Friday, December 31, 2010
This jewel, rare and unique, is not displayed in any shop window. It cannot be purchased, cannot be sold. No other treasure holds the possibilities this gift offers - none can surpass its golden splendor.
Of all gifts this is the most precious. It has been offered many times before; today, from the depths of a boundless love, it will be given again. It will be left to you to find the golden thread running through it. Only with great care will the jewel retain its luster. Carelessness, ingratitude, and selfishness will tarnish the brilliancy, break the unspoiled thread, mar the perfection.
Guard it closely, lest through weak fingers it slips from the hand. Look often at its faultless beauty. Accept it as it is offered from the heart of the Giver. Consider it the most treasured of possessions, for of all gifts, it is by far the greatest. It is the gift of the New Year!" Loretta B. Buckley
I don't know if the old Ideals magazine is still published, but I dearly loved reading the beautiful thoughts and enjoyed the lovely pictures in that book. I clipped the above article many years ago and dust it off at this time of year to remind me what a treasure each new year is.
I have a calendar that is full of empty spaces just waiting to be filled with appointments - some fun, some necessary, some dreaded, some eagerly anticipated. Some dates will require additional space to record all that needs to be done. Some will remain empty. The empty ones will be a treasure - that means I get to do what I want to do instead of what I need to do.
I like Ms. Buckley's comment: "No other treasure holds the possibilities this gift offers." That is so true. A new year - new possibilities - new experiences - maybe new friends. Definitely old friends, and repeated experiences, and hopefully enriching the lives of others as they enrich my life.
I do make New Year's Resolutions. I try to be better this year than last year and the year before that. I also make a list of "Things I've Never Done Before" that I want to do, and a list of places I want to see before I die. (Playing golf in Death Valley and staying at Scotty's Castle is one of them on this year's list.)
May your gift of the New Year be one of your most blessed yet. Happy New Year!
Thursday, December 30, 2010
That's the thing about the River of Time; it constantly moves us forward. It heals all wounds, and gives us ever changing experiences and challenges from which to learn.
I'm very grateful for family and friends who travel the river with us, and help us navigate the eddies and currents.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
By the description of my home, you can tell, it’s not the kind of home you’ll see in Better Homes and Gardens. Sure, I wish I had more time for better upkeep. It really is a bigger priority than I make it sound, but there are some nights I lay my head just happy in the thought that at least it’s clean enough that it’s reasonably straight and we don’t live in filth. Still, isn’t it every woman’s dream to live in a spic and span home? I feel like I grew up in one, if memory serves me right.
But would I really like to live in the perfect model home? Hmmmm…. I’d have to think on that. On the one hand I would instantly say yes. As I mentioned, my mother was a brilliant housekeeper and there are times I wonder if she looks down on me and shakes her head in disappointment if I go too many days without running the vacuum around.
On the other hand, I may not get the Home of the Year award sponsored by some well known magazine, but I sure love that feeling of coming home; to my home, my comfortable home.
There are no classic works of art, but there are pictures of Christ and the Temples, and there are my family’s pictures hanging which reminds me of all that I love and all that are important to me.
Sure, I may look at magazines and dream of those clean spotless homes. But they never look lived in. They don’t look loved in. They aren’t homey and comfortable. I think I’ll stick with the one I have. After all, “We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.”
The past several months, I’ve had to work far too many hours. I was away from home way too much and too many things were neglected from the home front. I’m not just talking about housekeeping, but I felt I wasn’t doing enough in regards to my family. My husband really had to step in and pick up wherever I couldn’t.
But I had the luxury of spending a few days at home over the Christmas holiday. I had a sense of renewal. It was so wonderful to be home. There is no place I would rather be. I crave more of it.
To me, I don’t need a magazine to tell me what it takes to make a “Home of the Year.” My heart knows what it takes. I believe I have one. I couldn’t feel more grateful for that.
In the coming year, I vow to spend as much time there as I possibly can. (Then maybe while I am there I can do something about those dishes, clothes, and dust bunnies. I’m actually looking forward to it!) :)
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Anyway, all that is a long and pointless preamble to why I have been spending (wasting?) even more time than usual on Facebook. I know I said on this very screen that I would spend the whole week I had off work writing, but as any writer will attest (except for the exceptionally gifted and dedicated ladies with whom I share this blog) playing solitaire, checking email and fiddling with Facebook are often a far bigger draw when faced with a couple of free hours at a computer than knuckling down to some serious writing.
It took me a while to get into Facebook. Not only can it take time to figure out how to work it when you're as technically challenged as I am (and they keep changing it) but initially I didn't see the point of logging on just to learn which of my acquaintances have just put their bins out, or bought a Wii, especially when I didn't plan on filling everyone in on the private minutiae of my own life.
This last year, however (and we're coming to the stage where it is quite appropriate to reflect over the year) I have really started to understand how Facebook can enrich and improve my relationships with others. I believe that Mark Zuckerberg entirely deserves his Time magazine Person of the Year award (and not just because the other contender was Lady Gaga).
So what has Facebook done for me? Here are just a few reasons I love it:
- I have reconnected with many people from long ago - people who were special to me but, for reasons of geography or time, I had lost contact with. Most notable for me was an old college friend I hadn't seen in 20 years, but had made a promise to which, through Facebook, I was finally able to keep.
- It reminds me when people's birthdays are...
- With so many of my friends living across a very large ocean, it's a quick and easy way not just to stay in touch (email and Skype can accomplish that) but to interact with groups of friends. When I log onto Facebook first thing in the morning, my screen will be full of news of my American friends while the British ones slept.
- My daughter's email account was hacked so she closed it. Now she she does all her communicating through Facebook - using messages, instant chat and status updates. Her friends do too. When homework is given at school, one of them will photograph the assignment (using their phone), post it on Facebook and tag it with the names of all their friends who should be working on it. Best of all, my daughter can access Facebook for free on her phone, so running out of credit is no longer a problem.
- I've made new friends and joined new communities through Facebook. When I became a fan of the Stephanie Meyer page I started writing fan fiction for their competitions (which was lots of fun and great practice) and made several lovely friends, one of whom I discovered lives less than twenty miles from me.
- When someone gets married, has a baby, or just goes on holiday to somewhere exotic, the photographs can be on Facebook in minutes for everyone to enjoy and comment on.
- Many businesses use Facebook to great effect. The best I've seen so far is Harvester, a group of restaurants over here in the UK. From menu updates and new restaurant openings to asking for suggestions for a vegetarian Christmas dish and giving vouchers for free ice-cream to all page members, it has really helped to give Harvester a good public face, and many of those on the page are commenting on the wonderful meal or service they received. I have found it very useful to go to business pages on Facebook to find opening times or good deals.
- I'm using Facebook to further my writing "career". It's free publicity for us writers, and that is priceless.
Like anything else, you do have to be carefully. I have two policies - I don't "friend" anyone unless I really know them, or know well several people we have in common. And if anyone swears in their status, I remove them from my friend list.
I haven't got into playing the games yet, despite many invitations. I think that really would be a terrible (but fun) waste of time. I love Facebook primarily because it helps me to connect with people I care about, and share things with them. Which is, in fact, the whole point.
It's now noon, and I've wasted enough time blogging, so I'm going to have that last piece of chocolate yule log.
Monday, December 27, 2010
My mother has always been a great example of what being a "giver," is all about. She has taught me lessons based on that subject for many years. I will always remember the night she "encouraged" me to help her take dinner into the home of one of my seminary teachers. That family had been in a nasty car accident about two days prior, and their youngest child, an infant, had been killed. I didn't know what to say or do, but my mother taught me that what matters most is simply being there.
There were other lessons, like the time I tripped over a garden hose lying in the front yard and dropped a plate of cream puffs. It was to be part of the dinner she had planned for a family whose mother was home, recovering from major surgery. She didn't lecture on my lack of grace, she merely sighed, helped me pick up the mess, and then instructed me to retrieve the second plate of cream puffs from our house, a treat intended for our family. Not only was I entrusted with carrying the second plate, but I was allowed later on to create a different dessert for our own family.
Years later, after my father's untimely death, my mother was working as a CNA at a nursing home. At the time, she worked with the most difficult wing; her patients had all been diagnosed with a form of Alzheimers. One lady was blind and had been assigned into that unit simply because it was more difficult to care for her. That Christmas Eve, my mother asked all of us to accompany her back to the nursing home. We brought plates of homemade sugar cookies we had decorated earlier that day, and my guitar. We went from room to room, singing Christmas Carols, and sharing treats with those who were alone. I've never forgotten how I felt that night, nor the tears that raced down the face of the blind woman who had felt forgotten and discarded.
This past year, my mother has faced a series of major changes in her life. She had been living with my youngest sister. But when this same sister announced her engagement and upcoming wedding, Mom decided it was time to move on. She wanted to return to Bear Lake, where she had lived for a time after my graduation from high school. We found her a cute apartment in a nearby retirement complex, and now I see her on a daily basis. It has been a fun experience, and she is still teaching me lessons on giving. She gets by on a frugal income these days, but her heart is still very much intent on helping those around her.
This past Thanksgiving, we took in 3 plates of food to ladies who live in Mom's retirement complex. These were some of my mother's new friends, and none of them had plans to do anything special for that holiday. So before we consumed our own feast, we helped our mother take plates of food into these sweet ladies. We later heard how thrilled they had been by the tasty treats we had brought to them that day. In a sad twist, one of these women passed away about a week later. Here is the rest of the story:
We didn't know it at the time, but this dear lady had avoided celebrating Thanksgiving for years. It was on Thanksgiving Day that her only daughter died of a drug overdose. For understandable reasons, Thanksgiving was a time of mourning. Before this year's Thanksgiving season, this same woman had told my mother that she wasn't going to do anything for Christmas either. But after the plate of food was brought into her apartment, this woman caught a bit of my mother's holiday spirit. The next day, she went out and bought gifts for her family, and Christmas cards. She began decorating her apartment for Christmas. People who knew her, said she was happier than she had been in a long time. Then she collapsed upstairs while doing her laundry. She was rushed to a hospital, but her heart, which had undergone a loving transformation, gave out.
I accompanied my mother to her friend's funeral. It was a bittersweet day. Earlier, my mother had been given a Christmas card made out to her by this same friend. We talked for quite some time about how my mother shouldn't feel regret, since she had brought such joy into her new friend's life during her final days in mortal mode.
To me, that's what the holiday season is all about: bringing joy into the lives of others. This is a time of year when we lovingly share with family, friends, and those who need it most. And as I have learned, compliments of my mother, it isn't so much what we give, but how we give. When those gifts are from the heart, they possess the power to change lives and boost spirits. And those are the best gifts of all.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Somehow in my mind, the skirt I dreamed of was two shades of blue with white and black, forming a lovely plaid. It would be that thick kind of wool so popular that year and would fall just an inch or two below my knees. I had a blue sweater that would be perfect with it, a hand-me-down that had hardly been worn.
In the weeks before Christmas I participated in the school play, went ice skating, and even gave my little brother an early Christmas present with the last of my baby sitting money. He was a cowboy in the elementary school pageant and I’d found a cute pair of toy spurs. I warned him he wouldn’t get anything from me on Christmas, but he was so excited about the spurs, he claimed he wouldn’t care. With a family the size of ours, I figured he wouldn’t even notice one less present on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve came and we gathered in the front room. Daddy read the Christmas Story from St. Luke, then came the passing out of gifts. In our family we always exchanged family gifts on Christmas Eve. We exclaimed over cheap bottles of perfume, knee socks, and the other inexpensive gifts my siblings and I had purchased or made for each other. Mama served us slices of fruitcake or bowls of carrot pudding, then we were off to bed.
It wasn’t visions of sugarplums that danced in my head that night, but a pleated wool skirt. I wanted that skirt with all my heart.
When morning came, my sister and I dressed in our icy bedroom before making our way down stairs. The kitchen was warm and filled with good smells, we pitched in to help Mama and our helping frequently took us past the archway leading to the front room where we surreptitiously peeked at the small mounds set on the sofa and under the tree.
When Daddy and my brothers finished with the milking and other chores, it was time to see what Santa had brought, though most of us were well beyond the years when we believed in the jolly gent. Hardly daring to breathe, I followed the younger kids into the front room. At first I couldn’t tell which gifts were meant for me. Then I saw it, a flat bundle, wrapped loosely in a folded piece of tissue paper. It was my skirt! I knew it had to be my longed-for skirt.
Carefully, I pulled back the tissue and stared in confusion. It was fabric; a piece of cloth. That didn’t disappoint me. My mother could sew better than anyone else I knew. But the fabric was pink! Pink with little black speckles! Of all colors in the world, my least favorite has always been pink. It wasn’t thick and slightly rough like my friends’ wool skirts. It felt spongy and slick. It was the ugliest piece of cloth I’d ever seen. I bit my lip to keep from crying.
“What’s that?” One of my brothers pointed to an oblong lump in the middle of the piece of fabric.
Struggling to control my distaste at even touching that piece of pink cloth, I unwound it to discover a navy blue book. A consolation prize I thought. At least I’d have something to read. I reached for the book and turned it over in my hands. This time I couldn’t stop the tears. The book was a hymn book---a hymn book for a girl who was tone deaf and consequently had little interest in music.
I caught a glimpse of Daddy’s broad smile. He loved to sing and was convinced that if I took a little more interest in music, I’d soon love it too. I sank onto the couch and turned my head away, pretending interest in the truck and cap gun my youngest brother was exclaiming over.
At some point I became aware of my mother sitting beside me. As from a great distance I heard her say she was sorry there hadn’t been time to make up my skirt before Christmas, but she’d start on it the next day and I’d be able to wear it when school resumed after New Year’s.
“It doesn’t matter,” I muttered.
“I was lucky to find such a good piece. It’s a wool and silk blend and if it hadn’t been on the remnant table we couldn’t have afforded anything so nice. I’m not sure it’s a big enough piece to pleat, but it will make a lovely straight skirt.”
Something seemed to snap inside me. “But it’s ugly,” I cried.
Mama looked bewildered. “For weeks you’ve been talking about a wool skirt. I thought---.”
“It’s pink! It doesn’t even look like wool! I just wanted a skirt like the other girls are wearing to school.”
“You’ll like it better when you see how nice it will look on you.” I ignored the hopeful note in her voice.
“I won’t ever like it,” I sobbed. “It’s not only ugly, but it gives me the creeps to even touch it!” I ran upstairs to hide, but not before I saw tears spill down Mama’s cheeks.
It was Christmas day, but Mama cut out the skirt and began stitching it for me that day. I stood for fittings when asked. I even wore the skirt to church the next Sunday and one other time, but how I despised it. I never again said I hated it, but Mama knew. She never spoke of it either and eventually the skirt disappeared, but I’ve never forgotten it. If it had just been my disappointment with a gift that didn’t suit my taste, I would have forgotten it long ago, but by the time I first stood in my slip while Mama pinned the pieces of that skirt, I knew that skirt would always be a reminder of the Christmas I made Mama cry.
In the years since that Christmas I’ve thought of that skirt each Christmas season or whenever I’ve seen that particular shade of pink---and when I stood at my mother’s graveside years later. I know how little my parents had and how much my mother sacrificed to come as close as she could to what she thought I wanted. I’ve thought of that skirt each time I’ve received a gift I didn’t care for or want and when I’ve given gifts I’ve realized too late weren’t quite right. The years since that Christmas have impressed upon me how much love goes into each gift placed under the family Christmas tree and I hope I’ve become more sensitive to the generosity of others and a more gracious receiver.
Each time I hear that familiar quote from Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” I can’t help thinking it may be more blessed to give, but receiving is harder.
Shortly before Christmas a few years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer and during the days between my hospital stay and Christmas I was pretty well confined to either my bed or the big chair in the living room. With excellent insurance benefits, two daughters still at home, a married daughter nearby, and a husband and son who were excellent cooks, I was in no danger of starving, yet every few hours the doorbell would ring and a neighbor, visiting teachers, Relief Society presidency, or even my children’s friends would be standing on the steps with bread, cookies, pies, or complete dinners. The Young Women gifted me with the Twelve Days of Christmas. I felt embarrassed and awkward accepting their generosity, yet somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered that long ago Christmas when my mother wanted to give me something nice because she loved me and I spurned her gift. I smiled and accepted each and every gift, knowing that the givers felt a need to give and without a gracious receiver they would miss the blessings of giving. I didn’t need the gifts, but oh how I needed the love each gift represented. Over the years I’ve come to suspect that when the Savior said it was better to give than to receive, included in that admonition is a subtle suggestion that a grateful heart is included as one of those “better gifts.”
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
I am the oldest of five kids, and when I was a teenager, naturally, I slept in. One of those Saturdays, my dad decided to take my younger siblings downtown on the bus, because they'd never ridden it before. (I, of course, opted to sleep in instead.) The story goes as follows, and I wish I would have witnessed it personally. They took the bus downtown, ate some breakfast, had to run to catch a connecting bus, for which my dad was glad because everyone should have the experience of having to run for the bus, and had a grand old time riding around town. My younger sister, who was probably 10 at the time, said, "Dad, today you're being a REAL dad."
We all laugh about that, and as a therapist and professor of Child and Family Studies, my dad often reflected on that whole "real dad" concept. In my sister's mind, the extra time spent doing something fun made for such a rich experience.
It's easy to get stuck in the rut of daily, mundane duties that must be done. The dishes and laundry don't do themselves, the toys won't pick themselves up, etc. But there are those times when I play a board game with my son or hang out with my daughters that make for the "real mom" moments. It doesn't have to involve a lot, or any, money. What it does require is time. That can be hard, unless you carve it out of an already full day, and make it a priority, even if only for a short time.
Happy Birthday to my dad, who is amazing and wonderful and such a Real Dad. Love you much.
Friday, December 17, 2010
President Monson said: "The spirit of giving gifts has been present in the mind of each Christian as he or she commemorates the Christmas season. Our Heavenly Father gave to us the greatest gift of all - His Son, Jesus Christ, Our Savior." He gave this gift to all of us, young and old, rich or poor. We didn't have to search the mall for it. It didn't cost us a single penny. It didn't come wrapped in beautiful wrapping paper. The most treasured gift ever given was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger.
"Then that precious Son gave to each of us a gift of His life, the Atonement, and victory over death." President Monson failed to add one of the most important gifts that we have been given - the gift of the Holy Ghost. How incredible is this gift of a member of the Godhead that we can have with us at all times if we are worthy. This is a gift of enormous power that we never want to be without any single day of our lives.
Then President Monson asked, "What gifts will you and I give for Christmas this year? Let us in our lives give to our Lord and Savior the gift of gratitude by living His teachings and following in His footsteps. It was said of Him that He 'went about doing good.' As we do likewise, the Christmas spirit will be ours."
He listed four other gifts that we should acknowledge: "The gift of birth,the gift of peace, the gift of love, and the gift of eternal life." Is it any wonder that at this sacred time of year as we celebrate the birth of this marvelous gift, that our hearts and thoughts are turned to gift giving?
Emily Freeman, in "A Christ-Centered Christmas" talked about one tradition her family has enjoyed over the years: "Inspired by the knowledge that the Christ child received just three gifts, one brilliant mother decided to simplify her Christmas giving. She began by researching the meaning behind the three gifts. Gold was a gift for a king, celebrating the baby's royalty. Myrrh, a common incense used for cleaning and for burial, was given in remembrance of His humanity and foreshadowed the important of His death. Frankincense, an incense used in the temple, represented His divinity. After studying at great length, this mother decided her gift giving would follow this same pattern. On Christmas morning, each of her children receives a gift from Santa, then three other gifts inspired from the gifts of the Magi - one that is joyful, one that is needful, and one that is meaningful."
May we remember gratefully those gifts that we have been given from on high, follow His example in giving gifts of service, and reflect on the gifts of the Magi in our own giving: those that are joyful, those that are needful, and those that are meaningful.
Merry Christmas - and the most Blessed of New Years!
Thursday, December 16, 2010
With the unexpected death of our dear son this year, it is the gift of life for which we are most mindful. Our faith has deepened and we are grateful for the Son of God that brings life and light to a sorrowing world.
Hail the heav'n born Prince of Peace.
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings.
Rin'n with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by.
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the Sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! The herald angels sing!
Glory to the new born King!
May you find peace and joy in the season!
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
As the night falls, you come upon the Prophet Isaiah writing on scrolls. His prophesies of the Savior who will come unto the world is foretold as well as the Savior‘s mission on the earth is read to all who will listen to the Prophet of old.. As you listen to his visions and prophesies, soon you hear the scriptural account of the days leading up to the Christ child’s birth. Waiting in line, it is a powerful reminder of all that has come to pass and all the promises that will be fulfilled. What a wonderful reminder of what that means to each of us in our lives.
Then as you walk along, you see the Shepherds out in the field (with their live sheep around them) watching their flock by night who first see the star and the wise men walking toward the star shining in the sky. Was it just me or was there one particular star shining extra bright for us that clear cold Monday night????
There were cattle, goats, and even a large (live!) camel was there to greet us as we all walked towards Bethlehem. Many people walked among us in robes suited for that era. Children walked with parents, elderly walked with their staffs in tow. We felt we had gone back in time. All around us sounds could be heard of people walking toward Bethlehem -- to the land of their inheritance.
Once we arrived in Bethlehem, we were met by a soldier who expected us to pay our taxes, and a man who--off to the side stood weighing in coins of every shape and size---which were the taxes paid--- before we were to enter.
Once were allowed entrance into Bethlehem, there were peddlers trying to sell and barter their trade. Women were weaving baskets and grinding wheat stalks into grain. Men carved from logs with tools while others sold vegetables and fruit from crates and stalls. Even a leper was shunned from public begging for a morsel from any merciful passerby.
We continued to walk through the “dirt road” of Bethlehem and saw women gathering water at a well with a rooster perched on top watching us with his steady gaze and even came upon an Inn keeper sending everyone away for there was no room at the Inn.. So much to see, and even more to learn yet no one spoke to us, but rather let us take it all in by observing what was happening at that time. No one spoke a word. No one needed to. The only words spoken were that of the Inn Keeper. It was enough, for then in the darkened city, around the corner not too far from a stall of a donkey, a light shone ever so clear. It was then we heard the sweetest sound we could have heard.
A newborn baby started to cry.
We came upon the only quiet, warm, corner of the barn within that small town of Bethlehem. The parents of the baby Jesus were kneeling beside the newborn baby trying to comfort him. It was an incredible sight to see a real newborn baby wrapped up in soft blankets in the barn on that freezing cold snowy night. It took our breath away.
As we left the barn, a woman dressed in robes whispered to us ever so softly, “Merry Christmas,” She had tears in her eyes and so did we.
As we got into our car to leave, the song, “Oh Holy Night” was playing on the radio. What a beautiful ending to our beautiful night.
Of course there are so many reasons I love Christmas, but is it any wonder that seeing and hearing the story of the birth of our Savior brings with it a renewed sense of hope and love to all the world?
That night, being a spectator of the Nativity that way, brought a new vision and meaning of the Christmas story for me. I hope and pray that I will not lose the feelings I had in my heart as I witnessed the scene before me.
It was a witness to me of the accounts that happened so very long ago. It was an experience that testified ever so strongly of the miracles and blessings that would come because of the humble beginnings of that wondrous night so long ago, because of that sweet baby that laid quietly crying in a manger.
Indeed, what a Holy Night it was.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
I have received several email forwards over the last few days urging me to wish people a Merry Christmas this year, rather than "Happy Holidays". I'm a little bemused by this, because I have never wished anyone "Happy Holidays" in my life, certainly never at this time of year since most people take their family holiday in the Summer.
This year, however, I am having a holiday over Christmas. The charity I am working for is closing between Christmas and New Year, and this gives me a whole week off work. I'm very excited to have all that extra time to enjoy with my family and various visitors (including friends from Wyoming). But I'm even more excited to have a whole week free to finish writing the epic fantasy novel I've been working on all year.
I love writing, and it really doesn't feel like work. This past weekend I have been very busy proofreading the "galleys" (they're not called that any more, but I don't know what they are called now) of my forthcoming book. I had promised to have it done by Monday morning, so settled down to finish off the last few pages on Sunday afternoon. Hubby dearest asked whether it was really an appropriate Sunday activity, since writing is, sort of, one of my jobs. I was horrified at that thought - I look forward all week to a couple of peaceful hours on Sunday to write. But my last royalties statement proves I don't write for money.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to Christmas very much. Looking forward to having a fabulous turkey dinner (I've been on a vegetarian diet for the last three months) and opening presents with the family, then watching the Queen's speech and the Doctor Who special. And I'm looking forward to settling down with my laptop on Boxing day and writing right the way into 2011.
So have a Merry Christmas everyone, and I will have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Several years ago the bishop of our ward gave every family in our small town a small white Christmas stocking. He challenged us to gather as a family and privately decide on an individual basis what our gift to the Savior would be for the coming year. Our gift would be written on scraps of paper, and then folded and placed inside of the white stocking for safe keeping. During the holiday season, this stocking would be kept on the Christmas tree as a reminder of what we had pledged to do in the coming months. After that it was to be placed in an area where it could be seen often to help us remember what we've pledged.
Our family took this challenge to heart and each year on Christmas Eve, we gather as a family to retrieve our personal pledge from the white stocking. Silently we reflect on how well we came through on whatever our gift to the Savior was that year. Then after some thought, we decide what next year's gift will be.
As you may have guessed, these gifts are not of a material nature. They are gifts of the heart and mind, promises of self-improvement. Most in our clan select Christ-like attributes---the choice is up to each individual.
Wouldn't it be a remarkable thing if each year at Christmas-time, the entire world population would take a few moments to reflect on a gift to the Savior? Instead of focusing on the materialistic trends we see this time of year, simple gifts of the heart would be rendered.
This time of year I think of the shepherds who were the first to see the Christ-child after his humble birth. The gifts they brought were simple in comparison with those that were later given by the wise men, and yet I'm certain they were treasured most by our Elder Brother. They were gifts of humility, kindness, and love. Faith, hope, and charity were at the heart of these oblations. These are the character traits our Savior longs for each one of us to embrace and share.
So this Christmas season, as we bustle about preparing for this sacred time of year, let us reflect on how best we can celebrate the birth of our Lord. I think most of us will find that the most joy will come from sharing the simple gifts that were given long ago in a humble stable where the Prince of Peace was born.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Is there an event around which more memories are centered than Christmas? A look through the photo albums I've kept over the years and I find more pictures were taken on Christmas or around Christmas than any other time of the year.
Christmas is always a reminder of the childhood years, of Santa arriving on a fire truck, by helicopter, and even of the community program in a small Idaho town when a dozen young farmers and ranchers hefted Santa's sled on their shoulders to carry it and the jolly elf into the school gym. It brings memories of little brown paper sacks filled with peanuts, hard candy, and a single chocolate; if we were lucky there was an orange in the bag too. There was always an orange in the toe of my stocking Christmas morning! Remember all of the Santas and Christmas trees we colored as children, then ohed and ahed over similar masterpieces our children and grandchildren produced.
Even for someone as tone deaf as me, Christmas memories include music. Christmas carols are some of the first music I really heard. Over the years I've attended a lot of choir and band Christmas concerts with my children and grandchildren; I love hearing and singing (even if I can't carry a tune) Christmas carols at church, and each CD I play brings back special memories like the year our high school choir provided the music for the Baptist Church's Christmas service because their pastor was our choir director and he needed a choir. (We used to be able to do things like that).
There was the first Christmas as a married couple, a Christmas when we were so poor I painted a Christmas tree on our front room window because we didn't have any money to buy a tree, the Christmas we received a darling baby girl, all those Christmases when our children were growing up and we were playing Santa and trying to teach them that Christmas meant more than presents, the Christmas pageants where our children, then our grandchildren presented the story from St. Luke, and of course the time our cat climbed the Christmas tree and tipped it over.
Christmas is a time to build golden memories of giving. Coins dropped in a Salvation Army bucket, playing secret Santa, an anonymous check, coats and blankets donated to a shelter, a bag of groceries for someone who needs it, a sidewalk shoveled, a few hours of free babysitting, a telephone call to someone who is lonely, and the list goes on and on. Rich or poor we can give something.
Good memories are one of life's greatest pleasures and so I'm wishing all of our V-Formation readers a Christmas filled with warm memories to treasure throughout all your days.
Oscar Wilde said: "To give and not expect return, that is what lies at the heart of love."
During this Christmas season I hope we will think about these two wonderful gifts we can give. The gift of "Unconditional Love" and the gift of "Forgiveness."
Monday, December 6, 2010
Friday, December 3, 2010
Some years at Christmas when my kids were little, we'd put a basket on the fireplace and when someone did a good deed or performed a service for someone else, they'd put a note in the basket as a gift to the Savior: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these...." Then on Christmas Eve we'd read each note and remember with warmth - and some humor - the good deeds that had been done.
And some years the family would think about it all month, then on Christmas Eve we would write a note - a pledge - put it in a little box and tie it with a ribbon. Then each little box would go in the Christmas basket as gifts to be given to the Savior during the year. We each kept a note to remind ourselves what we were doing as our gift to the Savior that year.
This year, given President Monson's emphasis on service and my upcoming talk on gifts, I decided I wanted to give a gift of service every day in December to someone - somewhere. Of course, that is very easy to do when we have a retirement center in our ward, and several people who have just come out of the hospital with various problems. Those obvious persons will be the recipient of acts of service, but I want to delve deeper than that. I want to find people who don't expect anything. People hidden away in their lonely little world who need acts of love, especially at this time of year. I'd even thought about not counting acts of service to family members, but decided against that. They need them as much as others.
I have a terrible time sitting down to write little notes to people who have done something nice, or who need a lift, or some kind of thank you. If I can send a quick e-mail, I'm good with that, but that can't count as a gift of service. It is too easy. And who wants to keep things like that on their computer to read again and again - if they like it?
Yesterday I printed address labels for my Hawaiian sister(the one I take care of all her medical stuff) and took them to her for her Christmas cards. Today I made a goodie to take to a man who just got out of the hospital (in fact, two men in our ward!) Tomorrow I volunteered to take the shift of a sister at the Family History Center while she recuperates from a medical procedure she had this week. That is a special sacrifice as it is a Saturday morning I could really use at home. Those are the best gifts - ones that you sacrifice to give. I need to come up with something special for Sunday for another sister who just came home from the hospital.
Then my challenge will begin - finding something special, different, unique - some kind of service that will be meaningful - a gift of love - and then finding people to give that gift to that really need it.
Of course, the intent behind the whole exercise is to come closer to my Savior and appreciate more fully the magnificent gifts that He has given me. Hopefully, I will be better able to speak on gifts at Christmas.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
This would be her first attempt at a meal that makes even seasoned cook's knees wobble. Yet, I had every confidence that she would do a great job. (She's very smart) Besides, I was thrilled to not be cooking. After 37 or 38 years of slaving over the Pilgrim feast didn't I deserve a little break? Truthfully I do remember going to my Dad's for a few Turkey days, my niece's one year, and Disneyland for another where we ate some sort of weird turkey dinner in an Irish pub.
Anyway, back to my daughter. The adventure began weeks before Turkey Day. She went online to look up stuffing recipes. She watched episode after episode of The Food Network. She debated fresh turkey vrs. frozen turkey, or whether to stuff the turkey or not to stuff the turkey.
Thanksgiving morning arrived and I was feeling very grateful for my darling daughter. And, as if she knew I was thinking about her, she called.
"Mom?" (a slight panic in the voice)
"Mom, this turkey looks gross. Is it suppose to look gross like that?"
"Yes, it's just fine. You're just used to seeing it all brown and yummy. Just clean it well and put it in the roaster. It'll look terrific in about four hours. Did you remember to take out the giblets?"
"Yes. What's in that little white bag, anyway?"
"Stop! Don't tell me! I'm just going to throw that away!"
"Yea, good idea."
Twenty minutes later she called again.
"Mom." (a sad tone in the voice)
"Do you think Fred had a good life?"
"Fred, the turkey."
"You named the turkey?"
"Yes. Do you think he had a good life?"
"I think he was a noble creature who served his purpose."
"Really. If it makes you feel better say a little Native American prayer of Thanksgiving for his sacrifice."
"That's a good idea. Thanks, Mom."
"See you at 3:30."
"Looking forward to it."
"Don't forget the green bean casserole."
"I won't. I love you. Oh, and just a little advise."
"If you do the turkey next year..."
"Don't give it a name."
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
I had quite a busy week ahead before this. Tuesday night was Young Women in Excellence at our Stake Centre half-an-hour away on the outskirts of London. On Wednesday night the local Faith Forum – a group of the leaders of all the churches and religious and community groups in the area – was to be meeting in our chapel for the first time and I was doing the refreshments. Thursday was my eldest daughter’s riding lesson, and on Friday I was supposed to be attending my regular blood donation session.
But we Brits are rubbish at snow and seem to get taken by surprise by it every year. There is never enough grit for the roads, and I had never heard of snow chains for cars until I read about them in Twilight. I’ve no idea whether it is possible to buy them here, but we don’t have any so the car isn’t going anywhere and thus neither am I.
I already know that Young Women in Excellence and the Faith Forum are both postponed. We can’t get to the riding school five miles away and whilst I could walk to my blood donation venue (only 1 mile) I think the National Blood Service staff will tell me I shouldn’t walk back after donating, so it’s probably rather pointless.
So all plans for the week are cancelled, which is rather nice in a funny sort of way. Suddenly I have lots of wonderful free time and I’m quite giddy with the choice of things I might do with it, stuck in the warm safety of my home. Writing comes out top. I’m only 20,000 words from completing my epic fantasy novel, there’s another fan fiction competition to enter, and I need to tie together a few loose floating scenes from my attempt at chick-lit. I absolutely love writing and there’s really nothing I would rather do than snuggle under a duvet with my laptop.
Unless it’s snuggling down with a laptop and a cake. I had already bought the refreshments for the postponed meeting, you see, and they won’t keep…
Monday, November 29, 2010
So about a month ago, I was challenged by a family member to participate in this year's NaNoWriMo In a nutshell, this is a writing challenge. One has to commit to writing 50,000 words in one month's time. Wow!!! I've dabbled in the writing world before, but I'm not sure I've ever written 50,000 words in 30 days---until now. I'm proud to share that as of this afternoon, I have indeed completed this remarkable feat. (You may hold the applause for later.) ;) [Kidding!]
I have to say this challenge was just that---a challenge! And yet it was a refreshing way to break through writer's block. I used a storyline that has been rattling around in my head for a couple of years. Now it's finally down on paper . . . actually typed up on a word processor on my laptop, but I digress. True, it needs a bit of polishing and such, but it has morphed into a workable manuscript, complete with a plot-line.
Would I have completed the story without this little nudge from NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)? I'm not sure. All I know is despite all of this past month's adventures, which included feeding 23 people for Thanksgiving dinner, I squeaked in under the wire to finish. What a feeling of accomplishment. Even if this story never succeeds in getting published, what a rush to know I completed what I had pledged to do.
Will I tackle this challenge next year? That remains to be seen, but at this point in time I wouldn't be at all surprised. After all, my future bestseller will possibly be in need of a sequel. ;)
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
I'm posting this a little early since there's a good chance I won't get to it tomorrow morning. You see I've got a turkey to stuff, potatoes to peel, and a few jillion other tasks planned, but I don't want to miss the most important part of the day--just being thankful for all of the many blessings that have come my way.
TODAY IS THANKSGIVING DAY
Ever since October Conference, I've been thinking and talking about gratitude and since today is a day set aside for giving thanks, there are a few more things for which I wish to express thanks. At the top of my list is a deep sense of relief and gratitude that at the moment my family is cancer free. The last few years half been rough on that score with the loss of four family members and hard fought battles by several others. I, myself, am a cancer survivor and my doctor reminded me just last week that it has been seventeen years. I am deeply grateful for the medical teams and the prayers of loved ones who gave me those seventeen years. As hard as it was to face my own cancer, it was harder to watch two of my daughters suffer through their battles with the dreaded disease and I'm doubly thankful they are both strong and healthy today.
I'm part of a very large, diverse family. When we get together, we look like a mini United Nations. I am grateful for the bond of love we share even though we represent half a dozen different ethnic groups and I'm not sure how many different religions. As one niece said "we love each other anyway, warts and all. And man, we have a lot of warts." I'm grateful for every last one of my family members and all of our assorted warts.
I'm grateful for my immediate family, my husband, my children and their spouses, and my grandchildren. I think they're pretty special and there isn't a day that I don't thank God for their presence in my life.
Serving in the Oquirrh Mountain Temple is a choice blessing in my life and I'm so very thankful I've been given this opportunity. In addition to the spiritual blessings I receive and the joy that comes through this service, I also appreciate the many friends and those who read my books who whisper a quiet greeting to me there.
I'm appreciative of my country and the privilege I have of living in America. Like my family, our government has a generous number of warts, but it's a privilege to live in a land where I and every citizen has a voice in fixing those warts.
I appreciate and give thanks for a warm, comfortable home and a generous bounty of food on my family's Thanksgiving table. Even good food tastes better when shared with loved ones and there are a good number of loved ones gathering around my table today. I, indeed, have much to be grateful for.
Monday, November 22, 2010
The reason it’s coming to mind so readily now, however, is because of a quote by Richard G. Scott that I came across a few days ago: “After this life, you will be restored to that which you have here allowed yourself to become.” This is wonderful—after we end our journey here, we will be restored to what we’ve worked on. Basically, it sounds to me like we get to pick up where we left off.
I’ve often heard the quote that runs something along the lines of “you can’t take it with you when you go,” and I’ve always taken that as two-fold. One, the physical trappings here on earth don’t amount to much when we’re dead, and two, since all I can take with me when I go is what I’ve managed to put into my head, I’d better stuff it as full as possible.
Enter real life. Life has a way of intruding on the best of intentions, and the time slips by more quickly every day. I tell myself I’m going to learn about this or that, make a study of some author I’ve been meaning to get to, and it just doesn’t seem to happen. But as much as I do love books, there are lessons to be learned from those real-life experiences that suck up all of our time. I figure if I can somehow sandwich in book time with living, I should be good to go.
This is such a fun time of year, and it’s a blessing, really, to take the time to actually count our blessings and be grateful for what we have. My list this year could probably stretch on for pages, and I think, in fact, that that’s exactly what I’ll do. I’m going to make a list of every little thing I am thankful for and see how long the list stretches.
I challenge you to do the same! Have a wonderful, wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Sunday, January 19, 2003: "As I was saying my prayers this morning and doing my scripture study (currently reading The Mortal Messiah and the New Testament Doctrinal Commentary both by McConkie who really tells it like it is with no comfortable conscience cushioning as we study the New Testament in Sunday School) I had a thought that was totally unnerving. My life on earth is over half finished - I've been here longer - by far - than I have time remaining. And I am nowhere near a finished product! My biggest problem: subjecting my willful, rebellious body to my spirit which should be leading me and my actions instead of the other way around.
It came as such a surprise because I don't feel, inside, that I'm much beyond - say - 28. I don't feel 64 years old (except occasionally my body reminds me that I am not 28!) So it was a total revelation to me that my time to get it all together is diminishing rather quickly and I'd better get with the program or I'll never make it. Exactly where would I go if I were to die today? Have I gotten myself to the point where I could comfortably and worthily dwell with the Holy Ghost? Certainly I don't think I am worthy to be in the same sphere with the Savior, and what more do I have to do to make myself worthy to dwell with Father - to return to his presence?
The whole thing boils down to governing this rebellious body. When the Spirit quietly whispers "make that phone call" to someone, and I ignore it or feel I'll get to it later, that is disregarding or "rebelling" against the Spirit. When I pray for help in using my time wisely, and yet ignore the feeling I should go do "this" now and I don't, that is disregarding or rebellion against the Spirit. When I have one more bite of high calorie whatever, when I just asked for help to control my appetite and lose 15 pounds, that is rebellion on the part of my body over my spirit. Or when I say something I should not say, or don't say something I should, same thing.
I know these things. I've known them all my life. But sometimes I have to be reminded how simple everything really is. We either do what the Spirit tell us - or we don't. And if we don't, if we ignore or procrastinate, then we are saying: "Thanks, but I don't think I want to live that higher law right now. Tomorrow I'll do it."
But how many tomorrows do I have to bring this body (and tongue and mind) back into submission to the Spirit? What promises did I make before I came here that I haven't kept because I'm not listening to the promptings - or I'm procrastinating - or ignoring them?
Just some thoughts that surprised me this morning - so thought I would pass them along so you can think about where you are at your different points in life - and which sphere or kingdom you would inherit if today was your last on earth. Love, Mom"
So this column today is a reminder of how valuable journals can be, and how often we need to check on our "status" in life and see where we are in perfecting ourselves in preparation for our life in the next sphere. Happy Perfecting!
Thursday, November 18, 2010
One: Don't be a Scallywag. I never really knew what that was, but it sounded like something to do with pirates. I'd read Treasure Island, and I didn't want my name associated with those rough and one-legged ruffians.
Two: He taught us (me and my sisters) not to be "full of bologna." This meant that on those occasions when we wanted to fib, or expand a personal story into the realms of fantasy, we were to remember not to be full of false meat. It was a disgusting image and therefore a powerful deterrent.
Three: He'd remind us not to "toot our own horns." This one had to do with overt pride and excessive bragging. For some reason, this bit of wisdom always comes to my mind on New Year's Eve when I'm tooting away on one of those little party horns. It really isn't a pleasant sound.
Four: We knew we'd pushed the child/parent argument to the limit when his bass voice would rumble that we "didn't have a leg to stand on." I'd stop arguing immediately, but wonder how I could still be standing if I didn't have a leg to stand on.
The list of platitudes could go on and on, but I've got a busy day: grocery shopping, laundry, researching for my next book, and ten other things...
Dad would say, "Stop burning the candle at both ends!" or, "Slow down and count your blessings." Good counsel.
A week from today is Thanksgiving, and surely my wise and funny dad will be high on my gratitude list.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
I noticed a certain clock hanging on the wall. It was the kind that is ran by satellite and it couldn’t find its signal. Therefore the hands on this clock were racing around like crazy ticking away the hours of the day within only minutes.
At first I had to laugh as I surmised there are times I feel I am racing out of control like that.
Then I sobered a bit…
The hours in my day tick by like crazy and at the end of the day I wonder where the time has gone and what I have to show for the minutes that have sped by. Did I accomplish all that was needed? Did I do what was the most important in the grand scheme of things? Did I treat everyone the way I know I should be treating others? Did I spend my time showing my family how much I love them, and enough time caring for them?
I consider myself a fairly busy—even too busy at times— person. Though I am constantly justifying that all the things I am involved in and all that I am doing certainly need to be done or have their place in my life, I still find myself feeling guilty for the things left undone because I ran out of time.
For example, I had to work, so I didn’t spend enough time with my family… that one stabs at my heart almost constantly. I tell myself that on my next evening off I will do a really great family dinner and activity to make it up to them. Of course when the time rolls around, low and behold, I’m either exhausted, (or lately, sick) or sure enough, they have plans. Murphy’s law? So to remedy that, I have had to alter my plans.
Rather than making an elaborate evening out of our time together, we make the most of the time we do have together instead. Maybe we’ll catch a movie, or even rent one and have a movie night at home with treats or we’ll stay in and play a game. Last night I took my son Christmas shopping and we sang Christmas songs together. (Maybe a tad early for Christmas songs, but we had a ball singing at the top of our lungs in the car!)
Time is racing on.
I need to be conscientious of how I use my time. At the end of the day, I want to look back and know that I filled my time with the things that are meaningful to my family, my friends, myself, and of course to my Savior, rather than just doing activities that fill my time.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Now what about the equivalent Hollywood actor - Tom Hanks? Would you know to ask him for an autograph if he was on the table next to yours in a restaurant? Probably. You might even get a little starstruck and lost for words in the process. What about your favourite sports stars or musicians? Their faces are probably well known, and they are frequently mobbed, or find themselves under virtual house arrest because of the difficulties of going about their daily lives anonymously.
I don't write for the money or the glory, but it strikes me that if I was going to be famous for something, I would really like it to be for writing, if only because all your readers ("fans"?) see of you is a little black-and-white photograph, and that's only if they bother to look at the inside back cover. You get all the good trappings of success - fan mail, financial rewards, the satisfaction of having entertained people - with no need for bodyguards or disguises.
That's not true of every author, of course. Stephenie Meyer (no. 3 on the list) is reputedly not enjoying the pressure of fame at all, and J.K. Rowling (no. 10) is recognised worldwide, but they are the exceptions. When I think of my favourite authors (excluding those above, those I've met in person or those who have also been on TV) I don't think I can picture the faces of any of them. In fact, I've just read The Number One Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith which was a superb book, and didn't include a photograph of the author at all. For all I know, he could live on my street.
There is one reason, and one only, that I would like my name to be well known, and that is because I get so fed up with having to spell it to people. In my mind, I see hubby dearest and I checking into a (five star luxury) hotel somewhere, and discovering that the receptionist is a fan. The exchange goes something like this:
Receptionist: What name is the booking under?
Me: Buttimore. That's B-
Receptionist: I know, like as in Anna Jones Buttimore?
Me: That's right.
Receptionist: And can I take your first name?
Me: Anna. Jones.
Yes, I admit it, I'd get quite a thrill out of that. Mostly out of not having to spell out my name, you understand.
Monday, November 15, 2010
So there I was, minding my own business when two things happened almost simultaneously. Within a couple of days of each other, one of my sons called to give me a "pep-talk" about writing . . . something I've neglected lately for a variety of reasons---and not too long after that enlightening chat, my brother called to encourage me to enter a competition called NaNoWriMo. I'd never heard of this particular delight before (don't make fun) but it sounded intriguing.
My brother went on to say that he and his wife had both tried this adventure a couple of years ago, and had enjoyed it immensely. He challenged me to sign up that very night (October 31) while I was talking to him on the phone. I think he suspected I would bail after our phone chat. ;) He was probably right. So he guided me through the process of signing up. After that, we discussed a few other items, then I hung up the phone. Curious about what I had just committed myself to do, I tried to sign in . . . and my user name and password weren't recognized. I figured that was a sign and shrugged the whole thing off.
The next morning, I was stunned to find a plethora of e-mails from the NaNoWriMo group in my e-mail inbox. Somehow, despite the glitch, I was a full-fledged participant in this year's competition.
I tried to sign on, and ran into the same problem with the e-mail and password scenario. So I valiantly persevered and made a couple of changes. Suddenly, I had access to my own personalized screen with instructions on how to participate in this year's event.
Filled with a new determination to follow this through (the old "if my brother can do it---I can too," philosophy) I began typing away. At first, it was like trying to break through a brick wall. But knowing this particular manuscript didn't have to be perfect, nor please anyone else, I kept typing. Soon I had my first 5 thousand words. What a feeling of accomplishment.
I'm currently at the halfway mark at nearly 25,000 words. I'm intent on completing this endeavor, and the story I started a couple of weeks ago is taking shape nicely. I may even submit it somewhere someday.
I think periodically as writers, we hit a brick wall. Some writers refer to it as writer's block. Thank heavens inspiring challenges like this can help us through this obstacle. I would say the NaNoWriMo event that takes place yearly, is indeed a writing vehicle that can jump-start our creativity.
While it's too late to sign up for this year's event, I would encourage anyone interested in the writing world to participate in next year's event. Here is the link:NaNoWriMo
Incidentally, I've learned that NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month which takes place each November. I've been impressed with how many writers take part in this event. And I, for one, will more than likely tackle it again next year. ;) Now . . . back to my budding masterpiece . . .
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Veterans Day is one of those holidays that always seems to get overlooked. After all, how can a day to honor soldiers compete with the likes of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas? Somehow we manage to forget that without those soldiers who endured unspeakable trauma and too often death, we wouldn't be free to celebrate the flashier holidays.
Armistice Day or Veterans Day was established as a legal holiday in the United States to honor those who fought in World Wars I and II, but has since been expanded in the USA to include members of America's Armed Services no matter which war they served in or may be currently serving in. Other nations who were involved in World Wars I and II observe this day too. In Canada the day is called Remembrance Day. In fact our friends to the north still observe the day more fully than we in the USA do. Though there has been some fiddling with the date, it is still observed by most nations on November 11, commemorating the day in 1918 when World War I formally ended.
As a child, almost everyone I saw; schoolmates, family, strangers on the street, wore a crimson poppy on Armistice Day to show our support and to honor those who fought for us, especially those who were buried on foreign soil. There was a national sense of togetherness brought about by this simple symbol and the dimes collected for their sale went to support programs aimed at benefitting veterans, particularly those who had been wounded. Red poppies still appear on the lapels of newscasters and many ordinary citizens in Canada while the custom has almost disappeared here. I remember that at precisely 11:00 a.m. a minute of silence was also observed in schools, places of business, and even the radio went silent. Once almost every school child could quote the opening lines of a poem composed by John McCrae, a soldier who wished to honor a friend who died on a Belgian battlefield where he noticed the bright, sturdy flowers growing in fields that had been disturbed by war and where the flowers seemed to flourish between the crosses erected to honor the war dead.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
Perhaps it is human nature to ignore unpleasant things until they touch us personally, but most people I know are hardly aware we've been at war for nine years, ever since America was attacked by foreign terrorists in 2001. Those of us who have had loved ones deployed during that time are certainly aware we are at war, but those who haven't, have too often gone on living their lives mostly untouched by this challenge to freedom and our way of life, other than being inconvenienced at airports and uttering complaints about the monetary cost of war.
Today is a day to set aside our political differences and simply honor those who risked their lives or gave their lives for freedom. It's a day to thank a soldier. It's a day to remember all those who sacrificed time, healthy bodies, or their lives so that we can choose our own government, our way of worship, our educational goals, our careers, and even so we can sit down together with our families to enjoy a holiday dinner.
Monday, November 8, 2010
In my class, students read several novels and partial chapters of novels that may be bestsellers or award-winners (Pulitzer, National Book Award, etc.). Many of the students are quick to criticize and dismiss before they learn to their amazement that they have rejected a manuscript written by an author who pulls in multi-million dollar advances and sells millions of books. Likewise they may dislike a book that has won the Pulitzer. (I personally find a lot of award-winning books difficult to read. They're generally not "fun" reads. Think Cormac McCarthy's The Road, for example, not a light, pleasant read).
As long as editors are guided by their personal preferences--we're all human, after all--even good books will be rejected, because we don't like the same things. Fortunately, persistent authors can find the right readers/editors for their books, as the stories on this website tell:
Moral of the story: Keep writing, keep hoping, keep revising, keep submitting, and keep your day job.
Happy writing to you all.
Friday, November 5, 2010
This is one I was able to save and since it has some great ideas, I thought I'd pass it on. I need it now that I am writing again to keep me motivated. Maybe it will help you in your current project.
How to Write Prolifically by Karen King
1. Take yourself seriously as a writer.
2. Write every day. Make it a habit.
3. Set small goals: so many pages a day, rather than finish the novel by next month.
4. Push yourself to go past your goals. Give yourself pats on the back when you meet or exceed your daily goals.
5. Wipe the slate clean each day. In other words, don't flog yourself with guilt if you fail to meet your goals. (And don't try to carry over yesterday's page count and add it to today's goal.)
6. Don't edit or revise until you finish a first draft. (Oh, that is a hard one for me. I edit what I wrote yesterday at the start of each new writing day to get me back into the story!)
7. Don't critique too early.
8. Do whatever works for you, get up early, stay up late, use a tape recorder, write in the bathtub, but don't get the computer wet. :)
9. Remember if you were not around, your husband and kids would not starve to death, and Pizza Hut delivers. Demand respect and time for your writing.
10. Play your stories in your head, like a movie. Rehearse scenes you've already written and let your characters run on with the next scene. I like to do this while falling asleep or waiting in line. Doing it while driving can be dangerous. The next scene will flow onto the paper.
11. Write through brick walls. When you feel stymied, just write. If it is slop, you can edit it out later. You may be pleasantly surprised by the quality.
12. Identify your problem spots and avoid them. Never leave your writing at the end of a chapter; start the next one. If you reread what you've written frequently, turn off the computer screen. If you backspace and respell too often, turn off spellchecker. If you're not sure of a word, or a piece of research, flag it and check it later. If you watch too much TV and don't write, make yourself give it up for two weeks. (Anything good will be back in reruns for the next twenty decades.) Play too many video games? Make it a reward for meeting your writing goals. Read too many books? (Don't we all!) Glut yourself as a reward for finishing a novel. (Finish writing a new one, that is.)
13. Don't start a new project until you finish the first. Use the energy from the next project that begs to be written to complete the one you are on. You'd be surprised how anxious you are to finish when you don't allow yourself to commit your next story to paper. (Not even a synopsis. A story idea worth writing won't disappear and one that won't hang around probably isn't good enough.)
14. Remember how far you've come and not how far you have to go. Then dig in and start the next one.
15. Never forget rule number one.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
I don’t move as quickly as I used to. I was told I have arthritis in my knees and I suspect I have it in a couple of other locations as well. But, arthritis??? Isn’t that an old people disease? I won’t use this blog to list my other “ailments” that go along with aging, but rather, my point is there are a multitude of things happening to my body and yes, even my mind :) that have been changing thanks to the aging process. Suffice it to say, I am sometimes taken aback by the older person I see looking back at me in the mirror. I notice the changes taking place that I never thought would happen to me.
So what of aging gracefully? My mother and her mother aged gracefully. In fact, I dare say, they became more beautiful with age. Not only that, but all around me I see women whom I admire aging most gracefully. I have to wonder what the secret is.
I decided to google it. I came up with all kinds of hilarious jokes and articles on the humor of aging. Unfortunately there were far too many I could identify with. It was more depressing than funny. What I learned from that was that humor is one thing essential to aging gracefully. That is not all. I learned much more as I pondered this whole aging process. A couple of articles hit a few pointers right on the nail for me as well. I thought I would share what I have learned.
The whole aging process is an important one and denying ones age though it is a silly, harmless, game played, (i.e. “I’m twenty five again…” or “Still thirty and holding…” etc.) it can also be disabling. After all, those grey hairs, those wrinkles, those scars, well, they are all a big part of who we have become over the years and we have earned them through our lives experiences. Therefore, we should wear them without guilt or shame, rather with pride and joy having survived or accomplished all we have experienced.
When you think about it, you can look back and say I am X many years old. I have learned X many years’ worth of lessons, X many years’ worth of personal growth, X many years’ worth of challenges and happiness, and X many years’ worth of accomplishments. Looking back there has to be some satisfaction for that growth and learning and that in turn can build self esteem. May you live that many more years and find much happiness in them! It’s something to be proud of.
Age doesn’t have to be a debilitating thing for us. We can age gracefully. After all, they say age is a state of mind—(I just wish my body would keep up! The physical stuff is a little harder to deal with!)
I know that as I have aged, my perspective has changed. I know now that the friends I have are the friendships I will always treasure.
I cherish moments with my loved ones as I realize there just aren’t enough of them. This is an about change when as a youth I hated it when my sister came near me or even touched me if I was angry with her or when she crossed to my side of the room after we had drawn the imaginary line.
I have strived to become more knowledgable and therefore more stronger in my convictions which inturn gives my life reason and purpose.
There are times I have become more forgetful, it is true. But maybe this isn’t all bad. It has helped me to be more forgiving— for when I do finally remember, I have discovered that some things just aren’t worth being contentious over.
I have tried to become more at peace with myself and with my fellow man.
I realize more than ever I have much to do and much to learn and suddenly I really don't have all the time in the world, nor all the answers to solve all of the world's crisis's but now, more than ever, I want to try to do my part.
The list goes on. I am finding that maybe aging isn’t such a bad thing. I would never trade my adorable grandson for less grey hair or a flatter stomach and firmer end zone.
Life comes with broken hearts— there we learn strength and love and compassion. It comes with trials and struggles and challenges—there we learn faith, hope, patience and endurance. It comes with adventure and experience— there we can learn wisdom.
Each and every day that we have on this earth can be a blessing. We can either cherish it or go out kicking and screaming. It is my hope that I can learn to cherish it and age with grace.
And so, in ending this blog, I have to add some of the humor that goes with aging. After all, in the beginning I did mention we have to have a sense of humor with aging, right?
When I was younger, one of my favorite shows was “The Sound of Music” Now that does age me, doesn’t it? This may be a bit of that “denying my age stuff” but “The Sound of Music” was the best picture of 1965 and one of the best musicals ever produced. In 1965, I was a little young to appreciate this fine film. But my mother helped me to appreciate it several years later.
This is a copy of a forward I received on Julie Andrews. It fit perfectly with my blog today and I couldn’t resist using it. I was unable to locate the original author: I could certainly relate to her feelings, could you? (Be honest and proud of it if you could!)
Julie Andrews turned 69 and to commemorate her 69th birthday on October 1, actress/vocalist Julie Andrews made a special appearance at Manhattan's Radio City Music Hall for the benefit of the AARP. One of the musical numbers she performed was "My Favourite Things" from the legendary movie "The Sound Of Music."
Here are the actual lyrics she used:
Maalox and nose drops and needles for knitting,
Walkers and handrails and new dental fittings,
Bundles of magazines tied up in string,
These are a few of my favourite things.
Cadillac's and cataracts, and hearing aids and glasses,
Polident and Fixodent and false teeth in glasses,
Pacemakers, golf carts and porches with swings,
These are a few of my favourite things..
When the pipes leak, When the bones creak,
When the knees go bad,
I simply remember my favourite things,
And then I don't feel so bad.
Hot tea and crumpets and corn pads for bunions,
No spicy hot food or food cooked with onions,
Bathrobes and heating pads and hot meals they bring,
These are a few of my favourite things.
Back pains, confused brains, and no need for sinnin',
Thin bones and fractures and hair that is thinnin',
And we won't mention our short, shrunken frames,
When we remember our favourite things.
When the joints ache, When the hips break,
When the eyes grow dim,
Then I remember the great life I've had,
And then I don't feel so bad.
Now there is a sense of humor from a lady who has aged gracefully! :)
*FYI The article I referred to in my blog for information was written by David Leonhardt on aging gracefully.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
My husband chooses not to celebrate Halloween. For a while I had assumed that was for the same reason Evangelical Christians don't celebrate it - because it is associated with the occult and forces of evil. However, I found out recently that the real reason is because he thought it isn't a British tradition. Roderic is very patriotic - it's one of the things I love about him.
I have mentioned here before that we didn't mark Halloween at all when I was growing up. We were aware of it and were a little scared that it was supposed to be the night when the ghosts roamed the earth, but our real celebration was Guy Fawkes Night on 5th November and all our family activities and traditions were all centred around that. The observance of Halloween in our part of Britain only started about ten years ago. I remember taking my eldest daughter (now 15) trick-or-treating for the first time, and having to explain to some of the neighbours that they were supposed to give her a treat, not the other way around.
However, yesterday I learned that observing Halloween by putting candles inside hollowed-out root vegetables and taking children door-to-door asking for treats is a British Isles tradition after all, having originated with the Celts in Ireland and Scotland. Even the name "Halloween" is a Scottish corruption of "All Hallows Ev'n" and for centuries there it has been traditional to carve neeps (turnips), and for children to go "guising" (dressing in disguise and asking for coins) and/or "souling"; visiting homes asking for gifts of fruit in return for prayers for the souls of the dead. It seems that Scottish and Irish immigrants brought the tradition to America, and American TV brought it all the way back to England where it is doing its best to oust Guy Fawkes night as the big festival of the Autumn.
We usually assume that traditions are deeply rooted in history, but in fact it only takes a few short years, or a generation, to start a tradition. Roderic pointed out to me that fish and chips is the British traditional national dish, but potatoes were only introduced to these islands in the sixteenth century. So that tradition is less than 500 years old. And already here, with Halloween still relatively new and unpopular, it seems that homes which are happy to entertain trick-or-treaters are displaying a lighted pumpkin outside, and somehow we all know not to knock on those that don't. I don't remember that from last year. The tradition is already developing.
Sadly, I haven't seen anyone asking for "A penny for the Guy" for years.
Our family has its own traditions. We have fast food every Monday night as part of Family Home Evening. We put up the Christmas tree on the first Sunday in December. We celebrate birthdays by decorating the dining room overnight and putting all the presents on the table. Little things, but like other traditions they can really help make us feel part of something special. A tradition doesn't need to be old to be important, or enjoyable, it just has to be something which we associate with the remembrance of something bigger.
Monday, November 1, 2010
This past month has been a blur in our neck of the woods. So many challenging trials are taking place all around me. A couple of those have had quite an impact on my own life.
I've served as the YW president in our ward for nearly 5 years. In that time, I've grown close to the young women that I serve. A month ago, one of my Laurels was involved in a horrible car accident.
My husband and I hurried to the hospital as soon as we learned the news. Samantha was in ER, still unconscious. As I'm also a visiting teacher to Samantha's mother, I spent some time trying to offer comfort as we all prayed that Sam would wake up.
Sam didn't regain consciousness and it was decided that she would be flown by Life-Flight to a hospital in Salt Lake City. However, the weather was nasty that night and fate had other plans. Instead of taking Sam to Salt Lake, the helicopter flew her to the hospital in Idaho Falls, where she has been ever since.
It was a tough few days in the neighborhood. The accident had taken place on a Thursday afternoon. That Sunday she was still in a coma. I had to face a room full of grieving young women and didn't know quite how to handle things. Our Father in heaven did, however. After a heartfelt prayer, an inspired idea popped into my mind. We would make a cassette tape for Sam, one that would contain messages of love from all of the girls and YW leaders.
As we made the tape that Sunday morning, we decided to include a few musical numbers since Sam loves music and she was our main pianist in the YW realm. We saw a tiny miracle take place during YW as tearful frowns turned into hopeful smiles. Making that tape for Samantha was healing for us all.
We were able to get the tape to Sam's family two days later, and it was transferred to the hospital in Idaho Falls. We were later told that Sam had tapped her foot in time to the music as it had been played, and she had moved around in her bed during the messages. Still unconscious, Sam's reaction to the tape gave us hope that she would eventually wake from the coma.
We've seen several miracles with Sam the past few weeks. Prayers have indeed been answered. Despite the brain shearing injury Samantha sustained, she finally woke up, and she is recovering at an amazing rate. She is now in the rehab center of Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, making impressive progress each day. You can see daily updates on this link: Sam's Blogsite
Every bone in Samantha's body should have been broken in that accident. Aside from the brain injury, she was fine. That in and of itself is amazing, and a testament to how watched over she really was.
My husband and I stopped in for a quick visit at the hospital in Idaho Falls this past week. It was heartwarming to see Sam's smile, and to hear her call my name. Though she has a ways to go toward a complete recovery, an inner light radiates from her eyes, indicating she is determined to win this battle.
How grateful we are that the Lord is truly at the helm. We have to put our trust in Him, especially when things spiral out of our control. Though life's trials continue, we know that things generally work out for the best. We can't see the entire picture now, but someday it will all make sense.
Along those lines, I will close with a favorite poem that pretty well sums things up:
Written by B.M. Franklin (1882-1965)
My life is just a weaving
Between my Lord and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaves so skillfully.
Sometimes He weaveth sorrow
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ‘til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And explain the reasons why-
The dark threads are as needful,
In The Weaver’s skillful hands
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Get Ready, Get Set, Nominate
The year is winding down and it's time for LDS fiction readers to give some thought to nominees for the annual Whitney Academy Awards. These honors are awarded in various categories, generally referred to as genres. Genre fiction and popular fiction are terms used interchangeably in discussions of literary works. They don't mean the exact same thing, but their definitions are close enough that I'm not going to quibble. For this discussion, either term will refer to the type of fiction purchased and read most frequently by readers, though literary fiction is not excluded.
I'm often asked to define what the various genre labels mean, and I'll be honest, defining categories of fiction is not as easy as it may sound. Many authors, teachers, librarians, and critics disagree on precise definitions, and for good reasons. What the reader brings to a book is often as critical as what the author put into it. Someone I admire greatly and I have often disagreed over the genre categories various books have been placed in for judging the Whitney Awards. She may see a story of historical significance while I recognize a beautiful love story as the paramount element of the story. I might call a story Young Adult and she sees it as General Fiction.
I'm pleased to hear that this year LDS novels may be entered in more than one genre for Whitney Academy judging. There have been several occasions where a truly excellent book has been a finalist or even won when it didn't come close to fitting the parameters of the category it was placed in and equally sad were the omissions of great books because, though some readers may have thought they were a particular genre, the judges did not. In my opinion there's nothing wrong with a title being recognized in more than one category. Hopefully this decision will make recognition of the truly best books more probable.
At one time the term LDS Fiction was considered a genre class of its own. Now LDS fiction is broken into as many categories as is main stream fiction. Here's a quick, though not definitive, rundown of the various genres.
Romance: This category includes love stories which may be humorous, historical, western, suspense, or mystery as well. Some readers lump all stories considered of particular interest to women in the romance category; others prefer a separate women's issues genre which includes social issues stories dealing with parenting, abuse, divorce, and other subjects generally discussed more openly by women than men. By the way, stories where sexual attraction is the major factor, more so than the actual relationship and emotions experienced by the lovers, is another genre, not romance.
Historical: These stories are set in a previous time period and are related to known facts of that era. They may or may not include historical figures. Unless the setting is historically accurate and the events of that period can be documented, novels in this category are generally considered more speculative than historical. Stories based on a verse of scripture or a little know scriptural character, particularly those from the Book of Mormon where little is known of day to day life and precise locations, sometimes fall into a strange limbo as the background and events are more guesswork than based on fact. Educated guesswork often places these novels in the historical realm, but whether they belong there is questioned by many historical readers. Historical accuracy is of prime importance to readers of this genre.
Mystery/Suspense: Sometimes Mystery and Suspense are lumped together as one genre though they are not precisely the same. A mystery includes a puzzle to be solved while suspense implies high tension and may not even involve solving some unknown question. Both have as many sub genres as writers are able to imagine. Many include a great love story. They can be set in any time period or place, real or imaginary.
Speculative: This category is loaded with sub genres. Some of the most popular are those that make a guess about the future, whether it is the Second Coming, near annihilation of our planet, or Space exploration. Some make educated guesses concerning a previous time period such as the Ice Age or a scriptural time period. Others deal with imaginary demons, monsters, special powers, mythical characters, or life on an alternative world. Horror, especially if imaginary creatures or pseudo science are involved, may fall in this category. Science Fiction and Fantasy are both generally included in speculative fiction.
Westerns: Westerns deal with the settlement of the Western United States. They are usually lighter than historicals dealing with this same time period. Horses and/or cattle usually appear prominently and there is a strong distinction between good and bad. Native Americans often play a role in this genre as do miners, guns, and wild animals native to the West.
Youth Fiction or YA: This category is broken down into all of the same genre classifications as adult fiction though the characters are younger, the language a little simpler, and the stories are of particular interest to a younger audience. There is usually a "coming of age" factor shown as the characters progress toward maturity. Once YA was considered pretty much aimed toward the high school/college age crowd, but now often includes the first post college years when young people first step into the real adult world. On the other hand, when I worked as a librarian, I found more and more books once considered middle readers, suitable for fifth through eighth graders, reclassified as YA.
General Fiction: This is a catchall category for books that don't fall into any other category well. These books range from social issues, explorations of philosophies, to a blurring of several other categories. Sometimes they exhibit elements of literary works. Horror is generally considered a sub genre of General Fiction, especially if it contemporary and closely linked to possibility, but because of its increasing popularity it may be placed in its own genre.
I urge readers to get nominations in for the 2010 Whitney Awards. Any novel written by an LDS author and released during 2010 is eligible. For this award to be of significant worth in the field of LDS fiction, there needs to be more nominations come from non-industry-related readers. To read more about the Whitney Awards Program or to nominate a novel(s) go here. You can suggest which category or categories you think your favorite novels fit in, but you don't have to. You are also welcome to expand, agree, or disagree with my definitions of the various genres in the comment trail below. I'll even forward your comments to the chairman of the Whitney contest.