Wednesday, June 30, 2010

LITERARY SALUTE TO AMERICA

Patriotism is both a word and a sentiment expressed with a great deal of fervor beginning now and continuing through July. We'll see more flags flying over the next few weeks than we may see in all of the rest of the year. For some, the Fourth of July is merely a day for picnics, parades, fireworks, and fun; others see it as a day to honor our military, past and present. Some patriots consider only the acknowledgement of the Revolutionary War heroes' accomplishments worthy of commemoration. I personally think it's all of these. It's an opportunity for parents and leaders to tell the story of our nation from the beginning to the present to our children and grandchildren. It's a great time to contrast the freedoms we experience with the restrictions placed on citizens of many other lands. It's also a time to instill in those growing up in the midst of the negative, fault finding, greedy, valueless sentiments freely expressed in today's society, a knowledge of what is good and right in our country and their obligations as citizens to protect this land and the values expressed in the formation of this great country.


This morning as I took my grandson to school, threw a load of clothes in the washer, and rushed about accomplishing dozens of small tasks, I found myself thinking about the writers who have contributed to my knowledge of the past and the reasons I care so deeply about liberty, freedom, and my country. There are so many whose names I don't even know, but my early years were filled with stories about George Washington, Patrick Henry, Johnny Tremaine, Paul Revere, John Hancock, John Adams, and many more. I read freely about the western expansion, Abraham Lincoln, Davy Crockett, the struggle for racial rights and the abolishment of slavery on through the great wars of the previous century. All had an impact on my life, my identity, and my love for America.


Though I don't know the names of the authors of most of those early books, I do know the names of more recent writers who have strengthened my core belief in liberty and pride in my country, even as they've broadened my understanding of many great wrongs that are also part of our nation's history. David McCullough's 1776 is a masterpiece. Others I recommend are the series written by Ron Carter called Prelude to Glory, L.C. Lewis's Free Men & Dreamers, Am I Not a Man? by Mark L. Shurtleff, Faith of Our Fathers by N.C. Allen, the Children of the Promise series by Dean Hughes, any of Jerry Borrowman's books, and the book I'm currently reading, Escape to Zion by Jean Holbrook Mathews.



There are many other LDS writers who touch on patriotic issues in their writing. A few that come to mind are Chris Stewart in his The Great and Terrible series, Annette Lyon with Band of Sisters, Betsy Brannon Green's Above and Beyond and Hazardous Duty, as well as my own Code Red.


 

As we approach the Fourth of July and related patriotic observances, I suggest we take time to read something of our nation's past. As we strengthen our knowledge and love for our country, enjoy our freedom with our families, we need to think too, about our obligations to this land which include the following and more: participate in our selection of leaders (This is more than voting in November. Participation in caucuses, mass meetings, and Primary elections is more pathetic each election year, resulting in candidates that represent a tiny minority of the population), thank a soldier, respect our nation's laws, and thank God for making this land possible.

 

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I Don't Like Reading

I came to the conclusion yesterday that I like writing more than I like reading.

That's probably quite a controversial and surprising thing to say, especially given that I did my degree in English literature, which needless to say involves a lot of reading of very good books, and I do my best to hold my own at our Ward's book club and generally have a stack of books by my bed. And if asked I will admit to loving anything by Terry Pratchett, Bill Bryson, Marian Keyes and our own Kerry Blair and Stephanie Black. And another Stephenie.

But browsing rows of books at a local charity sale yesterday I realised that I just didn't feel inspired to pick up and buy any of them even though they were going for just 10p each. That in my impossibly busy day, I begrudged the hours it would take me to read a book which probably wouldn't particularly enhance my life and might well have objectionable content or distressing storylines. (I don't like sad books. I managed to pass my degree without ever reading anything by Dickens and can't even bring myself to read the blurbs of those books about people's horribly abusive childhoods which seem so perversely popular these days.)

If I'm going to read a book I want to know from the outset that I'm going to love it. I need to know that I won't struggle through the first hundred pages just to give up because I don't care what happens to the characters. I need to be sure that the women in that book won't be frivolous bed-hopping, foul-mouthed shopaholics or some other offensive parody of precious womanhood. I need to be assured that I am neglecting my ironing and housework (and children) because I am going to be truly inspired, enlightened and improved by what I am reading. Before I part with my money, whether it's 10p or £10, I want to know that the book is worth the investment. That's why regular reviews, such as the one by Jennie Hansen at Meridian, are so valuable, and that's why the LDS market is so vital in supplying literature which is at the very least guaranteed to be clean and uplifting.

I do read, of course. It's essential for a writer to read good books in order to learn the craft and emulate those who are so good at it. But I find writing a much more enjoyable pursuit. I think it's fair to say that I only did my degree in English literature because it wasn't possible to do one in English language. Writing is creative, it allows me to build characters and to work with them to the conclusion of their story, it is challenging and it educates me. It enables me to express what I need to. I love knowing that what I am doing can give pleasure to others (mostly those who do enjoy reading) and I even get paid for doing it!

I may not have wanted to buy the latest Katie Fforde for 10p, but like other writers I am very glad that so many people love reading books and will part with their hard-earned cash for my modest attempts at writing.

"Burning the Candle @ Both Ends"


So, once again it was my turn to blog yesterday . . . and I simply ran out of time. Again. This seems to happen a lot lately. ;) I made the comment the other day that I wish there were three of me . . . but then I'd probably have 3 times the adventures.

The phrase above came to mind. I think whenever we hear it, we envision someone running faster than they have strength. (Guilty as charged.) I decided to do a little research on this phrase and in current lingo, it means: To live at a hectic pace. That pretty well sums things up in my realm at the moment. So far this summer we've survived 2 weddings, a couple of funerals, and moving my mother to Bear Lake to live. (This was the result of wedding number one.) Last weekend marked the beginning of the traditional reunion bliss. And another reunion lies on the immediate horizon, not to mention another wedding (our youngest son) in August.

Throw in things like girls' camp, (Yep, I'm still the fearless leader in our ward's YW organization), gardening (this includes two flower beds at the church that our YW are in charge of each year), and trying to rewrite the beginning of a manuscript my publisher seems to want---and there just aren't enough hours in the day to accomplish everything.

As I was researching the origins of the ill-fated "burning the candle at both ends" analogy, I discovered that it possessed a very different meaning many years ago. Back in the day, candles were of infinite worth (unlike women, as mentioned in Nancy's blog post, but I digress). The notion of burning the candle at both ends exemplified tremendous waste. For obvious reasons, for a candle to burn at both ends, it has to be held in a horizontal fashion. This causes the candle to drip and burn out quickly. Hmmmmm. I suspect there is a lesson to be learned here. ;)

In my defense, I do try to work in a tiny bit of "me" time here and there. Yesterday I spent "me" time enjoying a much needed massage. Not only does this help immensely with the rheumatoid arthritis I've been blessed with, but it aids in relaxation. I didn't have time for it, but I returned home and enjoyed a short nap. And I noticed that I felt great the rest of the day. No, I didn't accomplish everything on my list of things to do yesterday (like this blog post) but I did tackle those things most important . . . and let the rest go by the wayside.

I suspect that is how I will survive the frantic days ahead. I'm learning the hard way that I have to pace myself . . . a lot. Burning the candle at both ends for me causes untold physical suffering. And when I go down in flames . . . it isn't pretty. I spent a couple of days in a little heap last week when I ignored this wisdom---my body refused to function. I wasn't feeling well, but I forced myself to attend a plethora of meetings (it was that monthly Sunday marathon when I start at 8:15 a.m. for ward council, and end the day around 8:00 p.m. following Youth Council and Bishop's devotional.) I had also worked in the the viewing of my husband's aunt that same night, and paid a huge price the next day. I woke up the next morning feeling like the last chapter. My in-laws were staying with us, and I forced myself into the shower, intent on cooking them a huge breakfast.

Usually I can get away with bossing my body around---not last week. As I dragged myself into the kitchen to fix the afore-mentioned breakfast, my body fought back. I became deathly ill. So much so, I retreated to bed before I hurled all over everything. My in-laws made do with cream cheese and bagels for breakfast.

We eventually learned that I had been fighting a kidney infection last week. Good times. ;) For a day or two, I wondered if I would be around to participate in my son's August wedding.

I'm more than likely writing this post as a reminder to myself that I need to slow down. I want to enjoy future fun times with my cute little granddaughter. (It's my goal to be an influence in her life. Someone has to be around to show her how to make mud pies.) My husband would like to serve a mission with me upon retirement. Lately he emphasizes that this will be easier to do if I remain on this side of the veil. ;) And I want to do things like dance at my youngest son's wedding in August. As such, I will be stepping out of my usual mode and attempt burning the candle at only one end. ;) Words to live by---quite literally.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Guest Blog by my Daughter

My daughter, Janice, took pity on me this week since I'm trying to finish a manuscript and have it ready to turn in before leaving for a family vacation. She surprised me by writing a blog for me. She's a big fan of children's and young adult books. Here are her reasons why.

Why I read books written for kids.

1.  Reading a picture book out loud to my preschooler is a fun way to spend time together.  It's also a great excuse to stop doing house work for a few minutes.

2. Reading middle readers to my emerging reader is a good way to entice my children into the world of reading.  When my oldest child was intimidated by real chapter books, I read a chapter out loud and then put the book down.  He couldn't stand the suspense and had to pick it up.  (I finished it after he was done.)

3. Reading the same books my children read provides great conversation topics.  I also get inside jokes that my husband doesn't.

4. My 11 year old loves to recommend books to me.  I guess I've recommended so many books to him, he feels like he should return the favor.  And I must say, the kid has pretty good taste. 

5. I get to revisit some of the great books from my past as I introduce them to my daughter.  My son won't read Anne of Green Gables, but my daughter will.

6.  I pick books out at the library and read them first, then tell my kids that they'll like them too.  They've come to trust my judgment in books.  Now if only I could get them to be so trusting at dinner time.

7. Since I've read so many YA books, I know which books I prefer my children not read - either for a few more years or ever.  The choice will be theirs, but I will tell them what I don't like about books I find objectionable.

8. YA books tend to be funnier than books written for adults.  I also don't find as much objectionable content in them.

9.  YA books also tend to be shorter than books written for adults.  I can start and finish a book on the same day.

10. Like my mom, I'm a writer too.  Unlike my mom, I've only had a couple short stories published, I write YA, and my characters don't wear cowboy hats.  So reading YA is research.  In fact, I think I hear some research calling now.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Life in the OT: What's a Girl to Do?


I'm currently teaching Gospel Doctrine in my ward. I was called toward the end of last year, so essentially have been teaching Old Testament since the beginning of the calling.

Yikes.

I've been so intimidated that I've done a mountain of research for each lesson because I know there are people in the class who know the scriptures a lot better than I do, and I don't want to get it wrong.

I've learned lots of things so far. One of the things I've come to appreciate the most is an understanding of the social life and traditions of the people in the OT. Some things have seemed so bizarre to me until I've done a little digging and have been able to figure out why the people behaved the way they did.

Our God, in His infinite wisdom, allows us to structure our societies as we see fit. Many times they are fraught with inequalities, silliness and cruelty. Ignorance. But He allows it because He promised He would. It's one of His many gifts. Agency.

That agency, however, led to some wacky beliefs contained in the Old Testament that have me often shaking my head. For centuries, for example, women were valued very little and then mostly for their reproductive capabilities. So much of their identities were tied up in whether or not they were able to bear children, and then hopefully male children. (Don't ask me what they were thinking- I'm not sure how long they planned to have the species continue to perpetuate itself without the birth of girl children, but hey. What do I know.)

The OT peoples also knew of the coming of a promised messiah. Women of Israel hoped that He would be born through their lines, so not only was there pressure to bear children, there was also this hope that they would be the ancestor of the Savior. It's a lot of pressure, and dependent largely upon the luck of the biological draw.

There are stories, however, that jump out at me as incredible. We just finished covering Ruth, and I LOVED researching her story. She is amazing, and I love her. Naomi, also, I would like to count as a friend. Their friendship is lovely and inspiring. And Ruth was able to have a son when she married Boaz, so lucky girl, her worth went up several notches in the eyes of the locals. Even Naomi's friends were happy for her when Ruth gave birth. (Their comments of adulation went something along these lines: "Yay! Now Naomi again has a reason to live! A grandson!")

All snarkiness aside, I understand the desire for motherhood. I count among my blessings the fact that I've not known the pain of being unable to have babies. I do not take this blessing for granted. One of the things I can relate to when I think of these ancient women is the desire for children and the joy when they arrive. (Funny- we're not often told of how they handled the teen years...)

My daughters are 17 and 15, my son is 5. They have caused me tears of anger and frustration and tears of unabashed joy. I'm grateful to live in a time where my intellect is valued over the functionality of my uterus, however, and I'm grateful to learn of these people who lived so long ago and lived lives of faith and hope despite their various challenges.

Kind of like we do today, really.

And as a side-note: if you're looking for some mothers and families to offer a quick prayer for, check this link.

Moms who could use a prayer or two.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Adversity

We know these are the last days, and we know the prophesies about all that will happen, but for some reason, we seemed to think it would be in the future. Now, of course, we know that we are in the midst of the adversity - the testing and proving phase we were told about. Are any one of us not being touched (or slammed) by this thing that is supposed to be so good for us?

I love Neal A. Maxwell. He made things so very clear and puts them into proper perspective for us: "We should not complain about our own life's not being a rose garden when we remember who wore the crown of thorns." As I think about some of your trials, I want to cry out: Oh, But....." And the Spirit whispers, "Be still. It is for their refinement."

Elder Maxwell said: "How can there be later magnification without our enduring some present deprivation! The enlarging of the soul requires not only some remodeling, but some excavating . . . How could there be refining fires without our enduring some heat?" Thank heaven for answers to prayer and the help that comes enabling us to "endure some heat."

He said, "A good friend who knows whereof he speaks, has observed of trials, "If it's fair, it is not a true trial!"That is, without the added presence of some inexplicableness and some irony and injustice, the experience may not stretch us or lift us sufficiently. The crucifixion of Christ was clearly the greatest injustice in human history, but the Savior bore up under it with majesty and indescribable valor." I guess maybe it is the irony and injustice part that we shed the most tears over. How hard it is to remember to say, "What am I supposed to learn from this?" and "Thy will be done."

I like this quote: "For the faithful, our finest hours are sometimes during or just following our darkest hours." This gives me hope. It makes me remember that we must take that step, in faith, out of the present light into the darkness before we will be able to see the rest of the road ahead.

And another of my favorites: "One's life cannot be both faith-filled and stress-free." Growth hurts. I remember having terrible growing pains in my legs as a child. I cried myself to sleep countless times because the pain seemed too great to bear. But it was nothing compared to the growing pains the Lord gives us the opportunity to suffer in raising children, burying them, watching them suffer for their mistakes - or in their own growing pains. Or our own deprivations in life. It is our faith that keeps us moving through the stress that refines us as we grow. Sometimes it seems too hard to bear.

"How can you and I really expect to glide naively through life as if to say, "Lord give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy." Oh, I feel so ashamed to think I have ever prayed for those things to be removed from my life when Elder Maxwell puts it that way. If we are supposed to become like Him, I guess it stands to reason we must experience the things that He did. How could we ever do that without the help of our loving Heavenly Father??

"We cannot expect to live in a time when "Men's hearts shall fail them" (D&C 45:26) without expecting the faithful to have a few fibrillations of their own!" I'm afraid the goosies are having more than a few fibrillations right now, but what glorious creatures are being created in His refining fire!

"The harrowing of the soul can be like the harrowing of the soil; to increase the yield, things are turned upside down." I can just picture that implement slicing through the soil, turning it over, revealing all the fresh soil that was hidden underneath the top crust of ground. What an apt illustration of how our hearts feel sliced by the circumstances that we, or our loved ones, are suffering. We can only pray that the increase will be worth the pain, and remember that an all-knowing, all-loving Father is truly in charge.

And the last one: "The storm fronts that come into our lives will not last forever. We can surmount the drifts of difficulties and we can hold out if we maintain our perspective and faith... Just as we know there is a sun just beyond today's cloud cover, so we must not doubt the continued, watchful, and tutoring presence of The Son in spite of the stormy seasons in our lives." The song from the Secret Garden comes to mind: "Hang on, it's not you, but this day will go away."

No. One more: "The thermostat on the furnace of affliction will not have been set too high for us - though clearly we may think so at the time. Our God is a refining God who has been tempering soul-steel for a very long time. He knows when the right edge has been put upon our excellence but also when there is more in us than we have yet given." Scary thought - more we have not yet given.

Some one made a little plaque that said, "I know the Lord said He would not give us more than we can handle, but I wish He didn't have so much confidence in me."

What incredible things the Lord is doing with this group. What faith! What marvelous instruments in His hands you are!I feel privileged to know you.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Snow in June!

It snowed at the cabin last night. June 17th, and it snowed!

Life is full of unexpected occurrences. The trick, I suppose, is to be flexible when life inserts a detour, crisis, or challenge. And it's not just flexibility we need, but bravery and inventiveness. We come upon a mountain to climb and we open our backpack of helpful tools: character, determination, faith, and we set our course. If we're smart, we look for guides who have been over the mountain before. We take along friends that encourage us and won't let us give up. We admit our frailties and ask for help. Somehow we make it to the top, and usually the top of the mountain offers us a new vista. A broader vision of life.

As a writer, I look for those unexpected life occurrences which challenge the characters. It's what makes the story! How boring the book would be if the characters went blissfully along without any challenges to test their metal.

Snow in June? Yes.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Father's Day Tribute

I am certainly counting my blessings this week. As the weekend draws near and Father’s Day is rapidly approaching, I feel very grateful that I have both my father and my father in law in my life here to honor on that special day.

I have always been close to my dad. Growing up a bit of a tomboy, I could be found outside as soon as my inside chores were done. I’d stay out until I was forced back into the house in the late evening.

As kids we played baseball, did balancing acts and cartwheels along the top of the fences, ran around barefoot (until my mother would catch us and then I’d slip shoes on but only until she wasn’t looking again) I loved following my dad around driving him crazy with millions of senseless questions.

He was always involved with some project or another whether it was building barns, planting gardens, landscaping, taking care of all kinds of animals, building fish ponds and water falls. As a child, I thought he did the coolest things. Years later, at the age of 81, he is still doing most of those things and I have come to appreciate those talents of his even more. My dad may have an incredibly creative side to him, but there is so much more to admire.

When my mother passed away, it was pretty tough on him, as I know it is on everyone who loses a loved one. But after losing my mother, his wife, my dad, stepped in and tried to take over where my mother had left off. This was no easy task. She was like wonder woman and my dad was dealing with a broken heart. Still, each year, because Christmas was my mother’s favorite holiday, he has a big open house for neighbors and friends during the holidays. He serves refreshments and does it on a Monday night so people can come for Family Home Evening. The kids can see his Christmas village, that takes him over a week to set up, that comes complete with two running trains.

He keeps a calendar of family events so he won’t forget birthdays, anniversaries, and always makes sure he sends Mother’s Day cards and Valentine’s Day cards to his daughter’s and their families.

He is truly a man with a good heart. I love my dad for teaching me that when I serve others. I am serving my savior. Those are not just words he taught, he taught by example. He himself would give the shirt off his back if he knew someone was in need. I can’t tell you how many times he has helped me when I was in need.

I could go on and on but the one thing that strikes me is that for his 80th birthday, we made a DVD of his life. At the end of it, we recorded my dad giving a message to his family. The one message he wanted us to always remember if wewere to remember one thing, it would be, “To keep the faith. No matter what, just hang in there and keep the faith.” Throughout my life, when I have had struggles or trials my dad has given me much needed help and advice. He would talk to me, help me, tell me to pray, and, “Jeri, keep the faith.” One thing is for certain, my father has always kept the faith. His testimony makes him the honorable man that he is.

I am very grateful for the role my father plays in my life and in the life of my family. I can’t begin to find the words to tell you how blessed I feel to have him with us this Father’s Day. I am also thankful for the example he is to us.

I feel so wonderfully blessed to have my father in law in our lives as well. He too is such an amazing man. He has fought a battle with cancer with incredible courage. Steve is a man with charm and humor. He has wisdom and is full of wit and an inner strength and testimony that has had a great influence on his family. My husband is the tremendous man he is, I believe, because of the example his father is to him.

I love and admire my husband for so, so, many reasons but one big reason is the kind of father he has been to our sons. He is an honorable man and has tried hard to establish a good relationship with his sons. He has tried to teach them to make good choices and to live in righteousness. Through his example he has tried to teach them to honor their Priesthood as he, himself does. Now my oldest son will enjoy his first official Father’s Day with his own son.

What more can a girl ask for? Is it any wonder that as Father’s Day rolls around, my heart is very full for the wonderful blessings I enjoy? I have some wonderful men in my life. I’m thrilled to celebrate this day, to try to express my gratitude for the great fathers in my life.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Plans and Patience

Life doesn't always go to plan. I learned that yesterday. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we decided we would go to Hadleigh Castle for our Family Home Evening. It's a ruined castle only five minutes' drive from our home, and has a wonderful view across the Thames estuary and for miles around. There's plenty of space for the children to run and play, and it gets some good wind, so it's great for kite flying and Frisbee losing once they get bored of pretending to be medieval princesses. It's also conveniently a two minute walk from McDonald's, so once we had enjoyed an hour of fun at the castle we could tuck into Happy Meals before heading home for bed. We were all looking forward to it all day.

We stepped out of the door to get into the car - and it started raining. So much for that plan. With nothing else planned for Family Home Evening we just ate tea as normal, and I put the children to bed, our spirits as damp as the ground outside.

Before going downstairs to do my usual routine - wash school uniforms, make lunches, pack book bags - I picked up the conference issue of the Ensign. I'm never sure whether I'm supposed to read the Priesthood session reports, but I make it my policy to read the Ensign cover to cover each month, and I don't make an exception for conference editions, so I found myself reading President Uchtdorf's talk about patience. You remember it - the one about the children and the marshmallows.

It was so good that I got the children out of bed, and we all sat on our bed as I read sections of the talk to them. "Would you have waited for two marshmallows?" I asked them in turn. Then we talked about all the things we all wanted, and how we could learn to be patient. With all the cuts in spending and rises in taxes the government is having to make to drag the country out of debt, it was a timely lesson. More and more we are going to find that our plans - for a holiday, or a new tumble drier, or a big birthday party, or a curry with friends - are going to have to be put on hold, and we are going to need to be patient. The impromptu lesson hit home. It was a magical moment and we all learned something important.

I love how inspired and timely the lessons from our Church leaders are. I love knowing that just because things don't go to plan, doesn't mean they can't still be wonderful. And I'm patiently looking forward to a lovely evening at Hadleigh Castle next Monday.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Que Sera, Sera


So it's my turn to compose a post today. Normally, I would attempt this effort in the morning, but my life is a little crazy right now. My mother moved to nearby Montpelier about a week ago. This was in preparation for my youngest sister's wedding that took place this past weekend. (My mother was living with my sister, and opted to not live with the newlyweds.) All went well with the adventures mentioned. Everyone is adjusting and life is moving forward. This morning, I had to be in Montpelier at 8:00 a.m. to pick my mother up from her new apartment.

My mother's apartment is very nice, and newly remodeled, but there's a glitch. The apartment located above Mom's leaked---something about a problem with the new dishwasher that had been installed. As a result, construction workers were supposed to come by this morning to fix the wall that was damaged. Guess who didn't show up today. ;) Yep, the construction workers. So after we killed the morning running errands, my mother finally decided to return to her apartment to rest. She gave up on the construction workers. We know they'll surface eventually, but evidently we're not part of the "need-to-know" crowd. Neither is the apartment manager and she wasn't very thrilled about that. So none of us know when these people will surface. It will be a surprise. =D

Isn't that the way? Is it me, or does life seem rather erratic lately? In our realm we've experienced the phenomenon of one adventure after another taking place for what seems like years. That pace is accelerating. You would think I'd be in better shape, all things considered. I get my exercise just trying to keep up with everything. And I'm not, but I'm pretending, and hopefully that will count for something. ;)

One lesson I'm gleaning from all of this is to be flexible. Life is not turning out like any of us envisioned and we're learning to be sports about that. There are some good changes taking place, and some that are not so good. Some items make one want to sit down on the floor and throw a nice temper tantrum, like today. Mom's doctor phoned in a much-needed blood pressure prescription into the wrong pharmacy---one located down in Utah. And here we are in Idaho, wondering why the silly prescription wasn't getting filled. We eventually worked it all out, but it took a couple of frustrating hours to get everyone on board with what needed to happen.

Someday, we may look back on everything that is currently taking place and grin. We probably won't laugh, because some of this really isn't very funny . . . at all . . . But on the other hand, the sun is shining today, something that hasn't happened in our realm for nearly 2 solid weeks. This is really great. So what am I doing typing a blog post on my laptop? I should be outside sunbathing in preparation for the summer. ;)

To sum this up, some days all we can do is to take things minute by minute, do the best we can, and let the rest of it go. I'm learning that I can't be all things to all people all the time. (Yes, this confession will cause lifted eyebrows for some of my friends.)

So while we didn't accomplish everything on our list of things to do today, we did fix those items that were the most important (like Mom's blood pressure prescription). We'll eventually get the bugs worked out of everything else. For now, it's enough to know that we're doing our best--- and it's time to enjoy the sun.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

ITS IN THE DETAILS

For about a week now, I've found myself noticing details, the unimportant trivia that surround me. I'm not sure if that's because I'm almost to that point in my work in progress where I need to go back through my first draft to fill in the details, make certain I haven't left dangling storylines or changed a character's name, fill in settings, etc. I'm one of those writers without a set way of putting a story together. Sometimes I re-read, re-write, go back to fill in details as I go. This time I simply plunged ahead with plot and characters without filling in much background trivia.

How important is the everyday trivia that surrounds the characters in a story? It varies from writer to writer, but most readers like enough background trivia to make the setting real. It's good to know place, season of the year, geographical particulars, laws that set limits on particular actions, and have an idea of the world surrounding the story. It's also important to get these small details right. Not long ago I read a novel that had irises blooming in the fall; it happens the iris is a spring flower. On the other hand, I just finished reading Leaning into the Curves by Nancy Anderson and Carroll Hofeling Morris and was highly impressed with their attention to details concerning the motorcycle world and a bike tour that takes the characters from Sandy, Utah, up through Southern Idaho, into Oregon, and down the California coast before beginning a return trip through Nevada. The background and setting for this adventure make the story real without dominating the story line. The writers also do an excellent job of bringing out the life changing dynamics that occur when a husband retires and a stay-at-home wife finds her territory flying out of her control. I think readers want background and settings that bring the senses into play, but they don't pick up a novel because they're looking for a travelogue or a lesson on botany.

A successful writer needs to be observant and not only in the way that most writers are people watchers. People watching is how we study emotions, physical idiosyncrasies, reactions, etc. We also need to know how wind feels, which plants grow and their peculiarities in the area where our story is set, we need to know organizations that impact an area, how taxies and mass transit operate, the names of the various parts of a saddle, what wildlife is native to the locale, the sounds and smells of the region, historical events that coincide with our chosen time period, and we need to simply be aware of the small things and events that surround the human experience.

A few days ago we stopped at a light on Redwood Road. As I gazed out the window, I saw a fat brown mouse scurry through the grass beside the road and I was struck by the fact that I've never seen a mouse walk; they always seem to be in a hurry.

I waited for an elevator beside a young woman, who was well-rounded, though not really overweight. The pockets of her jeans were well below the curve of her behind, making her tush look huge. The sight caught my attention and I began noticing other women with low placed pockets. Same thing. No matter whether the woman was fat or thin, low pockets doubled her rear view image.

A few nights ago a fast, fierce storm struck our valley. Flashes of lightning ran sideways like the printout from an electo-cardiogram. Hail bounced like pop corn from our new deck table. Water gushed in imitation of a wild mountain stream down the gutters, then it was over, leaving only a distant grumble of thunder.

Today I held my breath as a man stepped down from a platform wearing a pair of pants that were at least eight inches too long. The rough selvedge edge, he walked on made it plain the pants had never been hemmed. As he stumbled along, I wanted to tell him clear packaging tape would serve to hold a hem until he could get the pants hemmed up properly, but I said nothing.

My ten-year-old granddaughter loves my flowers; especially the Snap dragons because they open and close their mouths when she pinches the right spot. She has found that hollyhocks can be made into old-fashioned dolls with ruffled petticoats. She examines all my flowers, but she only picks the ones that bloom in the paths or somewhere outside the gardens. Her eyes light up and she wears a happy grin when she collects a tiny bouquet of Johnny jump-up pansies with bright, happy little faces to present to her mother.

Gravel trucks come in side-dumpers, belly dumpers, and plain old dump trucks.

It has been said that to write successfully, one must write about what he/she knows. Much can be learned through research, but observation is key to understanding. Reality is in the details. Anyone who wants to write needs to first be an observer.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Here's to the crazy ones!

Several weeks ago my husband traveled on a business trip to Apple Computers in California. Upon entering the lobby he paused to read a quote that was up on the wall and was so impressed by it that he wanted to get a copy of it, which he shared with me later that day.

So, if you're like me and you're someone who marches to the beat of your own drum, who does things your way and doesn't always follow the beaten path, this is for you.


“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. The invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy. How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels? We make tools for these people. While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Sunday, June 6, 2010

I'm tending grandsons in Valencia this weekend and have my laptop with my trip pix, so thought I'd share a few, since I feel really out of everything and my brain is not in blog mode. This is Canyon de Chelly in northeastern Arizona. We are on a 6-wheel safari jeep driving up the middle of the river at the bottom of the canyon with a Navajo guide, the only way you can enter the canyon. What a fun day! In the summer the Navajo's come to the canyon floor to farm, growing peaches, beans, squash, corn and other crops.

This is Deadhorse Point State Park across from Arches National park, one of the highest overlooks of the Colorado River. What an awesome view! Great place for a family picnic on a warm day. It wasn't warm that day - I was freezing!

Arches National Park was our next stop. This formation is
called The Gossips. We had incredible blue skies for the last part of our trip through
this park, along with a cold wind. We hadn't been here for 30 years, and a few of
the arches had fallen that were here before, but overall, it was unchanged. Some of the most beautiful rock formations anywhere!

The Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, is the largest cliff dwelling in the world, according to the ranger who took us down to explore it. We spent the day wandering through all the ruins and had a a delicious Navajo taco at the Sycamore Treehouse Restaurant. At least, I think that was the name of it. The last time I was here, I had 8 month old Shelley in a front pack, 3 year old Nikki in a back pack, and Greg was 7, Lorraine was 10. Lorraine is 46 this year and Shelley is 36 so it has been awhile!

We rode the narrow-gauge railroad from Durango, Colorado to Silverton, an old mining town about 10,000 feet altitude. It snowed on us on the way up, but was a little warmer on the way back down. Spent two hours wandering the old streets, in and out of boutiques that used to be brothels. :) Had the best fries and green chili cheeseburger I've ever had. At one point we were right along the river, then an hour later, we were 1000 feet above the river that was now raging below us. Travel is much easier today than 100 years ago, but I still love the old trains.

Santa Fe is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year. One of my favorite
places is the Loretta Chapel with its "Miracle Staircase." The Sisters of Loretta built a chapel but didn't leave enough space for a staircase to the choir loft. They didn't know what to do. One day a stranger rode in and said he would build the staircase but they couldn't ask any questions. They fed him and he worked diligently until it was finished. It has no support - just free hanging. The hand rails were added later. The wood is not native to Santa Fe area. When it was finished, the builder simply disappeared.

I was going to show you a picture of the Veteran's Memorial Cemetery at Vicksburg and tell you about the siege, and let you see the Duff Green Mansion where I, by happy accident, booked us into a Civil War Mansion with four ghosts. (We didn't see any of them, even though we stayed in the room where the Civil War soldier is always seen, looking for his amputated leg.)

Then I was going to take you to Natchez, a wonderful old Civil War town with beautiful antebellum homes on the Mississippi River, and to St. Francisville where I found the most incredible cemetery full of old headstones and massive oak trees dripping with Spanish moss.
And to St. Martinville of Evangeline and Longfellow fame, but my expertise is at an end and I can't figure out how to incorporate any more pix. My computer just doesn't want to go to browse anymore. Maybe another day. I promise next time I'll do something more creative and meaningful like your posts, and try to be brilliant and articulate and wise. Or maybe I'll just be me. :)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Clouds and Sunshine

My new book, The Silence of God, will be in bookstores in the next week or two. This is a very exciting time--a time of sunshine. Yet, over the past many weeks I have learned that clouds and sunshine intersperse. We must walk through the dark times, and joy in the light when the sunshine hits our faces.

I have also been more acutely aware that others are walking the same path of light and shadow. It behooves us therefore to be kind to each other.

Just a thought.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Taps

As the sun rises over the mountains, one can hear the haunting melody of Taps being played by a lone bugler in the quiet little cemetery of Mona, Utah. The bugler comes to play every Memorial Day in honor of the service men and women buried there.

Our family has a tradition of going to the cemetery on Memorial Day to see the sunrise ceremony. The flag is raised at half mast, we hear the gun salute and listen to the famous military piece Taps played before we place flowers on loved ones gravesites.

Listening to the bugle play always brings a lump to my throat, tears to my eyes, and pride in my heart. My father served in the Air Force for four years, two of which were in a war zone in Korea where he saw the devastating effects of war both among people and land. He has a deep appreciation for our country, for it’s service men and women and therefore tried to instill within his own family that same appreciation. He is considering a military burial when that time comes as an expression of love for his country and the way he tried to live within it.

There is quite a story circulating in regards to the origin of the melody of Taps. The story is as follows:
It all began in 1862 during the Civil War, when Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was with his men near Harrison's Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land. During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moans of a soldier who lay severely wounded on the field. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the Captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention. Crawling on his stomach through the gunfire, the Captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him toward his encampment. When the Captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it was actually a Confederate soldier, but the soldier was dead. The Captain lit a lantern and suddenly caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light, he saw the face of the soldier. It was his son. The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out. Without telling his father, the boy enlisted in the Confederate Army. The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial, despite his enemy status. His request was only partially granted. The Captain had asked if he could have a group of Army band members play a funeral dirge for his son at the funeral. The request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate. But, out of respect for the father, they did say they could give him only one musician. The Captain chose a bugler. He asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of the dead youth's uniform. This wish was granted. The haunting melody, is what we now know as "Taps."

While the story is certainly touching, historians have checked the facts only to find the story is merely a legend. Actually, according to a researcher from West Point, there is no historical evidence that a Captain by the name of Robert Ellicombe even existed in the Union Army. Historians from Arlington National Cemetery agree that the song did indeed originate in 1862 and it was while at Harrison’s Landing in Virginia, that the piece was written but that is where the facts in this story ends.

Taps was written by Brig. General Daniel Butterfield, an American Civil War General. The bugle call was to signal to the soldiers "lights out." Oliver W. Norton, Butterfield’s bugler, was the first to sound the new call. Within only a couple of months of it being written, both Union and Confederate armies used the call.

Today Taps can be heard at the conclusion of Military burials conducted with honors at Arlington National Cemetery, hundreds of ceremonies at cemeteries around the United States and at private funerals.

Each year Taps is sounded during the wreath ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, and it is still played nightly at military installations in non-deployed locations to signal "lights out."

However, there is one more account that involves a man by the name of John C. Tidball. He was a Union artillery captain who ordered the call to be sounded for a fallen soldier.
Army Col. James A. Moss, in an Officer's Manual initially published in 1911, reported the following account:

"During the Peninsula Campaign in 1862, a soldier of Tidball's Battery A of the 2nd Artillery was buried at a time when the battery occupied an advanced position concealed in the woods. It was unsafe to fire the customary three volleys over the grave, on account of the proximity of the enemy, and it occurred to Capt. Tidball that the sounding of Taps would be the most appropriate ceremony that could be substituted."

This may not have anything to do with the origin of the song, it is however, the first recorded instance of Taps being used in accord with a military funeral. Until then the call sounded meant that the solider’s day was done.

How fitting then, that if the call signifies that a solider’s day is done and it is time for lights to be put out, that the very same call is sounded one last time as that soldier or veteran is laid to rest. I think of the connotations this has with death. As they are laid to rest, the day is done, lights out, they are now laid safely to rest. It is not only honorable for those who have served, but it can be quite emotional for the family to hear their loved one respected in such a way. To have the call sounded, we are called to remember those who have given us so much that far too often we take for granted.

While the original version of the call was of course an instrumental piece, lyrics were added later. These words were written by Horace Lorenzo Trim:

Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar drawing nigh,
Falls the night.

Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest;
God is nigh.

Then goodnight, peaceful night;
Till the light of the dawn shineth bright.
God is near, do not fear,
Friend, goodnight.

Another verse of lyrics were added to a recording done by John Wayne, though it is unclear who wrote the words of the verse:

Fading light, Falling night;
Trumpet call, as the sun, sinks in flight
Sleep in peace, comrade dear,
God is near.

As we walked away from the ceremony, we looked at the gravesites of those who have gone before us. The cemetery is a beautiful resting place rich with history. Gravestones now weathered and aged date back to the early 1800’s. Many have short poetic statements rarely found on markers anymore. It’s not only interesting but educational to walk through the graveyard, reading the headstones found there.

There are men, some merely boys, and women as well, who fought and gave their lives so that I may have mine. And they are still doing it today. May I never forget that and be forever grateful for it.


video

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Moving Onwards and Upwards

Two months ago my parents moved to their "new" house, a cottage in a little village near Ipswich. The house was built in 1491 and is full of charm, character, wonky walls and low doorways. They love it, and I can see that it is delightful, but it's over an hour's drive from my house when they used to live within walking distance. Another good friend moves next month, to Gloucester, and I'm a bit sad about that too. It'll take us three hours to drive to their house rather than five minutes.


I haven't had to face my children leaving home and moving away yet, but I'm starting to get an inkling of how tough it will be. It's not easy when things change and people move on. They have to, of course. Everyone has to do what is right for them and their family, and sometimes that means making a big change.

That's one reason why I am so grateful for my lovely husband, and eternal marriage. Whatever happens, and whoever else moves on, we will always have each other. Companions in our dotage, as comfortable as a pair of slippers, one little bit of stability in an ever-changing world. Barring illnesses, accidents and tragedies (which would separate us only temporarily in any case), we will share our goals and dreams for years to come, offering support, love, affirmation and friendship no matter what is happening with others outside the walls of our home.