Friday, February 26, 2010

Anna and Cheri's poetry, and Anna's suggestion that we make this a poetry week, brought to mind my poetry days. I don't think I could write a poem today if my life depended on it, but I have a file that suggests at one time I did "wax poetic" frequently.
My husband spent 15 months on a remote tour in Turkey (that means without family for you non-military types.) And long before that, before we had children, he spent three weeks on nuclear alert in England, came home for three weeks and went back again for many months, so I had a fair amount of time alone.
This is the result of one of those long, lonely periods. I can still picture the setting - it was Plattsburgh, New York, October, 1962. As I returned home from a function at the church, it was cold, getting dark, and as the wind blew leaves across the empty street in front of my car, I felt lonely, heartbreakingly lonely.

Lonely is a quiet thing:
The falling of a tear
Unnoticed down a soft pink cheek
As twilight shadows near.

It's leaves blown down an empty street
When no one's there to share
The magic of the cool night breeze . . .
When no one's there to care.

Lonely is a restless sea
Lapping on the shore,
A heart that aches with missing you,
And still I miss you more.

Lonely is a far off train
Crying in the night
That chills you as you sit alone,
Alone in the moon's pale light.

Lonely is the twilight hour
When all the world is still . . .
Waiting for one who has not come.
Perhaps he never will.

That was the height of the cold war. Many of you weren't even born yet, but every time the planes took off, we were never certain they would return. Actually, many didn't. Pilot error and mechanical malfunction took too many good men. Especially worrisome was flying long hours over the North Atlantic when, if something went wrong and the plane went down, there wasn't a lot of hope of rescue before the crew died of exposure in the icy water. A totally different world from today.
How few people were even aware their freedoms were being protected by a small number of flight crews sitting alert in concrete bunkers for seven days at a time with nuclear weapons loaded on board their planes, just waiting for the klaxon to sound and send them off to retaliate against Russian targets - and hoping it never happened. Thank heaven it never did.
What memories come flooding back with reading that poem written so long ago. Thanks, Anna, for suggesting we share. I haven't even looked at those for probably 20 years. Guess it's time to go through the file and enter them into my computer - a technology I couldn't have even imagined at the time that poem was written, and something I can't imagine trying to live without today. How far we've come.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Tribute for Kerry

A note of love from all the goosies.

Being a writer means being simultaneously thrilled and terrified—thrilled at the prospect of creating something out of nothing, and terrified at the prospect of creating something out of nothing; thrilled when you lay your hand on a stack of papers which signifies completion, and terrified that you must now show that stack of papers to someone.

A quote from the Talmud states: “Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘”Grow, grow.’”

Just such an angel for LDS writers is Kerry Blair.

She inspires us with her own writing which is always well-crafted and insightful. Her writing carries aplomb for the English language, and a sensibility about the human soul. Especially in her essay work she is a keen observer of human nature, and can easily take us from gaiety to contemplation.

Kerry is a “giver” She believes not only in the power of the written word, but that that the creative gift to fashion those words into uplifting and engaging stories is a gift from God. She gives to all of us a sense that—We can do it! That this work is important! To never stop trying to find an outlet for our voices! She is one of those wondrous Storymaker cheerleaders.

On a personal note, Kerry took me under her wing when I was a fledgling terrified writer—giving me encouragement and guidance—cheering me on.

I am so grateful to have this opportunity to thank Kerry Blair for being an angel—for whispering to me and to all of us, “Grow, grow.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ice Castles

We came upon it by accident, but when we drove up to the forty foot ice castle, we couldn’t believe our eyes.

Last Monday my family and I decided to take a drive up to Heber valley to visit an ailing aunt. When we found she wasn’t home, but rather had gone to stay with her son, we decided to go for a drive around the area.

Near the Homestead in Midway, there is a hotel called the Zermatt Resort. There in the front of the resort are the most incredible ice formations I have ever seen.

We immediately parked the car to get a closer look. If you pay $2.00 a person, you can walk on a path that winds around eighteen ice castles or towers and two hot springs.

What’s even more amazing is that the castles are made entirely out of icicles which were harvested with a sprinkler system and PVC pipe. There is no supporting structure. The detail of each castle is unbelievable when they light up the massive structures at night. Brilliant shiny colors are illuminated through the icy walls giving it a beautiful, almost surreal look. It’s most impressive.

Each castle grows 10-12 tons per day and their sculptor, a man by the name of Brent Christensen hopes that each one reaches between 30-40 feet in height. The largest, known as tower No.7 is one that you can walk through. When the weather is just right, the castles can grow up to three feet in a day. Brent works mainly at night sculpting away at the castles and working to keep the paths safe.

This is the last week the Zermatt Resort will offer us the opportunity to see the Ice Castles. With warmer weather coming, the path through the castles will no longer be safe. If you have the chance and you are in the area, I highly recommend stopping by to see it.

The older I get, the less I like the cold. But with something this beautiful to look at, I’m actually looking forward to seeing what creations Mr. Christensen comes up with next year.
(Picture courtesy of Deseret News)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Two bags and a Poem

by Anna Jones Buttimore

I have a shelf in my wardrobe which holds two bags. I always love reaching to this shelf, because it means that I am in for a treat and some wonderful relaxation and joy. Both bags are packed so that I can grab one and run when the opportunity arises.

The bigger bag is my gym holdall. I actually enjoy going to the gym, not because I am a super-fit type (I'm about 3 stone overweight, for one thing) but because I enjoy spending the "me" time listening to my favourite music (Heavy Metal) while challenging myself to run that little bit further, cycle that little bit faster, lift that little bit heavier, or stay in the Spa that little bit longer. (That last one is usually a breeze.)

The second bag is my Temple Tote. I waited a long time to get to the Temple, not because I wasn't worthy but because of my family situation. It has made me very aware of what a privilege and honour it is to be able to do sacred Temple work. I'm lucky enough to live only an hour from the London England Temple, and I enjoy my monthly visits. I can almost feel the tension drain from my shoulders as I walk through the doors. I find a Temple session even more relaxing than an hour in the Spa.

During those long years of longing to go to the Temple and being unable to do so, I wrote a poem. Since Cheri shared her poem with us yesterday I thought it appropriate to share this - perhaps this will turn into "poetry week" on the blog. I can't claim to be the poet Cheri is, but this does put into words my feelings about the Temple. Which is impressive really, since when I wrote it I had only been to the Preston Temple Open House. The last line in each stanza is a promise given to me in my patriarchal blessing regarding my feelings about Temple work.

As yet, I haven't written a poem about how much I enjoy going to the gym...

Within Holy Walls

I cast my troubles to the floor
As I pass through the golden door;
Forgetting every trial and fear
For there is only comfort here.
Wearing white, and within clean
My spirit soaring, my heart serene,
I here rejoice in all I do.
“And this shall be a joy to you.”

Silence sweet around me falls.
My quiet feet the saviour calls
And to his side I hasty tread.
Arms open wide, he offers bread
Of life, and hungry I partake,
One among those blessed who make
Covenants and promises true.
“And this shall be a joy to you.”

Humbly in this sacred place
Where heaven and earth in joy embrace
I serve dear ones that we may be
United in eternity.
My father’s house, this Temple pure
Is where I find His blessings sure
And where I feel His love anew.
“And this shall be a joy to you.”

Monday, February 22, 2010

"Are The Stars Still There?"

This past month has been one adventure after another as I've struggled to help several friends and neighbors who are enduring the Refiner's Fire. One friend just lost her father---6 months after her mother passed away. Her oldest son was robbed last week on the way home from his grandfather's funeral. I'm still shaking my head over that one.

Another friend is enduring a difficult divorce. Following a prompting, I swung by her home the other day and found her in an emotional heap. I spent a goodly share of that afternoon trying to piece her back together.

My husband is still recovering from his oldest brother's suicide death, something that took place nearly 2 years ago. He is learning to take each day as it comes, but some days are still very hard.

Earlier today, I visited the local hospital to check on a friend who is facing the loss of yet another loved one. So far this past year, she has buried her father, and her brother. Now it's looking like her mother will soon be leaving mortal mode. A brain tumor surfaced on a recent scan, and it's not looking good at all. I felt so helpless as I embraced this good friend while she cried, heartbroken. We both understand the plan of salvation, but heartache still pierces through when a loved one's life hangs in the balance.

Yet another friend is bravely facing a battle of gargantuan proportions. (Insert: David going against Goliath) It tears my heart out, knowing how much she has suffered, and all she will be enduring.

And I'm still haunted by images of the destruction that took place in Haiti. I know it's not the end of the destruction predicted for our time, and I'm not happy about that.

How do we survive these troubled latter days? I've been thinking today about an experience I had a few years ago. Then, as now, there were numerous challenges taking place all around me. I finally walked out onto the front porch, and sat quietly one night, staring up at the star-filled sky. Silently I prayed to understand why things were so difficult.

When I opened my eyes, I felt an inner nudge to focus again on the sky. It was one of those nights when heaven seemed very close. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and it was filled with thousands of stars. Then suddenly, without warning, clouds moved in. Within in a couple of minutes, the entire sky was filled with clouds; the stars were no longer visible.

A question then filled my heart and mind: "Are the stars still there?" With that thought, came others: "Are you a beloved daughter of God? Does God still love you, despite the heartache of this time? Are you here on this earth for a purpose? Are the stars still there?"

I wrote a song not long after this experience, based on what I had felt that night. It continues to bring me comfort during difficult times. It is a gentle reminder that we are indeed watched over far more than we realize. A witness that despite the trials of our day, we will survive if we'll cling to the Light of Christ.

Are the Stars Still There?

1st: Dark were my thoughts, all around were storms of heartache and strife

All those tests that sometimes just go with life,

Mountains that seemed too steep to climb.

I walked outside--to clear my head and ask my Father, "Why?"

My inner peace had dissolved for a time

Where was the faith that was mine?

Chorus: Staring at the star-filled sky--my heart revealed its inner cry

"Father, if You're listening help me know the reason why."

A thousand tiny twinkling lights were covered, hidden from my sight

Grey clouds veiling light that once had shone so bright.

Darkness seemed to fill the night as every star was veiled from sight,

Yet peace crept in my heart and comfort eased the black despair

As the question came, "My child, my child--Are the stars still there?"

2nd: Now when dark thoughts come and some nights seem too long

I remember the words of this song

When everything seems to go wrong

The answer to my prayer, the night I struggled with despair

The night my Father heard my silent prayer

And reminded me the stars are always there.

Chorus: Our Father's love is always there--through layers of grief and care

Hope is shining brightly through the clouds of dark despair

A thousand tiny twinkling lights---though covered, hidden from our sight

Grey clouds veiling light that once had shone so bright

Though darkness seems to fill the night--and every star is veiled from sight

Peace and love seep through to ease the black despair

Remember the question--"My child, are the stars still there?"

Cheri J. Crane


Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Hmm! I had tentative plans to spend this two weeks that the temple is closed getting my house in shape. I had the carpets cleaned yesterday. Then I was going to call the salon where I get my hair done and arrange for Kristy to do my hair. Watching the Olympics was on my schedule too--and at least two hours a day working on my new manuscript. A little shopping was planned since I have two grandsons and a brother with birthdays during this time period. There are also four books in my "to read" stack I didn't get to in time for this month's Meridian column. Then late yesterday I got an email from my editor with a message asking why I hadn't responded to his last ten e-mails.

Yikes! What e-mails? It seems he sent instructions for some rewrites on what I hope will be my next book months ago and I never got that message. He's been patiently waiting, knowing I had a house full of company and two close family members going through cancer treatment. As near as I can tell I lost many, many emails about the time my previous computer took a nose dive and I purchased a new one. (If I've ignored any of you and the matter is still important, please email me again.) So, change of plans. I'm doing rewrites. And glad to be doing them. I'd almost given up that anything was ever going to happen with this story.

It's always a little strange going through a manuscript after being away from it for six months or more. I can see a lot of unnecessary stuff, you know, that research I worked so hard on I couldn't bear not to use it, but now I can see it just bogs the story down. Why is it so much easier to see that sort of thing in someone else's work than in our own?

My apologies, but this blog is going to be a little short this time. You see, I've got a teenage crush to nip in the bud, a few outlaws that need to be taught some manners, a few too realistic expletives to delete, some points that need to be explained better, and, well, you get the idea.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Old Friends

I just came back from a short "getaway" with an old friend who has a standing invitation out to me (and no doubt other friends) to come stay, get fed and pampered, and just relax. Nancy and I were roommates while I was at BYU working on my masters. Up to that point I'd had maybe 60 roommates (I'd been in school a LONG time--plus I include here about 10 mission companions). How can anyone have so many roommates, you ask. I lived in houses and apartments with up to 5 roommates at times and moved every year or so, so those roommates tend to add up. Nancy was my last roommate, except for my mom and brother, and in fact, it was because both of our moms got sick and moved in with us about the same time that I finally moved (her mom had my mom terrorized--my mom was a sweet soul and Nancy's mom about the word "curmudgeon"?).

We both cared for our moms until their respective deaths and then we both got divorced brothers for roommates. And now, after a few years with brothers, she has two more housemates (homeless guys invited by her brother) and I have my brother and his wife (who sadly lost their home when my brother lost his job). Round-the-clock houseguests do tend to take a certain toll, as many of my friends here on the VFormation no doubt realize since I expect they've had their share of houseguests.

Nancy and I also share a lot of cats and animals. When we were roommates she had the sweetest little Toto-dog named Sophie, an amazing dog. When Sophie died Nancy knew she could never have another dog like Sophie, so she gradually adopted stray cats who saw that psychic sign over her house--nice lady here feeds animals.

And feeds guests. Nancy is one of these people who love to cook for people and make them feel welcome and loved. Summer holidays you can plan on barbecue, winter holidays--well, today I learned that by missing her Christmas and New Year's dinner I missed some fabulous prime rib and au jus.

Of course, it's not just about the food. It's about friendship. And about having someone looking out for you, knowing your needs and wanting to help make your life just a little easier.

Friends. God bless them.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Inner Peace

I'm sorting and cleaning out what feels like a hundred years worth of family history. There's also "stuff" that was too good to toss, but I didn't know what to do with so it got stuck in a file that outgrew its capacity. I ran across a bit called "Symptoms of Inner Peace" and decided to save it for my next blog. Little did I know how appropriate it would be today. Then again, I'm a believer that there are times things come into our hands when we really need them. Here's the list:

Symptoms of Inner Peace

1. Tendency to act spontaneously rather than from fears based on experiences from the past.
2. The ability to enjoy each moment.
3. Loss of interest in judging self.
4. Loss of interest in judging other people.
5. Loss of interest in conflict.
6. Disinterest in interpreting actions of others.
7. Loss of ability to worry.
8 Frequent episodes of appreciation.
9. Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
10. Frequent attacks of smiling through eyes of heart.
11. Increasing susceptibility to love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.
12. Increasing tendency to let things happen rather than trying to make them happen.

Note: Persons exhibiting most or all of these symptoms may be in such advanced state of peace as to be untreatable. The verse following may be the reason:

Isaiah26:3-4 "Thou will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength."

This is something I'm definitely working on. Some I've attained; some may take another 20 years, if I've really got that many left. :) Number three was a problem this week. I've been very good to get up at 4:00, do prayers, scripture study, journal, e-mail, then do my Wii Fit for 45 minutes, then start my day. By that time, it's 7:00 and I feel three hours behind on starting on the long list of things to do. I even put all those things on my list so I could check them off (is that called compulsive behavior??) but that didn't help too much with the frustration.

So I just threw it all over yesterday and slept in until 4:30, did my body test so my WiiFit wouldn't scold me for not showing up and skipped the exercise. I'd given blood the day before and she said no exercising for 24 hours. Used that as my excuse. It was actually fun to just not even look at my list and spend the morning cleaning and straightening my office where all my projects always pile up. I did do laundry and things that really had to be done, like writing a note to my sister who doesn't do e-mail.

Before I knew it, my husband was home from golfing and ready for lunch - and I still had a long list of things I needed to do. You know what I did? I tossed the list and spent two hours with Glenn putting a puzzle together because he couldn't work out in the yard. Then felt guilty because I'd played. So number three needs lots of work. (I've just broken every one of the things on Anna's list of how not to write! But I'm not really writing - I'm thinking out loud!)

We should never feel guilty for just enjoying time with our spouse or friends or family. How do we get over being so accomplishment oriented? Mmm. Does that mean number one is also a problem? I'm good in the appreciation department, pretty good in the spontaneous area, okay in judging others and conflict. I did enjoy the moment even if later I felt guilty so does the guilt cancel out the joy? And if I continue to try to grade me, will I disrupt what inner peace I may already have? Too much introspection may not be good for that.

Guess I'd better keep the list handy and work on some of my hang-ups so I can experience Inner Peace more often. Hope I've given you cause for some, instead of disrupting what you may already have had!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Memories Are Made Of This

I love Valentine’s Day. What a great day to remind those we love that we care about them and appreciate all they do for us. Okay, maybe we should do that every day, but I have to tell you—I know this sounds a little like bragging—but I have a young son who is going to make his future wife very happy one day. He’s one of those guys who love to spoil the girl in his life. Luckily for me, right now, that’s his mother. :)

He is all for giving chocolates, perfume, flowers, homemade cards, favorite chick flick, a special dinner out, and a bear made at Build-A-Bear by him personally every year for Valentines Day. (He hasn’t offered to buy me a new house yet, I suspect that may be next. lol. He has a HUGE heart.) Granted, this can take quite a toll on the ol’ pocket book and half the fun is watching his dad squirm because, although dad doesn’t deny that his mother deserves the very best on this very special day, ALL of these things together can add up very quickly. In the end, it’s fun to see what the two of them come up with. They are both very good to me. In all truthfulness the very idea that my son would even think of wanting to do so much, touches me more than words can say.

However, there is something that makes me sad this year. Ever since my boys were young, I, along with each boy have had a blast thinking up crazy designs for their Valentine boxes that they would take to school each year. The more crazy and outlandish they were, the better. Wow!What good times we’ve had.!

One year when Pirates of the Caribbean was so popular, we made a treasure chest full of coins and jewels. Another time we made a basket ball hoop complete with a basket ball, there was a guitar hero looking guitar, and we even made a toilet complete with bath rug and flusher that said “You make me feel all flushed.” We had some crazy boxes, but what meant more to me was the time I spent with each of my son’s making their boxes with them.

Well, after years of drawing, cutting, and gluing, my boys have grown up and those creating adventures are now only memories. My oldest is married and has a child of his own and my other son is going to his first Junior High Valentine’s Day dance. Gosh, I hate to see little things like this come to an end. We had such fun.

I still love Valentine’s Day and all that it represents. This year when I give my boys their Valentine’s, I’ll probably hug them a moment or two longer and tell them thanks for the memories that I have. I sure cherish them today.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tips for Aspiring Authors

I've been saving these for a day when I was too uninspired to think of anything meaningful or uplifting to blog about, and that day has come. Sorry, but I hope you enjoy them all the same.
  1. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
  2. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
  3. Also, always avoid awkward, affected and annoying alliteration.
  4. Never ever use unnecessary redundant repetitions.
  5. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
  6. No sentence fragments.
  7. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
  8. Avoid commas, that are not necessary.
  9. Writing carefully, dangling participles should not be used.
  10. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
  11. Don’t verb nouns.
  12. Employ the vernacular.
  13. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  14. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
  15. Remember to never split an infinitive.
  16. Contractions aren't necessary.
  17. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
  18. One should never generalize.
  19. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
  20. Comparisons are as bad as clichés.
  21. Be more or less specific.
  22. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
  23. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
  24. The passive voice is to be avoided.
  25. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
  26. Who needs rhetorical questions?
  27. Don't never use a double negative.
  28. Do not put statements in the negative form.
  29. A writer must not shift your point of view.
  30. Don't overuse exclamation marks!!!
  31. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
  32. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
  33. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
  34. Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague, they're old hat.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Oh, The Saints Marched Right On In!

Okay, I'll confess . . . not only did I watch last night's Superbowl game, but I've become a huge Saints fan the past few years. So if you are acquainted with what happened during last night's game, you'll know that it was a great moment for anyone who loves the New Orleans' Saints. (For those who didn't see that game, the Saints won against the highly favored Colts team, 31—17.)

For years I had never been much into football. Then my youngest son insisted on participating in this sport all through middle school and high school. He was the shortest center our high school team had ever featured in that position, and earned a couple of awards for his efforts. (His nickname was Mighty Mouse.) I spent most of his games covering my eyes whenever he went up against players who were twice his size. I'll never forget the freshman game when someone tapped me on the shoulder and told me to watch the game. I had closed my eyes because my son was up against a huge giant of a kid, someone who weighed around 300 pounds and stood at well over 6 feet tall. My son weighed 120 pounds if he was lucky and was about 5' 3” at the time. You can understand my dismay. Devin was going against this guy on offense and defense. As a result, I brandished my purse a great deal and threatened to swing it while marching out into the fray.

When people kept insisting that I pay attention to what was taking place during that game, I looked out onto the field, and saw that my son had hold of the giant's leg. The guy was literally dragging my son along as he hurried toward the goalposts with the football. Devin refused to let go. When the rest of the team saw how hard Devin was trying to hold onto that huge receiver, they ran after both players and helped Devin bring the guy down, preventing him from scoring another touchdown.

I felt like I was watching a similar struggle last night. The Colts came out, anticipating an easy win. And they quickly made the first few points---the score was 10 to 0. My husband, who is an avid Colts fan, was ecstatic and told me to not feel bad when my team lost. When I informed him that a certain lady hadn't sung yet, he just grinned.

Then suddenly, the Saints came alive, and they played their hearts out. They ran plays that caught the Colts totally off-guard. And they won!!! I'm still grinning. ;)

I should explain. I spent two weeks in New Orleans when my husband was sent there on a special assignment for his company. We arrived nearly a year after Katrina had wreaked havoc and what I saw has forever touched my heart. Not only did I fall head over heels in love with the area, which is gorgeous, but I came to have a healthy respect for the residents who were determined to rebuild. I saw boundless courage and raw optimism. I witnessed firsthand some of the heartbreaking damage that had occurred in that area, and the outpouring of civic pride as strangers helped each other out as best they could.

The Saints football team helped a great deal with the effort to rebuild. And their success has meant the world to people who have lost so much. So yes, I cheered for them all night long, impressed with their tenacity despite the odds. Their win is a win for their city, a place of triumph and endurance where the historical theme of joie de vivre (joy of living) is inherent in their ability to survive challenging trials. I suspect there is a lesson in there somewhere for all of us.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Black History Month

"This month is black history month." Those words on the television caught my attention as I peddled furiously on my stationary bike a few days ago. They've stayed in my mind as I've viewed the horrendous pictures and stories coming out of Haiti and read emails from my nephew who is on the board of directors of an orphanage in that devastated country. I've been pleased to see people of every ethnic and religious grouping providing relief and working together there. And as I've watched both black and white rescuers working side by side and thought of the term "black history", I've thought about my own journey to awareness regarding race.

Growing up near an Indian reservation, thinning beats alongside Hispanics, and knowing the hospitality of wonderful Oriental neighbors, I never gave much thought to black people or racial differences. It just wasn't something that came up around our supper table. In fact, I never even saw a black person until I was in the fourth grade and two little black girls began school in our little three room schoolhouse. They only stayed a month or so, but in that time my friends and I, with the best of intentions, made their life miserable and scared them half to death. Their tiny braids sticking out all over their heads, their pink palms, and huge round eyes fascinated us. Besides we'd heard the stories on radio and the few televisions in our community about black people wanting to go to school with white kids and we thought our little backwater school had suddenly become as important as those in the news. We became very proprietary over those children. They were tiny and shy while the rest of us were tough, rowdy farm kids. In our quest to show how thrilled we were with the new status we thought their presence gave us, we gave them the most challenging roles in all of our games, pushed them far beyond their comfort zone, and made them the center of attention. We used the N-word freely because we didn't know better. Every chance they got they hid and we often found them crying. It never crossed our minds that they were afraid of us. To this day I wonder why we weren't better prepared to see those children's needs and what experiences had led them to think they had to accept our well-meant bullying. Were our parents and teachers, both black and white, as ill-prepared as we were for this experience?

A few years later, at another place, a train derailment resulted in the escape of a black prisoner. Soon pickup trucks filled with men bearing rifles or shotguns were slowly patrolling country roads. My father excused me from irrigating, told me to get my book and go sit on the corral fence in front of an old bunkhouse. I knew an elderly black man lived in the bunkhouse, though we seldom saw him. He stayed to himself most of the time and disappeared inside his house whenever I showed up at the nearby barn to help with the milking. It wasn't until years later while reading Faulkner that I realized why my father gave me that odd day off from my usual chores. He knew, just as Faulkner's character knew, no trigger happy bigot would shoot toward the bunkhouse if he caught a glimpse of the old man and mistook him for the escaped convict while a little blonde girl was sitting right in front of his house.

As a teenager I visited a large city with several friends. We boarded a bus one day and made our way to the back seats. The back seats were our privileged domain on the school buses we rode back home and smaller children knew better than to invade our highly esteemed territory. Imagine our shock when the bus driver ordered us out of those seats and informed us only colored people sat there. It just didn't make sense that though we got there first, we weren't allowed to sit in our choice of seats and when one of our parents later explained the rule to us, it still didn't make sense.

There were few students in the schools I attended who were black until I reached college. Even then there were only a handful. It wasn't until I entered the work force that I discovered petty instances of bigotry because of race. I was also shocked to discover some people used race as a trump card to avoid responsibility. Shopping with my future bi-racial daughter-in-law for her wedding dress and photos was another eye-opening experience that convinced me racial bigotry even in the Mountain-west with its low percentage of black people was alive and well.

Now I see my grandchildren play with children of other races seemingly oblivious to color. I smile at pictures of a grandson taking swimming lessons where he's the only white child in the class. I see five different races or ethnic groups represented in my LDS ward sacrament meeting. I eagerly open an e-mail from a dear black friend. There's a picture in the newspaper of a black fireman carrying a white child from a burning house and on TV there's a black doctor and a white nurse bending over an elderly Haitian woman with crushed legs.

I'm not sure how I feel about "black history" being segregated from American history or world history. Isn't it time to integrate the history of the black race into the history of mankind? It seems to me that no one race is responsible for human advancement, nor for the cruelty and failures of this world. We're really all in this together and just as all races are represented in bringing aid to Haitian suffering, it seems to me we've had enough time to get past this race thing and start being just people, just Americans, just part of the human race.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What the world needs now, is love sweet love.

When I was a little girl, whenever I had a fight with one of my friends, my mom would make me call that friend and apologize, whether I was wrong or not. I hated it at the time. But as an adult I can see the wisdom of it. Especially when it comes to family and loved ones. Does it really matter whose wrong. Isn't the relationship more important than the pride we hold wanting to prove we were right?

A few weeks ago I got my feelings hurt. Basically someone said something very mean to me. They were so quick to judge me and accuse me, and it really hurt. How I wished they would have talked to me. They would have learned that my motives were pure and I meant no harm.

A dear man and former prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gordon B. Hinckley, gave a talk entitled, "The Need for Greater Kindness," in the May 2006, Ensign. In this talk he said this,

"I see all around me a marvelous outpouring of love and concern for others.

Think of the vast good done by the women of the Relief Society. The shadow of their benevolent activities extends all across the world. Women reach down and give of their time, their loving care, and their resources to assist the sick and the poor.

Think of the welfare program with volunteers reaching out to supply food, clothing, and other needed items to those in distress.

Think of the far reaches of our humanitarian efforts in going beyond the membership of the Church to the poverty-ridden nations of the earth. The scourge of measles is being eradicated in many areas through the contributions of this Church.

Observe the workings of the Perpetual Education Fund in lifting thousands out of the slough of poverty and into the sunlight of knowledge and prosperity.

And thus I might go on reminding you of the vast efforts of the good people of this Church in blessing the lives of one another and with an outreach that extends across the world to the poor and distressed of the earth.

There is no end to the good we can do, to the influence we can have with others. Let us not dwell on the critical or the negative. Let us pray for strength; let us pray for capacity and desire to assist others. Let us radiate the light of the gospel at all times and all places, that the Spirit of the Redeemer may radiate from us.

In the words of the Lord to Joshua, brethren, “be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God [will be] with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Josh. 1:9).

Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone tried being a little more kind; let people in front of us on the freeway, smile at each other, offer to help someone in need, not be so quick to judge, give people the benefit of the doubt. Every since the experience last week, I've tried harder to make an effort to be kinder. I don't know if I've made a difference to anyone else, but it truly has made my days happier.

I've always loved this song and think it has a wonderful message for us. Click on the link and you can watch the video.
Jackie DeShannon - What the World Needs Now is Love lyrics

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Horrible things are happening- am I allowed to be happy?

The day I learned of the earthquake in Haiti, my stomach just fell. I looked at the images on my computer screen and wondered how on earth people ever pick up and carry on after that kind of horror.

I watched with pride as my church quickly sent relief planes and help was sent from LDS people across the border in the Dominican Republic. Certainly I don't mean to toot the LDS horn to the exclusion of the many, many other organizations that have provided help, I just was so proud to be part of a group that quickly offers compassion and help. I also have noted with extreme satisfaction's main page, encouraging members worldwide to contribute however we can.

I saw images of bodies piling up, of mass graves, of crude burning pyres right alongside the streets, people pulled alive but broken from the wreckage, mothers grieving for lost children and children for parents, and it made my heart hurt. To know that the country suffered so horribly before the earthquake made the calamity seem like salt in an open wound.

The first day, I saw an outpouring of shock and grief. The days passed, and I noticed a shift. Supporting Haiti was becoming a political thing. People were angry at Hollywood for taking up the cause. I heard snide comments that President Obama only cared about the issue because the victims are black. I became very angry. Who cares if movie stars are helping people who are living through hell? It's not Haiti's fault. And when someone lifts a hand or donates money to make a life a bit better, where is the crime? How could this thing have possibly become political?

And then, I found myself thinking less about Haiti and more about my own life, my own problems. It's only natural, I know this. I would catch myself praying for things and then wondering how I possibly had the right to worry over little things when my Heavenly Father has other children who need him now more than I do. I suppose the beauty of God is that he can care for us all, and I know that, but I was reminded of how I felt after 9-11. I would laugh at something silly or find joy around me and then feel a twinge of something. Guilt? Probably it's guilt. A sense of sorrow for a moment that I'm finding joy and other people are living through unspeakable pain.

I remember when Saturday Night Live came back on the air after 9-11. It was a beautiful, welcome relief. It was done with love, with gentleness, it resurrected the knowledge for me that, even when horrible things happen, good still exists. We should grieve. We should help. We must do all we can to lift the hands and heads that hang low in hopeless agony. We must also cling to hope and joy and faith in a Maker who allows things to happen in this life, possibly to show the rest of us how to be humane, how to love and serve.

As I continued to watch attempted relief efforts in Haiti, and still do watch, I am reminded that, as the Proverb says, "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick." That we must cling to hope like it's all we have, and work as hard as we possibly can for the betterment of our own lives and those within our realm of influence. I know that the problems and trials in my own life, while in comparison to others may seem small, are still real and I can pray for help without feelings of guilt or inadequacy. I will keep it in perspective- one of my favorite quotes from Robert Fulghum is the notion that there are three kinds of lumps in life: a lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast. I've learned to try to categorize the lumps and make sure I'm not acting as though I've a lump in the breast when really it's a lump in the throat that may not deserve as much attention as I'm giving it. And yet, the lump in the throat may still need a prayer or two, and it's ok.

My heart continues to ache for those who are suffering in Haiti, and everywhere in the world where unspeakable things happen that I know would test my faith and my sanity. History is replete with examples of hell on earth, and yet in those stories there are silver linings to the clouds, blessings from a benevolent God who sees all and loves all, and sometimes those blessings come through not only his angels in heaven but also those he has stashed here on earth. They are all around us.

I'm going to try to be an earthly angel. And to smile and feel joy and hope, even when things are bleak. The human spirit is resilient, and we are here to learn from the pain and find joy in the journey. So I answer my own question that, yes, even when horrible things happen, we are still allowed to be happy. I find comfort in that.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sharing Books

Like Nancy, I'm not a huge fan of January. Well, in theory, I am—the idea of starting over, a fresh, new beginning and all that, and since I have a birthday in February, it's another feeling of a new year ahead of me. What am I going to do next? What's going to be different this coming year? What am I going to make different, and better? It's a time to look forward and back.

But since I'm still in the middle of evaluating my life, and since I hate revealing my self-absorption, I decided to write about something we all have in common, reading and books. I have enjoyed many LDS books but there's so many I haven't read I'm going to write (briefly) about a few of my favorite non-LDS series, books I've read more than once and may well read again. With so many books to read, it may seem like wasted time rereading books, but sometimes reading a familiar book is like spending time with a good friend: it's comfortable and comforting and I know exactly what I'm getting. So here goes.

1. Mrs. Pollifax. This is one of my all-time favorite series. I love spending time with Mrs. Pollifax. She's an older woman, a widow, her children are grown, and she's involved in a variety of good works but she feels unused and uninteresting. When her doctor suggests that she do something she's always wanted to do, she knows immediately what she wants to do: be a spy. And through a serendipitous chain of events (and some effort on her own part) she's sent off to Mexico to pick up a package for the CIA. A simple errand, certainly nothing dangerous. But...what would be the fun in that? I love that Mrs. Pollifax is rather an ordinary woman, nothing special about her except that she is curious about people and about life, that's she's a nice person and a good person, and in a tough situation, she's tough, too. She surprises herself and surprises others with her creativity and ingenuity. The last books in the series seem not to have the qualities I like in the first books; maybe the author was tired of her character (Agatha Christie was said to have detested Poirot by the time she was done with him). But the first 8 or so are marvelous.)

2. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. When I read the first book several years ago, it didn't really do much for me at the time. Rather than one lot sustained plot, the book seemed like a collection of short stories, one solved mystery after the other. But I liked it well enough to keep reading the series, and once again I was drawn by the main character. Like Mrs. Pollifax, Precious Ramotswe decides to do something new, in this case, start a detective agency. With no actual experience detecting but with a lot of common sense and a good heart, Precious takes on all manner of mysteries, from cheating husbands to mysterious deaths to missing merchandise and missing children. I love the language (and the narrator for this series on audio is fabulous) and the simplicity of the people and the place evoked by the language. I feel absolutely inadequate to describe what the author is able to accomplish in creating his characters and this wonderful setting that manages to be both exotic and simple at the same time.

3. Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum. I hesitate to mention these books because they are pretty "worldly" but there is much that is right with them. A determined but very human main charactor, two fabulously described men--both incredibly sexy (my favorite after Kerry Blair's Greg Howland, my ideal man :-) and a range of characters both rotten and hysterical. Stephanie's grandmother is a delight—and a menace at funeral viewings—her stoner friend from high school is just funny, and Bob the dog—well, he just makes me laugh. Stephanie’s adventures and misadventures in bringing people to justice are endlessly creative (she's a bail bond enforcer, or "bounty hunter"--but only because it's the only job she could get). I know I wasn't going to talk about LDS books but I have to say I thought Betsy's Murder by the Book had a lot of the same charm--the main character with a bit of an attitude and a penchant for Pepsi and Moon Pies, the attractive men, the fire/bomb that comes too close (Stephanie has a fair amount of bad luck that involves explosions). Oh, and both main characters have their mothers, and societal expectations, to deal with. Happily, I feel good recommending Betsy's book without reservation, which I can't do with Evanovich's. But this is my list so I'm including the Stephanie Plum books.

4. Kinsey Milhone, by Sue Grafton. Kinsey is a private detective, also single (I think I’m seeing a pattern here, although Precious Ramotswe does get married at some point in the series). Kinsey is a pretty low-maintenance type of person—trims her hair with her finger nail clippers, and her idea of a good meal is McDonald’s. I’ve read all the books from A Is for Alibi up to U is for Undertow, and I think the author’s maintained her quality without showing obvious signs of fatigue with her character or series. I don’t remember a lot of individual plots but Kinsey is often assigned to find missing people and usually the cases go in unexpected and often dangerous directions. Of course, they do. If they didn’t, who would read the books? I like Kinsey because she’s determined and sulf-sufficient, more of a loner than the other characters I’ve described, and she has her own issues with family which often work well with the larger plot of the story.

5. Lisa Scottoline's Bennie Rosato books. Bennie runs an all-female law firm and Scottoline's Italian heritage shows wonderfully in her characters, settings, and plots. And she's just tells a dang good story. Loved Vendetta Defense, which an Italian friend gave five thumbs up to (what can I say, she's Italian).

In talking about favorite books, as with thanking people, there's always the danger of forgetting something and someone. But here are the ones I've enjoyed. I’d love to hear about other authors and series.