LOVE that. And for that night, I really sincerely hope that Heavenly Father let her catch a glimpse of her grandson sitting in those choir seats. She would have loved that too.

So that you too can enjoy hearing this wonderful choir, here is a video of their closing song. Maybe we can see some of our future Church leaders in this group. If not, I still think its a really impressive gathering of young men. :)


video

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Teenage Independence

by Anna Jones Buttimore

Was General Conference good? There's only one answer to that, of course, but I haven't seen it yet. We have tried to go several times in the past but a.) we have to go to the Stake Centre, which is a 40 minute drive away - and there's never anywhere to park when you get there, b.) the little ones get bored and play up and I usually spend the entire time in the nursery and c.) it starts at 5 p.m. here and finishes after midnight, which isn't terribly convenient in our family's schedule. Getting two peaceful hours at the computer to watch it online is also pretty difficult, so I mostly catch up with Conference by going through the May and November Ensigns with a highlighter pen, one talk a day.

My fourteen-year-old daughter, Gwenllian is at that difficult age where she's now old enough to be trusted to go shopping with her friends and spend her pocket money at the fantastic milkshake bar in Southend, but she's still got four years to go before she can start learning to drive. In other words in theory she has freedom, independence and responsibility, but in practice she has to take a bus in order to enjoy it. She doesn't like travelling by bus, but she can get a no. 1 from the end of our road and be in Southend half-an-hour later for just £2 return. At the moment she will only do it if she has her two best friends with her. We're hoping that by the time she's 18 she'll be so enamoured of bus travel that she won't want us to teach her to drive or buy her a car.

Freedom is wonderful, but sometimes it comes at too high a price. I have the free will and autonomy to do pretty well what I want, but that doesn't mean I have to do it. One thing I love about the Word of Wisdom is that it does challenge those automatic assumptions. When Gwen turns 18, she will not only be legally allowed to drive a car and vote, but also drink alcohol. Most young people do not ever stop to ask themselves whether they will want to drink alcohol once they are 18, it's just assumed that because they can do it, they will do it. But the Word of Wisdom, and many of the moral standards of the Church, question that. They say, "Yes, you have free will. You can do that if you want to. You have that choice. But do you want to? Is the sacrifice worth it?"

In a similar vein, I have taken the controversial decision to withhold permission for Gwen to have the HPV vaccination at school with the rest of the girls in her year group. This is a vaccination against the virus which causes 70% of cervical cancers. The virus is sexually transmitted, and the more partners a woman has, the more likely she is to get cervical cancer. Those who live the law of chastity, even those like me who remarry, have an almost zero percent chance of catching it.

I don't want to give my daughter the green light to be promiscuous. I don't want anything I do to be interpreted by her or anyone else as saying that such behaviour is in any way acceptable or expected. I don't want to protect her from the consequences of her choices. I have discussed this with her and explained that she needs to commit now to live the law of chastity for life, because I have not taken away the possibility of just one of the deadly diseases she could catch from breaking this sacred law. She has agreed with this decision, and understands the implications.

Am I being a bad mother? I know that plenty of others will think so. I have had my children vaccinated against every other terrible disease out there. But I like knowing that, much as my daughter might be tempted to spend all her pocket money on milkshakes in Southend, it's the thought of the smelly, lurching, uncomfortable, slow and long bus journey which is keeping her curled up by my side eating popcorn and watching America's Next Top Model.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Moxie In The Mix


I laugh every time I see the picture above. This is a shot of my little granddaughter, something I snapped in August during a family reunion. It was a blistering hot day, and before it was over, we were all wishing we were dressed like Aari. ;) There she was, balancing herself with one hand, lifting up something that to her was quite heavy. She was doing her best to imitate her daddy who was playing a similar game nearby.

Aari possesses moxie and this fills my heart with joy. She recently learned to walk and she now toddles everywhere, eager to explore life. This past weekend, I followed behind as she climbed something that to her, appeared to be a giant mountain. It was a long set of stairs in my sister-in-law's home, but to Aari, it was a steep challenge that beckoned and we both cheered when she reached the top.

Aari had a rough start in life. For months we agonized over a kidney problem that became apparent compliments of a series of ultrasounds. Before this tiny girl was born, it appeared that she would endure some health issues. At the very least, we were told that surgery would be required to fix the kidneys in the months following her birth. If things looked grim enough, transplants were in order down the road.

No one likes to be told that a tiny baby will be facing procedures of this magnitude. We fasted. We prayed. We kept her name and the names of her parents on temple prayer rosters. The biggie was maintaining our faith that all would be well. Then about a month before she made her arrival into this mortal realm, we witnessed a miracle---one kidney decreased in size, exhibiting signs that it was working properly as the swelling disappeared.

We cried with relief, expressing heartfelt gratitude to the One we knew had made this possible. But our celebration was dampened somewhat by the solemn face of a doctor who pointed out that the other kidney was still in trouble. He explained there wasn't time for the second kidney to improve on its own. It would need surgery after her birth.

It's a difficult thing to walk by faith. Doubting fear can rob us of peace of heart and mind, and in the weeks before Aari's birth, we agonized over what this precious child might have to endure. Still we prayed, clinging to a thin thread of hope that all would be well.

I was fortunate enough to be there at the hospital the night that Aari was born. She arrived into this world early on the morning of September 30th, 2008. And yes, we all cried as we took turns holding this beautiful baby girl who meant so much to us.

That first day, we also held our breath, hoping her kidneys would work. For hours we waited and when the waterworks in question didn't seem to be functioning, we prayed. Aari was taken back for another ultrasound to see what the kidneys and bladder now looked like.

We'd shed tears earlier, so there was no pride at stake when the doctor returned with Aari and very good news; her small bladder was filled to capacity. Both kidneys looked normal and appeared to be working just fine on their own. We cheered. We cried. And we prayed again, thanking God for another miracle.

Miracles do still happen. I've witnessed enough of those in my life to know that we seldom walk through life alone. We are watched over and helped far more than we ever fully realize.

During a challenging time in my life several years ago, I was blessed with a message dream. They don't happen very often, most dreams are silly nonsense, but once in a great while, when the need is great, an important message can surface in this format. Years ago I was given the following dream:

I was trying to walk up a golden staircase. Every step was agony and this effort required strength beyond my own to accomplish. Then my eyes were opened and I was shown that a dark force was doing their best to stifle me. Darkened hands reached for my feet, determined to block my way. Angels hovered nearby, allowing me to move forward on my own if I chose to take those precious steps. That part was up to me. The angels could keep the dark force at bay, as long as I kept moving forward, up the staircase toward an important goal.

I don't think it was a coincidence that the next morning, after waking from this extremely vivid dream, I found myself in the local drugstore where I saw a painting of a similar scene. A golden staircase rose toward heaven, and a solitary figure was making the climb. At the top of this picture were the following words: "Help me believe in what I could be, and all that I am. Show me the Stairway I have to climb, Lord, for my sake, teach me to take one day at a time."

Stunned, I purchased this picture with my prescriptions that day. I found a frame and it has hung in a place of honor in my computer room ever since. It's a reminder that even though we all have to make that climb, we never make it alone. Inner determination, something I call moxie, gives us the courage to keep taking those steps, even when it seems that all is lost.

Aari is a living example of what can happen when we choose to continue forward. It is my prayer that she'll continue walking forward up this fragile stairway we call life. It's something we all must do, taking it one determined step at a time, ignoring the doubting fear and darkened force that tries to stifle us. Reaching the top will take everything we can muster, but it is possible when we walk by faith, step by step, until our goals are realized.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

No Offense Intended--Or Taken

There are some things I just don't get, like why some people seem to just sit around waiting to take offense. I doubt there's a person alive who hasn't said the wrong thing at some time. Sometimes a person says the right thing, but it is interpreted wrong. And sometimes someone says something that needs to be said, tries to say it in a helpful way, but offense is taken anyway.

I don't mean to get into politics, but why is Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi receiving snide racist accusations for referring to President Obama as "young, handsome, and even has a good tan?' Aren't we supposed to notice that Mr. Obama and his wife have dark skin? Being aware that someone is of a different race or even commenting on it doesn't constitute racism. It's the adjectives that are tacked onto comments about color that define whether or not the speaker is racisit, not the mere observance of color. Actually there are few occasions when mentioning a person's race adds anything to the conversation, but in describing a hit-and-run driver it might be a good idea to mention to the investigating officer a significant descriptive detail concerning the absent driver such as color.

While reading LDS Publisher earlier this week I noticed an answer to an inquiry concerning a couple of new, very small publishers. LDS Publisher spelled out in polite, but realistic terms, the pros and cons of publishing with a new small publisher, especially in a small market such as the LDS fiction market. One reader commented on her own reasons for going with one of the mentioned publishers and took offense at LDS Publishers's remarks. In the process, she misspelled "irk" as "urk" and an anonymous reader gently teased her for the misspelling. A third reader jumped in to berate anonymous, interpreting his/her teasing as insulting criticism. Have we really reached the point in our society that we take offense so quickly where none is intended?

Sometimes this obsessive taking offense would be funny if it didn't damage reputations. A few years ago a politician referred to those opposing a bill he favored as "niggardly." Niggard is a perfectly fine word meaning excessively miserly or selfish. It has nothing to do with race, but the poor politician was practically run out of town by those who assumed otherwise without consulting their dictionaries.

Even in the temple there are some who take offense if they are reminded that they should wear white, not gray or tan stockings.

Some people are offended when wished Merry Christmas and others are offended by those who leave out Christ and simply say, Happy Holidays. Our society is filled with representatives of many religions and ethnic groups. The mature attitude it seems to me is to simply appreciate the sharing of good will that comes with the expression of anyone's cultural or religious good wishes. I feel pleased rather than offended when someone different from me feels warmly enough toward me to want to express words or blessings they value to me.

I'm not a mean, spiteful person and I really don't wish anyone harm, not even politicians with whom I vehemently disagree. However, as a critic for a well-known and popular magazine, I have offended some writers, never intentionally, but it has happened. Probably every blog reviewer has done the same, unless they only review friends' books and their reviews are more sales pitches than reviews. I believe in LDS fiction; I like to write it and I like to read it, and I want to see LDS writers succeed. So many times as I read a novel, I find myself thinking, this is really good; how can I suggest ways it can be better? Of course there are also books I don't enjoy so much, but I've never written a review where I just wanted to say, you can't write; why don't you just give it up? I don't want to offend; I want to help others improve. If I have offended, let me know and I'll apologize or try to explain my criticism better.

There are people who seem to take delight in offending as many people as possible and especially those who don't share their views. Just read any comment queue attached to any online news story. And there are those who are constantly looking for the slightest matter at which to take offense. Let's not be among them. Let's overlook the minor offenses and save our indignation for the big things. There are plenty of those.