Wednesday, March 31, 2010

April fool

It seems Mother Nature is playing her own brand of April Fool joke this year---and it's not the first time. All too frequently, just when we think Spring has arrived, she dumps a load of snow on us. Making it even more odd this year, not only are there four inches of snow on my spring flowers, but my Christmas cactus is happily bursting into bloom.

With five brothers, I grew up the victim of more April Fool gags than I can possibly remember. There were the usual switching salt for sugar breakfast trials, the "what's thats?", the fake phone calls, and the chairs that were jerked aside just when I tried to sit . When it came right down to it, my older brothers didn't need April Fools' Day to give them an excuse to play pranks. One morning they covered a new little apple tree with big, fat cherries. They convinced a younger brother to plant his quarter in the garden to grow a money tree. They removed the peas from a carefully opened pea pod, then filled it with warm milk to seal it shut again, then gave it to me so they could laugh when the milk spilled down my shirt. One brother pinned me inside a sheet and hung me on the clothesline. They gave me sabotaged pens that dripped ink, they locked me in the outhouse, they put creepy stuff in my shoes, they glued the pages of my books together.

Is it any wonder I grew up to play a few pranks myself? I think my roommates hated me by the end of our Freshman April Fools' Day. I stayed up late after they'd all gone to bed the night before. Using a hypodermic needle, I carefully removed all the Crest toothpaste from the tubes of those roommates who used that brand of toothpaste. The next step was to mix Comet cleanser into a paste and using the same method, carefully insert the mixture back into the tubes. (One of those roommates is now a state supreme court judge in another state. I wouldn't want to land in her court!) Those were the days when young women wore girdles whether they needed one or not. A little honey carefully smeared on the toilet seat created all kinds of havoc. Everyone's bed got short-sheeted that day. And of course, I did the old sugar, salt switcheroo. Not content to make my roommates' lives miserable, I sneaked out to apply syrup to the underside of one roommate's boyfriend's car door handles.

Of course my roommates figured out I was behind the pranks and they did their best to get even, but I managed to side step each of their attempts. (I learned well from all those brothers) It wasn't until I'd been married a few months and I pulled an awful April Fool prank on my husband, that someone got even. He and I don't pull pranks on each other anymore.

I'll be the first to admit some of the pranks I played went too far as did some of my brothers', but none of those pranks resulted in anyone being hurt---annoyed, frustrated, embarrassed, yes, but hurt, no. Sadly, somewhere along the way, too many pranks have turned mean or malicious. When pranks turn into bullying or abuse, something is terribly wrong. Recently two teenage girls in separate incidents have been bullied and teased until they killed themselves. There's a sick prank going around the internet that the perpetrators probably consider as harmless as the "Is your refrigerator running?" telephone calls kids once made. Now cruel messages are left on mortuary guest message pages--anonymous of course. Have we lost track of what humor is and what it isn't? I'm beginning to think that what our world needs now is some really good humor writers. I just finished reading all of the Whitney finalists and there's only two humorous books in the lot and a few funny lines in a couple of the mysteries. With all of the serious problems in today's world, we could use a little comic relief.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Gotta LoveThose Challenges

A year ago my brother and his wife moved in with me since he hadn’t worked regularly in several years. Even more, his wife’s health is poor it not only affects his work (she has several appointments a month with different doctors), her medical bills are relentless.

My brother is very gentle and sweet and I count it a great blessing to get to know him again. It’s been more difficult to find the blessing in having his wife with me. I have a fairly loose definition of clean; my sister-in-law’s OCD manifests itself in her very rigid definition of clean. I like my space and solitude; she needs a lot of attention, to the point of insisting my brother drop whatever he’s doing and do what she wants when she wants it. I’ve found myself very resentful of her demands and needs, although she didn’t choose her challenges and I can’t say that I would handle her life and challenges any better that she does, if I were in her place.

Still….having her in my life, in my home, is one of the most difficult challenges I’ve had in life. Dealing with difficult people at work, at church, in my community—there have been some extremely painful times when I didn’t know how to deal with certain situations and people. I can’t say my current situation is any worse than the worst of them, but it certainly has been trying.

One night, for example, I was so upset as I went to bed I found my mind having one conversation after another with my s-i-l about something she had done. I decided to sing a hymn to myself. When the hymn ended, the conversation started up again. So I sang another hymn. Afterward, the conversation was back. I went through about 10 hymns and 6 or 7 Primary songs. Finally I got up and since my brother was up I spoke with him. The next day I was able to resolve the situation with only a few words that in no way resembled my internal conversation the night before.

One day I received some completely unexpected help. I had taken my s-i-l to get her hair done, and I decided to wait for her in a nearby library where I came across a book by Karen Casey called Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow. It was exactly what I needed. Since that day several thoughts have stayed with me:

1. Everything, and everyone, is in our life for a reason.
2. We can control input but not outcome. (my behavior, not hers)
3. We are responsible for making the effort, nothing more.
4. We can make the decision to accept all situations as opportunities to include God in our lives, then wait for the change in our perception that will certainly come.
5. If we allow God to handle what is happening and to comfort us at the same time, we will become aware that all experiences are for our good; they are fragments of a bigger picture, and the part each person plays is necessary.

Some days are easier than others; other times I feel like I’ve made a few steps forward and several backwards. I confess I look forward to remembering this experience long after it is past and knowing I learned from it but it’s over. No doubt by then I’ll have some other challenge to keep me growing.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Thank you!

I have a beautiful picture above my computer. Golden sunbeams shine through dappled green leaves and a silver stream gurgles between moss-covered rocks. In the middle is a quote I love:

"Appreciation is a free gift that you can give to anyone you encounter - it is completely your choice. And each time you choose to thank someone for a job well done, you are making the world a better place." Barbara Glanz

That is so true. We all like to be thanked for whatever we have done, even if we don't realize it at the time. My husband loves being praised and thanked for mowing the lawn - something that has been his job since we were married. (Except when he was flying to England to sit alert every other month for a couple of years. I got a new lawnmower for Mother's Day so I could take on that duty.) But I thank him for keeping our yard and gardens beautiful, and praise him in front of others so they will appreciate his hard work, too. He loves it and is more willing to go the extra mile to make things special.
He thanks me for preparing his lunch and dinner every day, and I appreciate him acknowledging I do put a lot of time and effort into making nutritious and hopefully delicious meals. He doesn't say thank you for doing the laundry, but it's only because he doesn't think about it. I thank him (silently) for NOT doing my laundry if he sees a batch ready to go into the washer that hasn't made it there yet. :)
One or two members of the bishopric will turn before they leave the stand as I'm playing postlude and say "Thank you for the music today." They don't have to do that, but I appreciate it, though I certainly don't expect it.
Two of my daughters and my son are very vocal about saying thank you for gifts or favors or babysitting or whatever, even to raising them properly. It makes me want to do more. Our oldest, our adopted daughter, would choke and probably expire if the words thank you ever left her lips. Unfortunately, her three girls never hear those words so they don't know how to say them either. Needless to say, after sending them very generous Christmas and birthday presents for years, I put a p.s. in their Christmas card that held their check this year. "If I don't receive an acknowledgment that you have received this, there will be no more coming." What fun to receive a thank you from each of the girls (not my daughter) thanking me.
Every year at Christmas and other holidays, I stick a treat in the mail box for our mail lady as a thank you for her service. We've had the same one for probably 15 years. Apparently not many people do that as she always writes a little note of sincere gratitude.
I make it a habit to thank clerks and baggers at the grocery store, sales people in retail, and waitresses in restaurants. I think they really appreciate it, as so many patrons apparently take their service for granted. I know it makes my day when someone that doesn't really need to acknowledges something I've done, even if it was my job.
I recall one incident that probably makes me more aware of this "thank you" business. We were moving the next day, and in the middle of all the last minute packing of the car, etc., the executive secretary called and reminded me that I needed to be at ward council meeting that evening. I hadn't been released as YW president, but since I was bodily moving out of the ward in 12 hours, I hadn't planned on going. But I washed my face, changed clothes and raced to the chapel which was a 30 minute drive. We conducted the business, said the closing prayer, and the bishop never even looked at me the entire meeting, even when it was my turn to discuss the business. After the meeting, every other person in that room said good-bye, it was fun working with you, have a great life and thanks for coming tonight when you were so busy. I left with my head spinning. What had I done - or hadn't done - that the bishop (whose family we were close to) didn't even say farewell and thanks for your efforts?
Now, I try to never leave a person wondering where they stand. A quick e-mail after someone has spoke in sacrament meeting or given a good lesson, or performed a musical number, or offered a service, or been caught doing a good thing - all these are opportunities to show appreciation for their efforts and their example.
After our RS birthday celebration last week, I sent a quick one-line e-mail to all those who participated on the program (which was delightful!) and told them how much I enjoyed their performance (or their cake) or whatever. I had to replies saying thanks for my notes. They were happy to know it was appreciated.
What an easy thing to do to bring a little sunshine into someone's world! Thank you for bringing love and sunshine into my world. I appreciate you, your words of encouragement, your prayers, and your sharing experiences that help me realize I'm not alone in all of this craziness. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Twitter" Me Dumb!

Recently I have received several invitations from friends inviting me to join them on Face book and Linked In.

I hear kids at my son’s school walking down the hall speaking of “tweeting” someone back on Twitter. (Back in my day, the only thing I knew of "Tweetie" anything was the yellow bird that always saw a "puddy tat") Let me insert here (to emphasize my point) that I never dreamed of the time when I would say, “Back in my day…”

Every package you purchase with a cell whether it’s a Blackberry, Droid, or I-phone (like I even know what some of these are…) includes texting, internet access, and email.

If you aren’t on board in the technological world, you could feel very lost. I unfortunately am one of the lost souls. I am way behind in the times.

On the other hand, as an author, look at what technology can do for us. Research is a matter of clicking and typing a few buttons on the computer as opposed to pouring through volumes of books in a library to verify facts.

Reaching people across the world is as simple as sitting down at a computer and using messenger and if you have the right equipment, you can even see the person with whom you are communicating half a world away all at the cost of a minimal monthly internet access charge.

You can travel the world over and do virtual tours without ever leaving your living room. (It’s true that you still miss so much when you don’t experience the real thing, but when time, money, health, or other reasons factor against you going, what an excellent second choice!)

Your characters can walk the walk, and talk the talk of just about any plot or profession you can imagine if you do your homework thoroughly enough --all made simpler by technology without you as a writer ever having had any like experiences.

Modern day technology is certainly advanced enough that if used unwisely it can lead to trouble, but as a writer, it can make our lives so much easier. The world is at our fingertips.

My problem is keeping up with the fast pace in which technology is expanding. I still struggle with typing on a normal keyboard, let alone a tiny pocket sized cell phone. I’m terrified of Face book because I don’t understand it, and Twitter makes me feel like I am Twitter Dee-Dumb. I confess, I don’t even know for sure what Twitter is, let alone how to use it.

I do know that with the wide use of technology, we have a greater chance of getting our names and our books out to a much wider group of people. We can have a personal contact with each and every one of those people if we so wish. To me, that’s exciting. At one time it was inconceivable. Look how far we have come even in our own lifetime.
If you look back on your own life span, I am sure you would be amazed at the advancements technology has made since you were a child.

In a very real sense, technology has made the world a much smaller place. We can all connect with each other…if you know how. :)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Why I love America

by Anna Jones Buttimore

I move onto this topic with some trepidation, since my last two efforts (on poetry and the perfect day) have appeared to continue or start something of a theme. If I get the other ladies taking up this subject I suspect some very long and lyrical blogs will ensue and we could be here all night.

On Saturday I fly out to America. We are spending two weeks in Florida, then flying to Wyoming to visit an old school friend of mine, and then driving to Salt Lake City to visit just about everyone. I am so excited I keep forgetting to breathe. It’ll be my fourth visit to the USA, and so by now I am starting to learn the language. I know, for example, not to arrive at an airport and demand a trolley (when I probably mean a cart), lest I upset the lovely person who has come to collect me in an unfeasibly large, yet apparently unsuitable, car. I’m even almost blasé about seeing those incredibly exotic sights. On the first day of one visit I rode the Zoo Train at Arizona Zoo and gasped and exclaimed at all the amazingly rare, interesting and unusual things I saw - Drinking fountains! Pretzel stands! Helpful salespeople!

So here’s what I love about America, and what I am looking forward to:

Free refills • Taco Bell • Keen and smiling waiters and waitresses • People who bag your groceries for you • Wendy’s • Denny’s • Churros • Corn dogs • Corn bread • Drinking fountains • Pretzel stands • Florida weather • Utah weather (where even the snow is warm) • Wide roads • Open spaces • Closets • Big Houses • People not only knowing what LDS means, but thinking it’s normal • Lots of other people being LDS too • Cheap petrol • Earnest and straightforward people • “All-you-can-eat” • Pretzels • Being able to buy shoes in my size • Trail mix • TV with adverts • Helpful salespeople • People liking my accent (over here my Essex accent is thought to be unpleasant and common) • Bookshops with seating areas and cafes where you’re encouraged to look through the books before you buy • Seeing my book on shelves in bookshops • Reacquainting myself with lots of wonderful people I don’t see often enough • Finally meeting lots of wonderful people I feel I already know!

Four days to go…

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Writer Writes

Since it's my turn to blog and my husband is still off on his five day break (translation: my time is not my own) I decided to share some favorite quotes about the writing world. Enjoy and remember what someone once told me: "A writer writes!" [This wisdom was shared with me during a trip to Nauvoo that we enjoyed with two other families---close friends. After noticing that I was frantically scribbling notes everywhere we toured, one woman remarked that it was obvious I was meant to be a writer since that's all I seemed to be doing. She forgot that I also took a plethora of pictures, so in that vein, I suspect a photographer photos . . . or words to that effect. ;) ] Enjoy!

Quotes About Writing

"A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." -Thomas Mann

"If a writer wrote merely for his time, I would have to break my pen and throw it away." -Victor Hugo

"The novel is an event in consciousness. Our aim isn't to copy actuality, but to modify and recreate our sense of it. The novelist is inviting the reader to watch a performance in his own brain." -George Buchanan

"There is no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion." -Winston Churchill

"There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." -W. Somerset Maugham

"I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper." -Steve Martin

"After being turned down by numerous publishers, he had decided to write for posterity." -George Ade

"A writer should have another lifetime to see if he's appreciated." -Jorge Luis Borges

"This report, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read." -Winston Churchill

"By writing much, one learns to write well." -Robert Southey

"Write quickly and you will never write well. Write well, and you will soon write quickly." -Marcus Fabius Quintilianus

"I have made this letter longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter." -Blaise Pascal

"The ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding." -Francis Bacon

"It's none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way." -Ernest Hemingway

"There is no great writing, only great rewriting." -Justice Brandeis

"Writing is 1 percent inspiration, and 99 percent elimination." -Louise Brooks

"Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good." -Samuel Johnson

"I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell an interesting story entertainingly." -Edgar Rice Burroughs

"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." -Robert Frost

"Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head and as you get older, you become more skillful casting them." -Gore Vidal

"Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. But not necessarily in that order." -Robert Silverberg

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Seeking the Perfect Day

My idea of a perfect day? Since that seems to be the current theme, I've been thinking about it for several days and I've concluded that perfect days are a lot like the way President Hinckley compared life to a ride on an old-fashioned train; lots of smoke, cinders, bumps, jars, and a few grand vistas. It would be nice to have a day to sleep in, have a nice big breakfast of pancakes, sausage, eggs, and orange juice, spend a few hours writing (the words would all come easily, of course), eat a leisurely lunch on the deck watching the birds and working a Sudoku puzzle, putter around in my garden for an hour or two, then spend the rest of the afternoon reading a fascinating book and perhaps making a call to one of my children. The evening would begin with a scrumptious dinner with my husband (either eaten out or prepared by someone other than me) followed by more time to read until bedtime. Such a day may sound quite ordinary, but is actually rare or never.

Among the smoke and cinders of my not-so-perfect days have been rheumatic fever, being the new girl too many times, financial worry, broken bones, bloody noses, picking potatoes, thinning beets, hurt feelings, disappointments, knowing I could have done better, sick kids, deaths of loved ones, a dishonest boss, not enough sleep, hayfever, asthma, cancer, and worrying about my children and grandchildren.

There have been a number of days in my life that have come pretty close to perfect, but those have been pretty rare too. There was the day our first daughter was married in the Salt Lake Temple, the day our son returned home from his mission, the day our second daughter and her husband joined us for an excursion to Victoria . . . There have been far more days when perfection was only a moment or a few hours, but those short glimpses of perfection make up the moments I treasure the most. My childhood was filled with a lot of hard work. That's the way it was for farm kids. But it was filled with perfect moments as well; riding on Flicka, playing house with Mona or my sisters, hiding out in the tree house with my best friend, Roger, swimming in the canal, Mama reading to us in the evening after the chores were done, going for a chocolate malt with Daddy, Christmas mornings, riding in Grandpa's model-T, falling asleep watching the stars, fishing along Willow Creek . . .

As I grew older there were dances in Sun Valley, skimming over the ice on a frozen pond, giggling with girlfriends, shopping trips with my sister, Vada, hiking and fishing in Montana's wilderness area with my dad, college roommates, a special boyfriend . . .

The time was filled with a lot of bumps, but also many beautiful vistas as I became a wife and mother, holding a newborn in my arms, falling asleep with a two-year-old in a big chair, family camping trips, visits to Grandpa and Grandma's farm, trips to Yellowstone, zoo excursions, watching my children grow and learn, then become responsible adults. There were perfect moments, pay days you might say, with each of our children's weddings. Walking into the room in the Bountiful Temple where our fourth child was married was one of the most overwhelmingly beautiful, perfect moments of my life.

Few experiences are more perfect than holding each grandchild for the first time, though seeing our only adopted grandchild placed in our daughter's arms by his brave little birth mother ranks right at the top of the perfect moment chart. I find a lot of perfect moments serving in the temple too.

Professionally there were shining moments as well as I wrote an occasional magazine article, then became a newspaper reporter and experienced entering a burning house with firemen, flying with the Air National Guard on a refueling tanker, and receiving state and national journalism awards. Receiving my first book contract, then holding the finished product in my hand stirred feelings impossible to describe. Being honored by my peers for a lifetime of achievement as a writer certainly ranks as one of those grand vistas.

To have that perfect day, I think we must take Michele's advice to step outside of our comfort zones, work at it, and be prepared to make discoveries. There are some who choose to wallow in hard times and adversity. Some let hardship or misfortune define their lives. Some let disappointment and rejection smash their dreams. If we want perfect days we need to first look past the hard times to see what is right in our lives then keep moving. We need to accept new challenges and we need to take joy in the here and now. Rejection should be turned into determination to be better. Just as a perfectly toned body endures a lot of bruises and aches along the way to perfection, so must we take a few lumps along the path to perfect days. Perfect moments and days aren't the product of elaborate vacations, gifts, or perfect plans. We need to recognize that our children will misbehave, sometimes we or loved ones will fall ill, cars break down, there's never enough money, and sometimes we really are too tired. Instead of allowing these lumps to become roadblocks, let's set them aside and make the best of what life hands us. It's funny how the ordinary has a way of becoming a precious memory and time turns those memories into perfect days.

Stepping out of our comfort zones!

Since I've turned 50 (sometimes I still can't believe it) I have entered into a new phase of self-awareness. The first realization is that aging does mean things to our bodies. The words; droopy, saggy, wrinkly, achy, sleepy, forgetful and squinty come to mind. Like Snow White's seven dwarf's evil doppelgangers. It's like my body is changing without my permission.

Another realization is that I love where I'm at mentally and emotionally. There is a level of confidence and peace that I've reached . . . finally. I used to get intimated and frustrated by other people. I don't let things like that get to me any more. Maybe because I don't have the energy to put into it or hopefully because it doesn't make sense to worry about stuff like that.

I've also realized that I still have a lot of growth ahead of me and potential to do amazing things. I'm not done yet . . . In fact, to some degree, I'm actually feeling like I'm entering my best years creatively speaking. Maybe it's that last push before I reach that next decade milestone that is driving me to not be afraid to try new things and dare to achieve goals and dreams.

One example is the fact that I've been teaching exercise/aerobics since I was 22. I just turned 51, so that's 29 years. I started teaching when aerobics first started, the leg-warmers and barefoot years, I survived the horrible and disgusting thong leotard years, and am still going strong. The young girls who are starting to teach are less than half my age! I've been teaching longer than they've been alive!

I'll be honest, last summer I was beginning to think that maybe it was time to hang up my Nike's and headset and let nature take it's course. Then I discovered a new fitness craze called Zumba. (This isn't a shameless plug for Zumba, but if you haven't tried it, you should.) Anyway, I started going to classes at the gym where I teach and absolutely fell in love with it. I have never worked or sweat so hard! I loved it so much that last October I decided to become a certified Zumba instructor. And the best surprise of all was that I wasn't the oldest person at the certification class. I now teach three Zumba classes a week and can keep up with even the youngest participant in the class (except for jumping - bearing children does scary things to one's bladder).

I don't say this to brag and make you think I'm some specimen of health, because I'm not. But here I thought I'd retire at 50, because, frankly, people were kind of expecting me too, and let's be honest, who wants to go to a class taught by an old, wrinkly instructor? But I didn't let that stop me. And now I'm teaching more than I have in 10 years. Even though my feet and knees ache sometimes, I am so glad I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and dared to go for it.

What have you been wanting to do that you haven't dared try? Is there something you've always wanted to accomplish that you've pushed aside because of what others might think?

I want to give you a challenge today, to step out of that boring old comfort zone and see what you are capable of. The possibilities are endless. The only thing keeping you from make those dreams happen and achieving those goals is YOU!

Do it!

Go for it!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Joys of Working and Not Working

The idea of a perfect day is something I’ll need to ponder a while. Certainly a good day involves a good chat with a close friend or family member, sunshine, and something absolutely scrumptious to eat. As Anna pointed out, work does tend to take time away from other things that are important to us, but for most of us, it’s hard to get away from, whatever form it takes.

Some years back I came across a book called Endangered Pleasures, by Barbara Holland. The book is full of short essays about simple joys: from baths and showers to the morning paper, naps, and pets, to mail and bare feet. Two essays that stood out to me were on “Working” and “Not Working.” Oh, the joys of working. Getting a paycheck. Leaving a desk at night and coming back the next day to find everything in exactly the same way you left it (unless you have an ambitious custodial crew). The authors says it nicely:

“The human mind, bewildered by imagination and free will and anxiety and other purely human problems, longs for order. The job supplies it. Perhaps we work for lunatics in a state of constant chaos, but still employment expects us to be in a set place at a set time and concentrate on a set job. The chaos tends to be predictable, even for those in erratically crisis-prone jobs, like firefighters or budget directors.

“At home, especially with a family around us, anything can happen and all of it’s our responsibility. The ceiling falls into the bathtub, the gerbil bites the baby, the baby drinks the Windex, the pipes freeze, there’s a bat in the bedroom or a dead mouse in the oven or a burglar in the living room, the bank threatens to foreclose on the mortgage, and we’re expected to cope. At work, most of us can pass the buck, or some of the bucks. Even the CEO can hand it to the board of directors, who can hand it to the stockholders.

“On the job, we know what we’re supposed to be doing at any given moment. At home we rarely do, and if we did, there’s still no way to organize the priorities. Even while we’re gathering up the trash the dog spread over the kitchen floor, we wonder if we ought to be paying bills instead, while at that very moment the children have found a ladder and are preparing to maroon the baby on the roof. Usually, at work, someone has set limits on what can happen; in the anarchy of home, the worst-case scenario changes hourly.”

I’d love to quote the whole article but I’ll restrain myself. Even though I don’t have children, I share my home with other living beings and I know the chaos and the neverendingness of work at home. My various kinds of work and pleasures involve lots of paper—teaching, editing, writing, genealogy—and in spite of computers, the paper piles keep growing. And while the people in my house mostly take care of themselves (except for the dishes), I have several cats—12, for those who wonder—and while they mostly get along, once in a while, someone walks too close to someone else, someone pokes someone else, or gets into another’s space. And of course, there are mealtimes and cleanup. I know most people can't relate to my lifestyle ,and I can understand how people with children see pets as one more family member to clean up after, but for those who have a full house already, picture your life if you’d never married or had children, and how you would fill that space that your family currently occupies. It's a big space, isn't it?

But back to the subject of working outside of the home. I like many things about working. I love having an office or a workplace, a computer, printer, copy machine, vending machines. I like paychecks and bonuses. I even like meetings. I like the feeling of accomplishment that comes from finishing a project and doing a tough job well. I like not having to be around dishes that need doing or a floor that needs mopping or vacuuming, and even, sometimes, not being around cats who climb all over my keyboard or my shoulders while I’m working on my computer at home.

As for not working, Barbara Holland offers some things to appreciate, regardless of the reason for staying at home (although the reason can make all the difference, whether it's illness, unemployment, or winning the lottery). Consider the pleasure of wearing pajamas or sweats until you feel like getting dressed. Or staying home and drinking hot chocolate on a snowy day when others are slowly making their way to work, slush and ice under their spinning tires. Listening to traffic reports and knowing the only “jam” you’ll encounter that day is on your toast. Not working means you can busy yourself around the house, indoors, where it’s warm on a frigid day, or outside in the garden when it’s beautiful outdoors and everyone who works is stuck indoors (frequently with an overactive air conditioner).

Whatever we do, there are pleasures to be found. And when we’ve had our fill, it may be time to try the grass on the other side of the fence.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ingredients of a Perfect Day

Mmm - should that be ingredients "of" a perfect day or ingredients "for" a perfect day?

Continuing the "day" thread, posted above my computer is a thought-provoking piece done in beautiful calligraphy. I've used it as a thought for the day which I used to send to my kids every morning, and given it to one granddaughter who is collecting special thoughts to post on the walls in her bedroom. I wish I could do it here in a font similar to the original, but you can use your imagination:

Take time to think - It is the source of power.
Take time to play - It is the secret of perpetual youth.
Take time to pray - It is the greatest power on earth.
Take time to read - It is the foundation of wisdom.
Take time to love and be loved - It is a God-given privilege.
Take time to be friendly - It is the road to happiness.
Take time to laugh - It is the music of the soul.
Take time to give - It is too short a day to be selfish.

There you have the ingredients for a perfect day. I would put them in a different order, beginning with prayer, then reading, as in scripture study, then the thinking (pondering) would probably come next, but in reality, it doesn't matter in what order you do them, as long as you do each of them each day.

I have a problem with being too accomplishment-oriented. I make my list of things-to-do-today and work diligently to get everything checked off. What I don't do is put on it some of those more important things, like reading just for fun, calling a friend to see how she's surviving her teenagers, or even just turning off the book on CD as I drive in the car to think and ponder. My husband is a great thinker. He solves lots of problems in marvelously inventive ways, just by sitting still or laying down and closing his eyes and relaxing - and thinking.

Today I think I'll take each of these ingredients and see if I can work some magic to make it a perfect day - after my visiting teachers visit, and I take a lady to the vet for her dog's shots, and deliver a baby quilt, and do a return to Ross, and run to the grocery store, and make a zillion phone calls, and see if I can entice a lady on our visiting teaching list to get out of the house and go to lunch with me and quit dwelling on her children's problems for an hour, and do the laundry, and catch up my journal and finish getting the financial figures ready to do our taxes you see a pattern emerging here?

Anna, we are indeed sisters. Interesting that life gets in the way of all of our good intentions. But if we keep trying, maybe someday, we'll have that perfect day.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ideal Days

I'm going to do a follow-up on Anna's wonderful post about ideal days and real days.

When a day turns out even a wee bit like we've planned, we not only call it an ideal day but an idyllic day. We don't get many idyllic days in our lifetimes, but when we do we remember them forever. "Hey! Remember that trip to Disneyland in 1992 when the weather was perfect, the lines were short, and nobody got sick?" or "Honey, remember that day when you and I got a babysitter for the kids and we packed a picnic and went hiking?" or when my daughter says, "Mom, remember that Thanksgiving when you and I set an elegant table together, everyone pitched in and brought yummy food, and the men did the dishes?"

I'm noticing a pattern here. Most of my idyllic days revolve around family and the time we spend together. Now, don't get me wrong, our family is just as crazy as yours: rushing to get to places on time, arguments, house a mess, chaos, sadness, and challenges. But, I don't really remember those horrid times. Amazingly, as the months and years go by, those hard times fade, and the good and idellyic times seem to shine out like warm little suns. Funny how that happens.

I don't think today is going to be anything special. I have laundry to do and a bunch of correspondence to send. I'm attending a political rally, grocery shopping, and making dinner. It doesn't sound like this is going to be one of those "remember when" days. But, you never know--maybe my hubby will surprise me with flowers. The point is, everyday is precious, everything from sunset walks on a beach in Hawaii, to standing in line at the super market. The mundane days build character, the idyllic days nourish the soul.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Just a Perfect Day

After my usual half-hour of morning scripture study I gently awaken my sleeping children. Full of energy they bound down the stairs for a healthy breakfast, then scamper back up again to brush their teeth and dress themselves in their freshly-ironed uniforms as the eldest leaves, with a cheery wave, to walk to her senior school. We cycle to the primary school and arrive in plenty of time, and once they are both at their desks I set off home. An hour of housework, then I settle down to read a chapter of a book as I drink my morning hot chocolate and chat to my husband. Then it's time to write. I write 2,000 words before lunch, then hang the washing out to dry and settle down again to revise a couple of chapters of another work in progress. My husband elects to collect the children from school so that I can carry on with my writing. At 5 p.m. I close the laptop, having written 3,000 words and revised 5,000 more, and start cooking tea. We eat together, chatting about our day, and then the children head up the stairs for bed at 8 p.m. and Hubby Dearest and I settle down to watch a good film together.

That's my ideal day. What actually happens is this:

I keep hitting snooze, so don't get up in time to do more than ten minutes' scripture study before it's time to yell at the children, who all refuse to get up. I can't find any clean uniform, and they all insist on ice-cream and noodles for breakfast. We are so late leaving for school that we have to go in the car and then we can't find anywhere to park. I arrive back home eventually and stumble past the dirty breakfast bowls, filthy floor and mounds of laundry to go to my cold, damp office (at the back of the garage) and do five hours' paid work for a legal charity. As soon as I finish it's time to drive back to school in order to secure a space in the tiny car park. I sit in the cold car for half an hour, reading a book, and then walk into the playground to collect the children. It's raining, and they're late coming out, so I'm soaked by the time we get home. They all demand snacks and drinks at once, and they all have homework they need help with, so I throw a pizza in the oven for tea (for the second time this week) since I don't have time to make anything else. After the usual tears-at-bedtime routine, I stumble down the stairs to start work on the scene of devastation, and spend the next hour doing housework and laundry before Hubby Dearest arrives home from his meeting, and we collapse, exhausted, into bed.

Did you notice the crucial thing missing from my day? I didn't do any writing. And that's the problem. I like my job, and I like that it pays me money, but I would love not to have to work. I just want to write. It is a wrench to have to go to that office every morning when my house needs to be cleaned, and my laptop is calling out to me, reminding me that I have left characters languising lost in a strange jungle. Any writing I manage to do is a snatched five minutes here and there, which doesn't help with continuity.

But one day I hope that perfect day will be mine. I will make enough money from a book to be able to give up my job and write for a living. So I suppose I had better work harder at finding time to write that pot of gold...

OK, moan over, I feel better now.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Where have all the cowboys gone?

Not long ago I watched some little boys playing. They were pretending to be various Star Wars characters, Spiderman, or various other super heroes. It dawned on me that there were a lot of similarities between their game and the games I played with my brothers and neighborhood children when I was their age, only instead of superheroes, we were cowboys, Indians, and outlaws. Whatever the game is called, it's really a game of children looking up to "bigger than life" heroes, a belief that good can triumph over evil, and an attempt to prove that honor matters. It's the creation of an imaginative world, peopled by good guys who outsmart and out-maneuver the bad guys.

Every generation has its own set of heroes. Mine wore chaps, Stetsons, and boots. My grandsons' wear Power Rangers Helmets. Mine carried a rifle and wore a six-shooter on his hip. My grandsons' heroes carry ray guns and atomic blasters. Mine rode Trigger or Silver. Theirs ride space ships. Mine were the best because they could out-track, out-shoot, or out-smart their enemies. Theirs are the best because they have special powers. (Special powers are okay, I guess, so long as they aren't getting those powers by ingesting some kind of substance that equates in my mind a little too closely to drugs.) I suppose my grandsons will go on to read Science Fiction the way I graduated to Louis L'Amour books, The Virginian, and Jeanne Williams.

As adults we never quite outgrow our childhood heroes. I know adults who own every Star Wars or Superman DVD, toy, or book. There are many adults who collect cowboy movies, decorate their homes with a Southwest motif, and haunt garage sales to buy up Louis L'Amore and Zane Grey novels. And I'll admit I'm among those who still love a good Western novel.

Westerns are few and far between in LDS writing circles today, so I don't often get to read one. In fact they're a diminishing genre in the general market too. There's still a good number of Western fans, but many of us are turned off by many of the newer writers who fill their pages with profanity, sex, and excessive violence in place of the old "code of the West." So I was pleasantly surprised when recently Return of the Outlaw by C.M. Curtis landed on my desk and I'll admit I was anxious to read it. It's the story of a young Civil War hero who returns home to find his sweetheart engaged to someone else. He drifts farther west, then after his father's death he returns home to claim the family ranch, only to find a crooked outlaw has claimed it. In the ensuing fight to reclaim his property, his friends are killed, he evades several traps, and is branded an outlaw. It's filled with clever tactics, plenty of action, a little bit of romance, and the pursuit of justice. All in all it was a satisfying read, and for me, a terrific break from more contemporary books.

There's a great Western included in the Whitney's Best Romance category this year. I'm not sure why it was put in the Romance Category, possibly because there isn't a Western category and the General category was already pretty full. There's a relationship between a cowboy and some other dude's wife, but I wouldn't call it a romance; they're both in love with the same person--her. But forget the romance elements, Counting the Cost by Liz Adair is the best Western I've read in a long time and as I've said before I'm a Western fan. This one is gritty, but not profane. There's an illicit relationship, but it's not in our face and the cowboy is painfully aware it's not right. The life and actions of the cowboy are heartbreakingly realistic. And though I didn't care much for the woman in the story, I could still sympathize with the hardships her cowboy's life inflicted on her. I think most readers, Western fans or not, will agree Liz Adair is a particularly talented writer and I personally think her understanding of the early twentieth century cowboy is one of the best I've run across.

I'm not aware of a large number of LDS Western Writers. There's Lee Nelson, Marcia Ward, Liz Adair, and myself (though I write other genres as well), so it's fun to welcome C.M. Curtis to our ranks. And readers, if it has been awhile since you read a Western, give one a try. I'd hate to think the Western Writer might give way completely to electronic space rangers. After all, how can a robot compare to a horse!

So where have all the cowboys gone? Not too far I hope. One of my grandsons recently lost a grandfather on the other side of his family. The man left his hat to his grandson, a great big felt Stetson. I'm pleased to say that hat thrills that little boy as much as his Power Ranger helmet does.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Toyota, Black Mamba and The Pants!

My friends here have been so eloquent this last week or so that I hate to even add to the posts! My thoughts today will feel like plunging into ice water in comparison. Feel free to stop reading now. ;-)

I've been watching the news and reading the paper with interest. Here's some of what has stuck out to me:

*The suit that O.J. Simpson wore when he was acquitted is going to be offered to the Smithsonian. My sincere hope is that the Smithsonian will say, "No, thank you."

*Toyota is being raked over the coals, among other things, for failure to alert the public for possible problems with their cars. Now GM is doing a recall on cars that may not steer well when driving under 15 miles an hour. Presumably, this will make the most-accidents-happen-within-two-miles-from-home statistic skyrocket. I'm thinking I should invest in a tandem bicycle for my family of 5. Might make school carpooling a bit of a challenge...

*My kids' school district sent home a notice that "Black Mamba" is now being banned from the schools in spite of the fact that it's not a illegal substance. Yet. Supposedly it has the same properties as marijuana. Now, I may not be remembering correctly and I threw the paper out, but I believe it can be burned as incense. Methinks school attendance would triple if teachers were allowed to use this in the classroom. ;-)

*The Norwegian Curling team's pants. Oh, how I loved those pants! The daily Facebook updates were a joy. I am a solid one-half Norwegian; I claim a special affinity to the pants.

*Lindsey Vonn is too unbelievably cute. Shouldn't be allowed.

*Kim Yu Na is the most amazing thing on ice I've ever seen and was a joy to watch. I did so with my mouth hanging open.

*Joannie Rochette is a beautiful example of grace and perseverance under extreme pressure and grief. What a lady. And a strong one.

*Gerald Imber wrote a book on William Halsted, America's "first" surgeon, entitled Genius on the Edge. In the book, Imber talks about how in the early days of anesthetic during dentistry, cocaine was used as a local. Um, yeah. Something tells me people didn't mind going to the dentist in those days. ;-) On a more serious note, though, the book looks absolutely amazing and I'll be buying it soon. Here's a link, if you're interested.

*First Haiti, then Chile. I am mindful of the fact that I live, literally, on a fault line. My home was built in the 40s. I hope to be able to find a sturdy doorway that will shield me...otherwise, please remember me fondly. (And may it not happen until both of my daughters are paramedics. I like to think of them as rescuers.)

*The Ogden Temple is going to receive a facelift over the next couple of years. I am ok with this, because the original design of the building has been totally botched, anyway. The architect designed the Provo and Ogden temples to be symbolic of the Lord leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. They were led with a "cloud by day" and "pillar (of fire) by night." The body of the temple's building itself was to represent the cloud, and the spire, which was originally painted gold, to represent the pillar of fire. Well, a couple of years ago a statue of Moroni was added to the spire, which was fine, of course, but THEY PAINTED THE SPIRE WHITE. Totally ruined it for me. I now look at the redesign pictures with anticipation. It's going to be beautiful.

Well, now that I spewed all of that, I feel better. Please feel free to agree or disagree. And have a fabulous March! I'm so glad we're done with January and February. Spring is in the air! My five-year-old said this morning, "Mom! The birds are back!"

So true- hallelujah, the birds are back!