Friday, December 30, 2011

Possibilities!

I love the New Year! I love fresh starts. I love being able to say "last year was okay. It was good, but this new year will be better." I still make resolutions or set goals, whichever term you choose to use. I actually did pretty good with them this year, and none of them included losing weight or exercising more or eating better. They included more time working on my family history, entering data into Ancestry and Legacy so I can get rid of the boxes of paper taking up space I could use for other things. And finding more info so I could perform temple ordinances for them. Practicing the organ so my arthritic fingers will still be able to play for sacrament meeting each week was one I stuck to diligently.

I also have a section in my New Year's plans for things I'd like to do and places I'd like to go; experiences I'd like to add to my life. Last year it happened to be the biggest on my list was one of the few I accomplished - the Panama Canal cruise. We did get to the Shakespeare Festival, but not to the things closest to us: the biggest Buddha in the US which is only an hour's drive from here - maybe two in traffic. History and other cultures fascinate me, so I love to immerse myself in them from time to time. Gardens of the World is just one hour - you'd think that would be a piece of cake to make, but I didn't really want to go alone and hubby loves his golf. He did give me some coupons for Christmas to cash in when I want to go somewhere so there is hope this year for that one.

I have to do some thinking about the section in my New Year's plans for "Things I've Never Done." In my 70 plus years, I've done a lot. Now is not the time to slow down and rest on my laurels. I still have so much living and accomplishing left to do! But that section will have to wait a couple of weeks. I just finished the ghost story (still doesn't have a name!) and I'm beginning final edits. My exciting new year will have to wait until I get this year's business finished.

Happy New Year to all - and may your wishes and dreams and goals all be fulfilled.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

3-2-1 2012

Three days until the beginning of 2012, and I am filled with expectation and a slight case of trepidation. After experiencing some sad and troublesome things in 2010 and 2011, I worry about the possible shadows lurking in 2012. I must keep reminding myself to live one day at a time. I want to take each day and live it through; I will laugh with gusto, gain strength from adversity, and learn from life's lessons.
It's also important to re see the world around me. I've always been a big lover of nature, and I vow to spend more time in 2012 hiking into the nearby majestic mountains and filling my soul with serenity.
I will break away from my busy schedule and spend time with friends and family (especially my daughter). My friends have always been able to lift my spirits and my daughter can make me laugh so hard that my sides ache.
I will learn to do something new. Perhaps I'll finally learn Tai Chi, which would be good for my physical and emotional health.
I will eat more apples.
I will eat less sugar.
I will celebrate getting older.
I will look forward with faith.
I do believe in the "eternities" where there will be no time, no minutes or months, and no countdown to a new year.
Until then, I will count my blessings and celebrate another year of possibilities.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

There is Hope in my Heart

Christmas is over. After weeks preparing, planning and looking forward the day, it has come and gone. We are still eating up the turkey (turkey pizza tonight, turkey fricassee tomorrow) and catching up with all the wonderful TV we recorded, and the children are still thrilled with all their new toys - more thrilled than I am at trying to figure out where we're going to put them all.

Christmas is over. The children go back to school on 3rd January, the same day I go back to work. And then we have three months of feeling cold and wet before the first signs of spring and lighter evenings start to breathe life back into the world. It's times like this I wish I could hibernate. (Or fly to Florida for 12 weeks.)

Christmas is over. But I'm not feeling quite as deflated as usual this year. In fact, I'm feeling somewhat buoyant. Tomorrow I am going to the Temple with my best friend. The following day, our family are going to Leeds (halfway across the country from us - a four hour drive) to visit family for New Year. So there's plenty to look forward to still, and I'm excited about the new start and new opportunities and challenges 2012 will bring.

One of my favourite new songs of this season is "When the Thames Froze" by Smith & Burrows. The tune is beautiful and the poetry is unusually good for song lyrics. It includes these lines:

"Another year draws to its close
And tired London slows...
So tell everyone that there's hope in your heart
Tell everyone or it'll tear you apart
At the end of the Christmas day 
When there's nothing left to say.
The years go by so fast
Let's hope the next beats the last."

Since my personal "Annus Horribilis" in 1996, each year has indeed beaten the last for me, and I do have hope in my heart that 2012 won't be the exception. The wonderful spirit of Christmas is something that those of us who know the Saviour we celebrate at that time can keep with us each day, and it does fill us with hope. So Christmas may be over, but the hope it brings us isn't.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Letter about Christmas

I've been troubled about a small group of folks who wish to take the Savior's name out of this joyous season. My friend sent along this special letter to me and I'd like to share it with you. May you all have a wonderful Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! Gale

Letter from Jesus about Christmas

It has come to my attention that many of you are upset that folks are taking My name out of the season.

How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don't care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth, just GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Now, having said that let Me go on. If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn't allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen and put in a small Nativity scene on your own front lawn. If all My followers did that there wouldn't be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town.

Stop worrying about the fact that people are calling the tree a holiday tree, instead of a Christmas tree. It was I who made all trees. You can remember Me anytime you see any tree. Decorate a grape vine if you wish: I actually spoke of that one in a teaching, explaining who I am in relation to you and what each of our tasks were. If you have forgotten that one, look up John 15: 1 - 8.

If you want to give Me a present in remembrance of My birth here is my wish list. Choose something from it:

1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way My birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know, they tell Me all the time.

2. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don't have to know them personally. They just need to know that someone cares about them.

3. Instead of writing the President complaining about the wording on the cards his staff sent out this year, why don't you write and tell him that you'll be praying for him and his family this year. Then follow up... It will be nice hearing from you again.

4. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can't afford and they don't need, spend time with them. Tell them the story of My birth, and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.

5 Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.

6. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless? Since you don't know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile; it could make the difference.

7. Instead of nit picking about what the retailer in your town calls the holiday, be patient with the people who work there. Give them a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren't allowed to wish you a "Merry Christmas" that doesn't keep you from wishing them one. Then stop shopping there on Sunday. If the store didn't make so much money on that day they'd close and let their employees spend the day at home with their families

8. If you really want to make a difference, support a missionary-- especially one who takes My love and Good News to those who have never heard My name.

9. Here's a good one. There are individuals and whole families in your town who not only will have no "Christmas" tree, but neither will they have any presents to give or receive. If you don't know them, buy some food and a few gifts and give them to the Salvation Army or some other charity which believes in Me and they will make the delivery for you.

10. Finally, if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to Me, then behave like a Christian. Don't do things in secret that you wouldn't do in My presence. Let people know by your actions that you are one of mine.

Don't forget; I am God and can take care of Myself. Just love Me and do what I have told you to do. I'll take care of all the rest. Check out the list above and get to work; time is short. I'll help you, but the ball is now in your court. And do have a most blessed Christmas with all those whom you love and remember

I LOVE YOU,
JESUS

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

MY CHRISTMAS CARD TO YOU



Christmas cards are a custom that seems to be slowly dying.  I find this kind of sad.  I've always loved getting and sending cheery little messages at Christmas time.  Unlike some, I also love long, chatty Christmas letters and feel a little disappointed when a card arrives with only the sender's signature.  Yet even I cut my card list in half this year.  Unfortunately sending large numbers of cards has gotten too time consuming, too expensive, and like most other people I've found I can save time, money, and reach out to more people via the internet. Close family and friends whom I won't be seeing during the holiday season got cards, particularly those who never or seldom check email or Facebook.  For everyone else, this is my Christmas card and letter.  That doesn't mean you matter less; it simply means you're younger, more computer savvy, and more accustomed to computer communication with me than to paper communications.
If you read my blog, you already know the highlights of my year have been a new granddaughter in April, the release of If I Should Die in June, a trip to the Shakespeare Festival and to Touacahn in July, a reunion with my siblings and their spouses in October, and the purchase of a new car in late fall.  I've attended soccer games, piano recitals, a dance concert, and celebrated birthdays with my grandchildren.  There have been cookouts (sometimes cook-ins due to the past year's crazy weather), family dinners, ward dinners, and the acceptance of my next book Heirs of Southbridge slated for a March release.  Below are a few pictures taken during this past year. On top of everything else, there has been the ongoing problem with knees that no longer cooperate and numerous shots to delay surgery on them.








So now that the chatty part of this Christmas letter is over, I want to wish you a merry Christmas and tell you how grateful I am for the people who read my books, my Meridian column, my blogs, and even my Facebook posts. Most of all, I want you to know that though I love the songs of Christmas, the whole Santa thing, spending wonderful time with my children and grandchildren, becoming involved in service projects, and giving presents; the Christmas Season means more than that to me.  I cherish most those quiet moments, found most often in the temple, when I contemplate the awesome events of the night Christ was born, when I feel deep in my soul the enormity of God's gift to us.

May each of you be blessed with peace, hope, and an assurance of Christ's love as we commemorate His birth and as you embark on the coming year.



Friday, December 16, 2011

Sharing my cruise with you

The cruise from the Pacific to the Atlantic through the Panama Canal was incredible! Weather in Cabo San Lucas was hot and sunny. Water azure blue - Land's End and Poseidon's Arch just what I hoped! That had been on my bucket list, but wasn't sure I'd ever get to see it. I loved it, but Cabo is too expensive to spend a lot of time there! This was my first time anywhere in Mexico but the border towns and very different.

Puerto Vallarta was fun - also hot - expensive - beautiful! Didn't get in the water there. Visited a beautiful old church, walked on the new "boardwalk" which is really a wide curving picturesque sidewalk along the bay where everything happens. We were bused up into the mountains to see a UNESCO World Heritage site in Mismaloya - A Tequila Factory! Also stopped above the site where "Night of the Iguana" was filmed. There were not even roads into the site at the time. They brought everything into the pretty little bay by boat. Everything is so lush and green with huge trees of every kind and exquisite flowers of every hue.

Puntarenas, Costa Rica and the rain forest was lovely- also hot and humid but a great experience. We were bused to the top of the mountain, walked on suspension bridges above the rain forest for awhile, then worked our way down to the bottom of it. The little town of Puntarenas was nothing - quite poor in direct contrast to the resorts in Cabo and Puerto Vallarta. But our tour guide was delightful and gave us all the history and lowdown on her beloved country. We did get to see lots of crocodiles. Our boat man got out, almost wrestled with a huge monster, then put some fish in his mouth, bent over toward the crocodile and the behemoth snapped it right out! We thought he was going to lose his head!!

The Panama Canal was probably the highlight for Glenn. He spent the first part of the cruise reading David McCullough's book - 750 pages about the building of the canal - so it was very meaningful for him. What an engineering feat! We sailed through from the Pacific into the Atlantic - took about nine hours but didn't get to stop in the city which may have had more high rise buildings than Los Angeles!

Cartegena, Colombia was really special because Shelley (youngest daughter) was working in Colombia that week auditing the huge mine there (one of the biggest in the world) and flew up that morning to meet us at the big famous fort - one of the oldest in South America. She arrived an hour or more before us but chatted with the natives until our buses arrived. She said she'd look for the buses of old people - but that's all there was - bus after bus of old white-haired people! :) She spent the day with us seeing Old Town, the Fort, New Town, neat churches, learning about emeralds - we didn't buy any!

Then we dropped her off at Old Town and went back to the ship and she shopped a couple of hours, caught her plane and flew back to Bogotá, then to Miami, then home - arrived just in time to go to work the next day. This was the port they told us "If you aren't with an organized tour, don't get off the ship." Shelley worked with a girl from there (had been with her all week) who said Cartegena was one of the safest cities in South America because the President of the country loved to be there so he made sure it was safe. I loved it. It was my favorite city. I could spend a week there - all the beautiful old Colonial buildings and feel of history. But we learned that Michael Douglas didn't really jump off that fort in Romancing the Stone (Hollywood trick) because there is no water around it! They also had lots of high rise buildings surrounding the bay.

We were really blessed there - it had been pouring buckets of rain for the preceding nine days. That morning the clouds cleared and we had beautiful warm sunshine. Really warm! Then as our ship pulled out of port and back into the Caribbean, the rain began again. We were worried that Shelley's flight wouldn't be able to take of!

Next stop was Grand Cayman and this was really a super treat! We got into that incredibly azure blue Caribbean water out on a sand bar miles from shore and fed the sting rays! You hold a piece of squid in your fist, thumb tucked down, and they swim right across your hand and suck it up. I got a massage from one - our guide picked it up and held it to my back and it fluttered those marvelously soft fins across my back. The water was so fantastic we didn't want to get out! We had probably 25-30 sting rays swimming around us. The only problem was you couldn't bounce around. You needed to keep your feet planted in the sand, but the waves kept sweeping me off my feet! If you step on one, they will sting you with that long tail, so we did have to watch the tails!

Then they took us to another area over some coral reefs and we got to snorkel and watch the multi-colored fish swim in and out of the beautiful different kinds of coral. The white sand on the bottom was like sugar! What a day! We ended up going to Hell, a little tiny town with a post office and a patch of very sharp volcanic rock poking up, then a turtle farm which was fascinating! They had the world's largest (as far as they know) green sea turtle who has laid over 10,000 eggs. 80% of them have hatched. We were blessed again. They said if we had arrived on any one of the previous four days, we would not have been able to go out in the water because of the terrible weather they had been having!

Got back on the ship and steamed into Tampa Bay the next morning and after two excruciating flights home, we arrived to rain and snow! So much for Sunny California! But no complaints. We had our two weeks of "paradise." Now to prepare for Christmas, which can't possible be just next week! Merry Christmas to you all! And may you have a delightful cruise in your not-too-distant future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A British Christmas

[This is the text of an article I wrote and which appears in the current edition of Latter-Day Woman magazine. Apologies for not coming up with something original - at least this version has more pictures.]

Why would anyone want to go to Britain for Christmas? Let’s face it; it’s a cold, wet, overcrowded  island and it’s a ten-hour flight away. All the tourist attractions will be closed, and even when they are open you’ve got less than eight hours of daylight each day to enjoy them in. The perilously narrow roads and roundabouts will be icy and even more treacherous than usual, and a night at a London Marriott for a family of four will cost you over $1,000 per night.


 And if you like festive fluffy snow at Christmas, stay in Utah. Snow is relatively rare in Britain in December, and when it does fall it’s the wet, mushy kind that chills you to the bone, refuses to form into snowballs, and soaks anyone stupid enough to try to make a snow angel in it.

So why come to Britain in for Christmas?

On this side of the Atlantic we haven’t had a big whole-family-gathered-round-turkey-feast celebration since last Christmas (as opposed to last month) so we are ready to party, especially since Christmas decorations have been in the shops since September sparking a slow-build of glorious anticipation. (Not to mention some rolled eyes and complaints about over-commercialised consumerism.) We don’t do Halloween with quite the gusto the Americans do, our version of Thanksgiving is a barely-there harvest festival in September only really acknowledged in primary schools, and we don’t have 4th of July. (The calendar jumps straight from the 3rd to the 5th.) So if you want to get that sense of Christmas being the absolutely second-to-none best ever day of the year, you need to come to Britain.

Over here it’s not “the holidays” or “the festive season”. We only wish people “happy holidays” when they are flying off to sunnier places (almost anywhere). We are not afraid to offend others by wishing them a “Merry Christmas”. Recent attempts by politically-correct types to stop schools doing nativity plays (we are allowed to sing hymns and say prayers in schools) have largely failed because the Muslim, Sikh and Jewish parents were quite vocal about enjoying this long-standing tradition. So if you want a group of six-year-old shepherds with dressing-gowns and tea-towels on over their school uniforms to wish you an unashamedly Merry Christmas , you’ll have to come to Britain.

Growing up, my mother always made the brandy butter on Christmas Eve while listening to Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge on Radio 4. Most churches, including LDS Wards, have a carol service on Christmas morning, and many have several other special services in the prelude to Christmas. The most popular, however, is Midnight Mass, a vigil service to welcome in Christmas day. This is generally fairly well attended, despite the fact that only 6% of Brits go to church regularly. Possibly it’s because the Parish church is a warm place to go when the pubs close. If you want to enjoy the candlelight, singing and anticipation in a church which has stood on the same spot since 600 AD, you’ll have to come to Britain.

Apparently Father Christmas used to wear a green suit trimmed with white fur, but at some stage he saw himself depicted wearing red in a Coca-Cola advert and decided that red suited him far better.  My own children have always been rather afraid of him. I think, being people of the twenty-first century, they are very suspicious about a man who likes to creep into children’s bedrooms in the middle of the night, even if he did claim to be doing so in order to leave presents in the stocking on the end of their beds. My eldest asked her father and I to wait up for Father Christmas, divert him from the chimney, and take the presents into her bedroom ourselves for her to open noisily at 2 a.m.  With heavy sighs, we agreed. Unfortunately Father Christmas is very ageist and he doesn’t come to adults, so if you want to wake up to the amazing feeling of your legs being weighted down with wrapped gifts, you’re out of luck.

Christmas lunch is almost always a huge turkey (which will yield several days’ worth of leftovers) with all the trimmings – roast and mashed potatoes, roast parsnips, Brussels sprouts (sometimes with chestnuts), sausages and pigs in blankets, roasted onions and those old stalwarts, carrots and peas. Naturally there will be stuffing both in the turkey and in little roasted balls, cranberry sauce to go with the turkey, bread sauce to go with everything and oodles of thick gravy.  Before we can carve our turkey, however, there are Christmas crackers to be pulled. These guarantee immediate bonding as you pull them with your neighbour at the table, hoping for a satisfying crack. Crackers always contain a paper party hat, a really corny joke, and a small cheap novelty such as a plastic spider or a keyring. Once silly hats are on heads and jokes are groaned over, the feast can begin. But if you want to enjoy a roast parsnip smothered in bread sauce, or pull a cracker, you’ll have to come to Britain.

Christmas day dessert is a little complicated for a Latter-day Saint. The traditional dishes of Christmas pudding, Christmas cake and mince pies are all laced with copious quantities of alcohol. Instead I make a yule log – a swiss roll covered in chocolate buttercream icing – and I usually make it on Christmas eve. I must remember, this year, to listen to Nine Lessons and Carols on Radio 4 as I do so. If you want to enjoy the moist, chocolately goodness of my yule log, you’ll have to … email me for the recipe. I have nine people to cook for this year, I’m not inviting you too.

After lunch we waddle into the lounge and switch on the television. The Queen’s speech is shown on several channels simultaneously, and in our house at least is greeted by everyone commenting on how old she looks, forgetting that the pictures they are used to seeing of her – on notes, coins and stamps – are somewhat sympathetic or just plain out of date. Following the Queen’s speech, the BBC generally pulls out all the stops with the biggest family film of the year. I’m predicting the latest Harry Potter this year. The BBC is funded by everyone in the country having to pay for a television licence, so there are no commercials. So if you want to settle down with the family to watch a great film with no one trying to sell you anything at crucial intervals in it, you’ll have to come to Britain.

There are always Christmas specials too. Doctor Who is the most eagerly anticipated, and it seems not to have occurred to the nation that it’s rather contrived for an alien time-traveller to insist on spending Christmas in London every year. (Perhaps he’s read this article.) There may also be a new Wallace and Grommit, or hilarious motoring show Top Gear, and the BBC’s mandate mean there will have to be a high-quality religious offering, but it will all be fabulous family viewing to guarantee that everyone spends Christmas afternoon and evening glued to the television. There’s nothing else to do after all – the shops will be closed for another two days at least. If you want to spend your Christmas afternoon browsing the sales, you’ll have to stay in America.

Tea on Christmas day is cold turkey sandwiches. Assuming anyone can eat. And then on Boxing Day (the next day, and another public holiday) it’s the same again. Television, and turkey curry/fricassee/casserole. Because Christmas day falls on a Sunday this year we then get another public holiday in lieu on Tuesday 27th. So if you want to … no, why would you? Who needs three days off over Christmas anyway?

You might then like to pop up to Scotland for Hogmanay. I hear that’s very good too. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Why I Never Took Part in Another School Christmas Pageant


This time of year has always been one of my favorites. As a child, (and an adult) I thoroughly enjoyed decorating the house, making Christmas cookies, and singing Christmas carols.Taking part in Christmas productions at school was another highlight that filled my heart with Christmas cheer.

One year while I was in elementary school, I was asked to portray the part of Mary in the school play. This could've been because I was one of the few girls my age who still had long, dark hair, (Pixie cuts were all the rage that year) but I also suspect the fact that my aunt happened to be my teacher had a lot more to do with it. ;) Regardless, I was thrilled and during rehearsals, I strived to live up to the expectations of this starring role.

The day of the much anticipated performance finally came. The night before I had been so excited, I could hardly sleep. When I woke up, I experienced waves of nausea, and was terribly unamused. This couldn't  be happening. I was supposed to be Mary that day!

I quickly dressed and hurried into the kitchen. Then I sat down on a chair to keep from collapsing onto the floor. By then I knew I had caught a vicious stomach bug that had been going around the school for a couple of weeks. The thought made me sicker than I already was. People were depending on me--I had a starring role. I had looked forward to this event for weeks and I wasn't about to let my uncooperative body ruin things for me.

Somehow I made it through breakfast--with the help of our family dog. I slipped her most of what was on my plate that morning. My mother had been so busy getting everyone else ready for the day that she hadn't noticed I was tilting sideways. It wasn't until she was helping me fix my hair for the play that she caught on that I was a bit pale. She asked if I was feeling all right and I assured her I was fine. She then counseled me to quit being so nervous, assuming that was the cause of the slightly green tint, and she continued helping me get ready.

I'm amazed I survived the bus ride to school. Plagued by a tendency to develop motion sickness under normal circumstances, the added nausea from the stomach bug was almost more than I could bear, but I was so determined to be the best Mary this school had ever seen, I gritted my teeth and forced my body to behave.

I arrived at the school, and hurried into the girls restroom where I splashed cold water on my face to ease the queasiness. Then I went into the classroom and laid my head down on my desk to make the world quit spinning.

Now I realize I shouldn't have attempted taking part in the school production that day--but in my seven-year-old mind, this was the most important thing that had ever come into my life. I had been picked to portray Mary, the mother of Jesus. It seemed like my entire world was centered on successfully seeing this part through to the finish.

The rest of that morning is pretty much a blur. I do remember my aunt asking if I was feeling all right, and I gave her the same answer I had shared with my mother earlier: "I'm fine." Then I forced a weak smile, hoping it looked convincing.

During lunch hour, I nibbled on a piece of bread, then when the lunch lady wasn't looking, I gave away most of the food on my tray to my friends, and threw the rest into the garbarge. My friends assumed I was experiencing a form of stage fright, and were only too happy to consume the special treats that had been prepared for us that day.

It was finally time for the production. All of our parents (mostly our mothers since our dads were still at work) arrived to cheer us on. I quickly dressed in the traditional Mary costume, experiencing a mixture of excitement, extreme nausea, and a bit of nervousness. This was the biggest part I had ever been assigned in a school production and I was determined to give it everything I had.

My mother sneaked in to where I was getting ready to make sure I was doing okay. She again commented on how pale I was and asked me a final time if I was all right. Assuring her that I was, I picked up the doll that would be playing the part of Jesus that day, and we hurried back into the room where everyone else had gathered.

The play progressed nicely that afternoon. All went well until it was time for me lay the baby Jesus into the small manger. Then disaster struck. The nausea I had been doing my best to ignore would no longer be denied. When I realized my body was taking the driver's seat, I dropped the doll into the manger, and ran off the small stage, but didn't quite make it out of the room in time.

Mortified by the mess I had made  . . . of everything . . . I ran into the girls' restroom to hide. My mother followed, and graciously helped me clean up. My aunt took care of the new carpet I had all but ruined in the other room. I heard later from some of my friends that she had not been amused by my performance, and was upset by the condition of the new carpet. (It was a brand new school we had moved into that fall. I have the honor of being the first kid who stained some of the new carpet.)

Later when I was lying in the comfort of my bed at home, I pulled a pillow over my face and cried, convinced I had ruined Christmas for everyone. I had shamed my family in a public fashion, desecrated the role of Mary, and ticked off my aunt. My life was in ruins . . . or so I thought.

My family rallied around me, my parents and younger siblings (I was the oldest in our clan) offering sympathy and love despite my less than stellar performance. My brother even commented on how cool it was that I had barfed in front of everyone. Boys always see things differently, even at that young age.

By Christmas Eve, I was feeling better, and my mother asked me to play the part of Mary in our own family production of the traditional Christmas Story. Donning a different costume (the other one was understandably thrown away) I gravely did my best to portray the mother of our Savior. With my brother playing the part of Joseph, our younger sister representing the shepherds, and our baby sister taking the part of the infant Jesus, we solemnly acted out the miraculous birth of our Elder Brother. My dad read from the book of Luke, and our mother furnished the piano accompaniment for songs like "The First Noel," "Silent Night," and "O, Little Town of Bethlehem." The only one in the audience that night was our chihuahua, Teeny, but she seemed very impressed by our performance.

I've never forgotten the sacred feeling I experienced that night. Though my life was in shambles, I still felt the love of our Savior during that Christmas season. And by the time I returned to school to start the new year, everyone had moved past my unfortunate performance . . . with the exception of my aunt who still had a pained look whenever she glanced my direction . . . and a young boy my age who was as impressed by my eruption as my brother. He later asked me to be his girlfriend. ;)

I learned some great lessons from that experience--the importance of never pushing one's body past the point of no return, boys are weird, and the love of our Savior is very real. May we all reflect upon His great love for us, and share it with others this holiday season. MERRY CHRISTMAS!



Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Multi-cultural Holiday Dilemma

In the main entry a large Christmas tree reached almost to the ceiling and in the office a smaller tree stood on the counter that separated students from the school secretary.  Someone taped a cluster of mistletoe above the wide arch that led to the cloakroom.  Minutes after the second bell rang files of junior high students left their homerooms one class at a time to make their way to the school's large auditorium to rehearse for the annual Christmas assembly.  Every homeroom class took a turn---except mine.

I was in the eighth grade when I learned not everyone observed Christmas.  My homeroom teacher was Jewish and refused to participate in Christmas or Easter observances.  Those of us in her class felt cheated.  We wanted to be part of the assembly even if all we did was join in singing carols.  It was hard to study and learn grammar rules while all of the other students in the school were in the auditorium rehearsing, goofing off, and having fun.  We did get to attend the assembly with the principal and assistant principal sitting with our class, but were painfully aware none of the talented singers or dancers in our class set foot on the stage.

Over the years many events have brought glimpses of understanding concerning that awkward Christmas.  Certainly a non-Christian school teacher should not have been required to participate in that assembly; I've never felt any animosity toward her for her refusal to be part of something she didn't believe in.  She was, in fact, an excellent teacher who did much to encourage me and her many other students.  However, I have wondered at times why a few parents weren't asked to chaperone our class and help us to be participants in an assembly that was a big deal back then.

A few years later in another community, I noticed a handful of students sitting in the library with their textbooks open before them as the rest of the students made their way to the auditorium for a Christmas program presented by a traveling university group.  I knew those students were Jehovah's Witnesses and a few were Jewish.  I found something sad about them studying while the rest of us were enjoying a delightful program.

These two instances were a stark contrast to another school I attended where every student was required to take choir, all thirty four of us.  It was a small school. If anyone checked, we probably represented a half dozen or more different faiths as well as including a Native American and a couple of atheists and our choir director was the Baptist preacher from a nearby town.  We sang at his church, at the LDS church, at the Catholic Church, and at several other protestant churches.  We sang for naturalization ceremonies, graveside services, Easter Sun Rise Services, and Christmas programs. It was one of the richest experiences of my school years.

In today's political climate too often the solution to mixed faiths and observances has become outlawing all such observances.  No one's God is allowed in school.  That's sad.  Our lives and our culture will only be strengthened and enriched by learning more of other cultures and the faiths of other people.  To shut away our history and religious traditions hurts more than helps world unity. 

I visited a beautiful historical church in San Antonio a few years ago where the priest conducted a short service for us, but knowing most of our group weren't Catholic he quoted some well-known nondenominational poetry in place of prayers. I was disappointed and couldn't help contrasting that service with the solemn warmth of a Christmas mass I attended once with a friend where the service was steeped in hundreds of years of spiritual custom .  My mother-in-law was a registered nurse.  In an attempt to be fair to everyone, the hospital administrator assigned everyone to work on Christmas Day, but a Jewish nurse went to Mom with a suggestion that my mother-in-law trade her Christmas hours for the other nurse's Hanukah ones. As a young reporter, I and my family were invited to a Lutheran Church for their festival of lights, Santa Lucia.  It was a choice experience my small children have remembered and occasionally speak of, though they are parents themselves now.  I believe attending other churches and honoring other faith's traditions leads to understanding and openness between various peoples.

When I worked for the City Library, I spent a number of years at a small branch library on the west side of Salt Lake City. Our patrons were very diverse since that seems to be an area where refugees settle first when they come to Utah.  It was fun to share the excitement and enthusiasm of our youngest patrons as various cultural and religious holidays arrived.  I particularly remember a little Vietnamese boy, who never stopped chattering, trying to explain to a shy little Muslim girl, who never spoke to anyone, why the library ladies had a tree with lights on it inside the library. Children have no problem observing every feast or holiday and inviting other children of different cultures to join them and they are anxious to learn about different celebrations.  We adults should be more like that.  We should welcome opportunities to share our traditions and beliefs and we should embrace occasions when we can be part of other cultures' and denominations' observances.  The peace and understanding most faiths claim to seek can best be found through sharing our celebrations, not by hiding them away for fear some might be offended.  We should go the second mile to enable others to observe those occasions important to them too.   Not only should no one be pressured to observe a religious holiday they feel uncomfortable with; neither should anyone be kept from openly participating in observances they find important.  Diluting a religious observance to something non-denominational isn't the answer either. Our culture can only benefit from sharing the events we find significant rather than hiding them from public view.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Being a Lifeline


My daughter borrowed my car the other day to drive from our home in Sandy up to Park City. It's about a 45 minute drive and luckily the weather was good that day. On the way home she called to chat and as we were talking she suddenly realized that the low fuel light was on, and she had no idea how long it had been on. There's a button in my car you can push to see how many miles you have left before your tank is empty. She had 7 miles left. If you've ever driven down Parley's Canyon you know that there aren't a lot of places to get gas. In fact, there aren't any. The closest gas station was just off Foothill Boulevard but she had no idea how many miles until she got there. I stayed on the phone, knowing that all I could do was pray with her and assure her she was going to make it (although I had no idea if she really would, I just wanted to help her stay calm). As we talked she counted down the miles as they dropped lower and lower. When the tank showed 2 miles she noticed a sign for the I-215 belt route. I knew it had to be close, but would she have enough gas to make it? 1 mile left. There was the sign for Foothill Boulevard. Just as the tank showed 0, she saw the Chevron station. On fumes, she pulled up to a gas tank and both of us heaved sighs of relief.
There are people in our lives that are always there for us. People we know we can count on when we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place. We, in turn, are able to be that person for others, someone they can depend on when they need help, support, love or just a safe place to unload their burdens or share a laugh.
I'm so blessed to have wonderful people in my life. The women of this blog are unconditionally loving and supportive. They've shared in joys and sorrows, successes and failures. How grateful I am for sisters and sisters-in-law's that I know will always be there for me, drop everything to help me. How grateful I am for daughters and a daughter-in-law, who are caring and loving and my best friends. How grateful I am for my sweet son who can make me laugh harder than anyone I know. And how grateful I am for my husband who supports me and love me, no matter how insane I get.
I hope that I am as much of a strength to others as they are to me. Who are those people in your life? Make sure you remember them at this time of year.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Journey into China














Yesterday I attended the funeral of Elder H. Grant Heaton, a brilliant man whose noble accomplishments deserve recognition. I had the privilege of interviewing he and his wife for my book on China, Letters in the Jade Dragon Box.


In 1949 Grant Heaton was one of the first missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be sent to Hong Kong, China. When the communists seized control of China in late 1949, Elder Heaton would serve out the remainder of his mission in Hawaii and Chinatown, San Francisco. A few years later, after schooling, marriage, and the birth of a son, Elder Heaton would find himself in, what he considered, strange circumstances. As a missionary returned from Hong Kong, he had been called several times to meet with Elder Harold B. Lee and Stephen L. Richards, counselor to President McKay, to discuss and evaluate the conditions in the Far East.


In his words. “Still a few weeks later, I received a call from President Richard’s office, requesting another meeting. It was almost the same as the first, except he did wonder, out loud, if it would be possible for me to go to Hong Kong this summer. I assumed that he wanted me to accompany one of the General Authorities, or even a new Mission President called to re-open the area. I knew that President Robertson had been urging for some assistance to continue operations in Hong Kong, which was then part of his “Japanese Mission”. I told President Richards that I would be delighted to go to Hong Kong for the summer. He asked if my wife would be willing to go. Because Grant Jr. had just been born, I suggested that I talk to her about it first. He asked me to return in one week for another discussion.
As we entered President Richard’s office, President J. Reuben Clark was there, and in a few moments President McKay walked in. He was very jovial, and made a great fuss over little Grant Jr. playing and laughing with him for some time.
Finally, seated in his large swivel chair, he turned and looked at me, and said, “Now President Heaton, this is a very important assignment. I have long been interested in the Chinese people and the missionary work there.” For the first time it dawned on me that all this was leading up to me being called as a Mission President. My first reaction of shock and disbelief, impelled me to say, “President McKay, I am neither capable, nor worthy to be a Mission President.” He very causally replied, “Oh, we are perfectly aware of that, Brother Heaton.” Our official call came in the mail a few days later.
Our next surprise was to become aware of the immense territory covered by this new Mission. President McKay said it was not only the largest Mission in the Church, but it contained more people than the rest of the world combined.
In subsequent meetings with the First Presidency, we learned how deeply President McKay’s interest in China really was. At the time we were set apart, it was mentioned that several attempts had been made in China, in failure. “This time we will not fail,” he promised!”


The Southern Far East mission began in Hong Kong with eight eager missionaries being led by a very capable Mission President, and being fed by a loving “Mission Mom.” Over the next months and years the gospel net was tossed wide as Cantonese and Mandarin were learned, lessons given, and baptisms performed. President and Sister Heaton would see the hand of the Lord in the missionary work, growth of the church, and in miracles for their family. President Heaton would be instrumental in securing floors of apartment buildings to serve as Branch chapels, and in purchasing a sizable piece of land in Kowloon for the mission home.



In later years when Gordon B. Hinkley was searching in vain for property on which to build the Hong Kong temple, the following experience is recorded in his biography. “Something very interesting came into my mind…I did not hear a voice with my natural ears, but into my mind there came the voice of the Spirit. It said, ‘why are you worried about this? You have a wonderful piece of property where the mission home and the small chapel stand. They are in the very heart of Kowloon, in the location with the best transportation. Build a building of several stories. It can include a chapel and classrooms on the first two floors, and a temple on the top two or three floors’…I relaxed and went back to sleep.” (Go Forward with Faith pg. 481)


The Hong Kong temple was dedicated May 26 &27, 1996. One year later, 1997, as the 99 year lease agreement between Britain and China expired; Hong Kong went back to the jurisdiction of mainland China. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would have a temple in a province of communist China.


At President Heaton's funeral, as words of tribute and love were spoken, my thoughts turned to the times I sat in the Heaton's living room, hearing many of the missionary stories and absorbing gems of wisdom about the Chinese culture. I remembered the feelings of love and respect this good couple had for the people of China. Through my research I was privileged to open a small window onto that beautiful landscape with its amazing people. My soul is richer for the journey.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Never "Meet" your Heroes

[You'll notice from this post that I've just learned how to do links on Blogger and, like a child, I'm playing with my new toy at every opportunity.]


My favourite radio show (Simon Mayo on Radio 2) has a book club. Every two weeks they interview an author and invite listeners to read the first chapter on their website. Other listeners, from a pre-selected panel, have already read the book, and give their reviews. It's fascinating to find out how the writers go about researching and structuring their books (yesterday's featured author was Conn Igguldon who had been to Mongolia in order to get a feel for the location of his historical epic about Kubla Khan, and found it "very like Wales") and naturally you get to know quite a bit about the authors themselves.

I may be shallow, but it actually matters to me what those authors are like. I want them to be nice people. I was delighted to learn that JK Rowling had donated a vast amount of money to the campaign to find Madeleine McCann because, like the rest of the world, I love Harry Potter, and for some strange reason it mattered to me that the creator of Hogwarts was a nice person. I have already blogged about Enid Blyton and how finding out that she was an adulterer and an uncaring mother has affected my enjoyment of her books, and my likelihood of reading them to my children.

I particularly enjoyed, then, the interview with Sir Terry Pratchett who proved to be just as delightfully eccentric and personable as I could have hoped. And I liked Anthony Horowitz so much when I listened to his interview that I am suggesting one of his books to my book club. Barbara Taylor Bradford came across as rather aloof and unfriendly, so I won't be going out of my way to buy her books.

The biggest shock, however, was Terry Deary, author of the Horrible Histories books which my middle daughter loves so much she has developed a fascination with history generally. Admittedly he wasn't on Simon Mayo's show (and I hope Simon never invites him) but his interview in Radio Times was little short of offensive. He was arrogant, objectionable and at one stage dismissed a keen 11-year-old fan saying, "How dare people come to me?" He was scathing about other highly respected historians and writers, and even such venerable and admired institutions as Radio 4 and the nation's schools. Interviewer Rosie Millard, herself a venerable and admired institution, does her best to redeem him by mentioning his charity work, but by that time I loathed the man so she might just as well not have bothered.

So there are nice authors, and not-so-nice authors, and you really can't tell much about the personality of the writer by reading their book. But I really hope I can be a nice author. It's so distressing and disappointing for fans to discover that someone who had created so much reading pleasure is not deserving of their adulation.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A New Exciting Way to Read Books Online



A few weeks ago I was contacted about an exciting new website, something called, Big World Network. This online reading service is provided at no cost. Anyone interested can read or listen to books that will be posted as a weekly series. Each week another episode or chapter from the book of your choice will be featured. This is similar to how popular series are followed on television, but in book form.

Books are rated based on content, which is a handy way to know if a certain book is one you would be interested in reading, or listening to, compliments of the audio form that is also available. Currently, fifteen books are listed for perusal. E-mail subscriptions are also being offered, which is a handy way to be notified when the next installment of the book you've selected is available. This way you will have immediate access when the next chapter or episode is released.

For writers, this is another way to expose your newest work to online readers, increasing the readership for your books. Submissions can be sent to this website for possible inclusion on their website.

I think this is a great way for new writers and established writers alike to secure online exposure, and an exciting new twist to online reading. Be sure to check out the website on this link: Click here and see what you think about this new online venue.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

TODAY IS A DAY TO GIVE THANKS

As I was shopping for a few last minute items I forgot when I did my Thanksgiving shopping, the yams I selected shot through the bottom of the plastic bag and scattered all over the floor. As I bent to begin picking them up, a boy tore off a plastic bag and began gathering them up for me. When he finished, he set them in my cart, I thanked  him profusely, and he hurried off to join his mother.  The boy was probably somewhere around ten or twelve and I'd never seen him before. He had no way of knowing how much my knees hurt or that I'll soon be having surgery on them. I'm not only grateful for his act of kindness, but I'm thankful there are young people in this world who are growing up with kind hearts, the kind of future leaders my generation can safely trust with the responsibilities they will face as tomorrow's decision makers.

I've found myself thinking lately about Mrs. King, my third grade teacher who taught me something of the history of Thanksgiving. With big paper buckles on our shoes and pilgrim hats and bonnets on our heads or a feathered headband and beads, we sat down to a Thanksgiving feast of apples, raisins, and some kind of bread similar to fry bread.  Even now I remember the song she taught us to sing before we began our feast.

            Bless this house, O Lord we pray.        
            Keep it safe by night and day.
            Bless these walls, so firm and stout
            Keeping want and hunger out.

I know, the song wouldn't be acceptable in today's classrooms, but I'm glad it was in mine.

I've talked all month, as have many of you, about those things, large and small, for which we are thankful.  Today I'll only add my gratitude for good food, family to enjoy it with me, and a warm home to shelter us from the cold. May your Thanksgiving Day be as filled with love and warmth as mine.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving

It's so interesting the things we're thankful for at different times in our lives. I remember being eternally grateful for nap time and bedtime. I remember being grateful for the energy to run up and down three flights of stairs all day long doing laundry and housework. My 4 year old daughter finally sat down on the stairs and said, "Mommy, can't we just sit down for a few minutes? My legs are tired." When I said she didn't have to come with me on all those trips, she reminded me that she wanted to be with me---all day long. Not just sometime.
I remember feeling gratitude for phone calls in the middle of the night telling me my husband had landed safely in some far part of the world. And I remember crying with gratitude when I finally received letters from my missionary son (after six weeks of not hearing from him) telling me that he had been sent into a new area to open a district, and oh, by the way, it was actually head-hunter country in the heart of Venezuela, but don't worry, Mom. I'll be fine.
I'm making a Shutterfly book of our tiny son who only lived 14 short months and I remembered today for the first time in ages (funny how we put painful memories out of our minds as much as possible) feeling a sense of relief and gratitude when the Lord took him home so he didn't have to suffer anymore, didn't have to have tubes sticking out of his frail little body, then feeling guilty about those feelings.
The Thanksgiving we spent in Armenia was frigid. My gratitude knew no bounds for the small space heater we could afford to have in our little apartment. We moved it from room to room - from our kitchen to our office to our bedroom. Our electric bill was more than all the other residents in our entire building put together because we were Americans with money. They had no employment, little opportunity at the time to make enough money for luxuries like that. Most of them had a wood burning stove they set up in their living room, piped the smoke out a window, and used whatever wood they could scrounge for heat. A war with a neighboring country resulted in their gas being cut off and that had been their major source of heat. Their electricity had been cut off so people just went to bed when it got dark. Some had to walk up 14 flights of stairs in the dark - no windows in the old Soviet Style apartments. I was grateful we arrived after the nuclear power plant was repaired and we at least had electricity! We had hot water for a shower because the Church had installed a tank above the shower which we could fill when the water was on from 5 - 7 a.m. We had to fill all our pitchers and containers during those hours to have water during the day.
I'm so grateful for the experiences and adventures we had in Armenia. Everyone in America should have that opportunity so they will truly appreciate what an incredible country we live in and how magnificently blessed we are.
And what am I grateful for today? For my children who are raising their children in the gospel and are upstanding citizens. Every mother prays for that. I know how blessed I am. And I still pray for one errant daughter that she will return to the flock. I'm grateful for health and strength and energy to fulfill my callings - and for those callings that keep me working on talents that might otherwise gather dust and be lost. And even those that take me out of my comfort zone! :)
I'm grateful for a husband who has loved me for 55 years and put up with me for 53 years of marriage. He is my best friend.
The blessings of belonging to the Church simply can't be calculated; they are far too numerous, but I'm thankful for a Father in Heaven who loves me, who knows me, who needs me to do His work, and helps me do it.
Every Thanksgiving we play a little game. I type the letters that make up the word Thanksgiving and run them down the page leaving a line for everyone to write on, and I print up one for everyone. They all get to tell what they are thankful for that begins with that letter. I can't wait to do it again this year because I have so many new blessings that I didn't have last year and it's very important to count them and acknowledge them, every one. And not the least of these will be all the technology that allows us to do things like this to stay connected!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Research in Paradise



I'm in Hawaii (Maui) doing research for my next book, and right now you're probably sending out wishes for a whale to eat me, or something. I understand, and trust me, I am not complaining. The weather here (though overcast), is shirtsleeve warm, while in my hometown it's cold with a chance of snow. But, researching in paradise is not an easy thing. It's difficult to pull one's mind from the soft allure of the ocean and the warm sun to sit in a library in Kahului and read a slew of non-fiction books with no charming hero or involving mystery.


In the 10 days I've been here I've only been swimming once. You have no sympathy for me, do you?


I love the book, Gift from the Sea, by Anne Marrow Lindbergh, where she talks about taking her pencils and pads of paper to the beach with the intention of writing, but instead of accomplishing anything she finds her mind drifting with the sound of the waves and her imagination lulled by the warm sand. It's so true.


Okay, I feel no compassion heading my way, so I guess I'll go eat some papaya and head off for the Maui Historical Society where I'll spend three hours pouring over old documents and maps. I know, save my tears, right?


Aloha!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Time Kills Books - Or Does It?

I've got a new book coming out shortly. It's called No Escape and it's a romantic thriller about a newly widowed New York cop who tries to escape his grief by taking part in an exchange program and going to rural North Wales. There he meets a tough single mother who hates everyone and trusts no one, and finds himself charged with protecting her as she becomes embroiled in some nefarious activities through her drug-dealing brother.

I started writing the book about fifteen years ago when I was working in an office next door to Bangor Police Station and met a couple of the drugs squad officers there. The book describes the local area in considerable detail and yesterday, mid-way through editing, I decided it would be fun to remind myself of the place I lived for so long via Google maps. You can imagine my disappointment as I discovered that the police station, bus station and Students' Union, which all feature heavily in the book, are no longer there. In fact, where the police station and my old office stood is now a shopping mall. So it's not published yet, but my book is already out of date. Luckily I'm guessing my primarily American audience will never realise that the locations I describe in an obscure Welsh city no longer exist. Ssshhh! Don't tell them!

The inexorable march of time also gave the lie to my last book, Honeymoon Heist. Part of the book describes the pearl factory where Rodney, my hero, is able to make a pearl necklace for his wife. Guess what? Last time I went to Majorca I discovered that the pearl factory is now little more than a shop, with the actual pearl making going on behind the scenes, and customers are no longer allowed to craft their own pearls as they used to.

There's a possibility that my first book, Haven, may be republished next year, but I've lost the original manuscript (it was about three computers ago) so I'm having to scan it in from the hard copy book. This affords me a unique opportunity to bring it up-to-date and, despite only being ten years old, it really needs it. In one scene the children are playing with an electronic game - remember them? Now I've upgraded it to a Nintendo DSi. And in an early scene when Gwen settles down to listen to the scriptures on tape, now it's a CD, but even that will be out of date soon and there may already be some readers who wonder why she doesn't have them on her iPod.

The printed word dates very easily and it's rare to get an opportunity to update it like this, but I don't know that it matters much. When watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I don't wonder why Buffy didn't just call Willow and Xander on her mobile phone to tell them where the weirdo-of-the-week has imprisoned her. I understand that everything is of its time, and I like to think that readers recognise that the book in their hand is a snapshot of the world as it was when the book was published (or, in the case of No Escape, ten years ago). My daughter had just discovered Enid Blyton, whose books are horribly dated (not to mention frequently racist, sexist and patronising), but it doesn't stop Angharad loving them.

So while time may make all books go out of date, it also adds something - it reminds the reader of how things were in the year on the flyleaf, and that may sometimes be a real history lesson.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Walking the Tightrope of Diabetes


Lately I've been trying to get all of my proverbial ducks in a row, with regard to health. I am a Type 1 diabetic--a challenging condition I've endured for 31 years. Some would say that I've beaten the odds to live this long with diabetes and not have any major complications. To them I would have to say: "Attitude is everything!" ;)

I do not have perfect control of my blood sugar levels--the closest I ever came to that goal was during three pregnancies that produced three healthy sons. During that era, I kept a food diary, recording everything I ate, what time I ate, how much insulin I gave, how much I exercised, and what all of the food counts were. In short, I gave each pregnancy full attention and did amazingly well, all things considered.

Most days I simply do the best that I can. I try to balance carb counts with insulin and mix in exercise to counter fluctuating levels. The challenge for most of us who deal with this disease is the fact that everything affects our blood sugar levels. If I have a cold, my level runs rock bottom low, no matter what I do. If I have the stomach flu--that level runs high, even though I can't usually eat anything. If I'm in severe pain, the level runs low. If I have inflammation anywhere, it runs high. During the summer months, my levels run lower because of the heat. And as you might guess, during the winter months, those levels soar, so on and so forth. I was also told that there will days when "insulin bubbles" (Insulin the body stores for some strange unknown reason) can randomly burst, causing an insulin reaction from hades without warning.In short: this is a challenging disease and there are days when you feel like throwing your hands in the air and walking away.

For numerous years, I ran a diabetic support group for the diabetics in our county. I did this with the help of a very good friend who was also a Type 1 diabetic like me. The support group was actually Denise's idea. Once we both started seeing the same specialist who gave us "HOPE" for a brighter future--more so than we had ever received from any other doctor, she wanted us to share that positive message with other diabetics who were also struggling.

We met during monthly meetings at the nearby city hall, and later in a special room at the local hospital. We provided special inservice meetings with doctors, nurses, etc. We ran booths at the two health fairs held annually in our community, and met with newly diagnosed diabetics to help them realize they could live a full and productive life despite this illness.

You can imagine how Denise's death earlier this year affected us all. (She was 49) I've heard from a few of the younger Type 1's that we tried to help. Some are in panic mode. "But you two said we could live a long, normal life!" Etc. & so forth. After Denise's death, my blood pressure soared for a time, something it has never done before. (My blood pressure has always been good: most days it clocks in at 110 over 70.) And I've experienced a couple of other health glitches that have made me realize I need to slow down . . . a lot . . . at least for now.

Dealing with Type 1 diabetes is like walking a tightrope. One slip can mean a painful consequence, and unfortunately, complications, and sometimes death. We keep trying to move ahead on that thin wire, knowing that each step we make is crucial. Our balancing tools include: checking our blood sugar level often, counting carbs, and working in a bit of exercise. We all try to do the best that we can, and not allow ourselves to get overwhelmed in the process.

I've found that regardless of the challenge, attitude is everything, as stated above. Stress of any kind causes my blood sugar level to run high. So I have to keep stress to a minimum. Maintaining a positive outlook aids this process greatly. And I've started something new the past couple of months--I meditate each morning for about ten minutes. My version of meditation probably varies from the world's, but it works for me. I spend ten minutes listening to soothing music (usually "Calm-Meditation" from Pandora) and watch a computerized slideshow of nature shots that I've taken through the years with my trusty camera. I focus on my breathing and attempt to relax my entire body. I can't believe how much better I feel each day. The best news: my blood pressure level has returned to normal. My blood work was in the normal range last month. Now I have to tackle getting my blood sugar levels back under better control.

I am determined to continue walking this tightrope called diabetes. =D It's rather lonely, carrying that baton by myself now (someday Denise and I will talk about how she bailed on me in an untimely manner) but I have to think that it was simply her time to leave this mortal sphere. We've both endured too many near misses in the past to ever think otherwise.

My new goal: To live another 30 years with this challenging condition--thus proving to our younger Type 1's that this can be done. For a while, I may be cutting out other things to bring my life into better focus. (My entire family has been trying to teach me a handy two-letter word for years, something I'm finally starting to use.) I'm no longer trying to be "Wonder Woman," as I simply strive to be "Tight-Rope Girl." And in the end, perhaps the two titles will combine as I work harder than ever to stifle the effects of this disease.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

AN ANNIVERSARY OF SORTS

Sitting at the table in the breakfast nook, I like to watch the birds that visit our birdfeeder.  The smaller birds; the sparrows, the finches, the chickadees, and such flit in troupes from the trees to the feeder, to the fence, to the bushes, and back again.  Entertaining and fun, they're constantly on the move and squander their energy on following the crowd. The doves stick to the business of eating as they plant themselves under the feeder and scoop up all the seeds the busy smaller birds knock off the narrow edge.  They grow fat and complacent feeding off easy pickings. A number of other birds; magpies, crows, woodpeckers, robins, hummingbirds, those that don't congregate in flocks or depend on the feeder make brief appearances, eat quickly while keeping a wary eye out for danger, search out a few worms or bugs in the garden, then hurry on their way.  Another bird that is a regular visitor to our backyard is a hawk. When the hawk  appears  almost all of the birds make a mad dash for safety.  Unfortunately a few burrow deep into the pine limbs as though hoping to remain invisible to the predator; they usually wind up being the hawk's lunch.

Some writers are like those sparrows.  They're so busy flitting about between conferences, web sites, Facebook, and other places where writers congregate, they get little writing done, almost no original research, and expend all of their energy running about, hanging out, and wishing.  If they actually reach the point where they submit their work to a publisher or agent it suffers from a lack of attention to detail, more dreaming than actual work, or a myriad of other shortcomings.  A few cower in a corner, never getting brave enough to actually submit a manuscript or search for an agent. Their talent dies from a lack of courage. 

Some writers are like the fat doves, content to live in their make believe world and do little to actually get  published.  They're content with whatever falls their way.  They may get published, but they never reach the heights they might if they worked harder and had more motivation.

Some writers are more like the robins and woodpeckers who show up for a few communal sessions, work hard, then go on to the next opportunity. They scope out the market, draw their material from multiple sources, and take personal responsibility for their success or failure. Like the hummingbirds, some work extra hard, and are a blur of color and industry.

Now where does the hawk fit into this picture?  There are a number of parallels I might draw here.  There are a few writers who like to puff out their chests and let everyone know they're bigger and better than anyone else.  They thrive on cutting other writers down.  Occasionally the hawk might be the person who is too big for the feeder, too proud to pick up what falls on the ground, but takes savage delight in writing nasty critiques or reviews to kill the work and confidence of others who are a little vulnerable or insecure.  (I've yet to meet the published writer who isn't still a little vulnerable and insecure.) And sometimes the hawk is the talented individual whose talent and hard work makes it possible to soar above the ordinary.

In the ten years I've been writing reviews for Meridian, I've read over a thousand books, met scores of writers, and watched writing careers that have soared to great heights and lost sight of writers whose careers have dropped out of sight. I've seen great talent squandered through sheer laziness and I've seen writers who succeeded in getting published through hard work and persistence in spite of limited natural talent. I've cheered when a deserving author got a big contract and I've cried when a talented author received rejection after rejection.  I've been uplifted; I've been bored, I've been informed, I've endured, and I've been entertained in the most delightful ways.  To all of you, thank you.  You've made this past ten years memorable for me.  And I hope you don't mind, if while I stare out my window, I name a few birds in your honor.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Why passion in writing is important

I promise this is the last blog I'll do on writing with passion. I'm giving a presentation at our local library this afternoon with our local authors group and remembered there were a few thoughts here that I didn't offer the last blog on passion.

Passion in writing is as important as good grammar. You need to feel a passion for your subject, for your characters, and for the process of writing itself. If writing is drudgery for you, you can pretty well bet reading what you’ve written will become drudgery for your reader. Passion brings a spark to your writing which generates an element of emotion within your reader.

A book lover can immediately sense your passion for your work when they read the first few paragraphs on the page. If you don’t have a great feeling for your characters or your subject, you are cheating your reader of a valuable experience.

I love to travel to the location in which my story will take place. I can absorb the ambiance, smell the aromas, feel the kind of wind that blows there, see things that don’t show up on the website or in books. I see and feel things that will never happen if I haven’t actually been to that site.

Every time I do this, I fall in love with the place and I can transfer that passion onto the written page. I take copious photographs and refer to them often to put me back into the scene I’m writing. I pick up brochures and flyers and an occasional book to give me more detail.

When experts tell you to write what you know, you’re fulfilling that in this manner.

This works with non-fiction as well. I have a son and daughter who travel - internationally - extensively - and have had some incredible experiences. She’s writing a book about their encounters in the more than 100 countries they’ve each visited. The passion she has for her subject overflows on her pages and keeps the reader wanting more.

Pour yourself and your emotions into your story so your reader have have that same experience vicariously. That's what reading is all about.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Birthday Boy!









This week my hubby and I traveled to Southern California to visit with family. One of the highlights was celebrating our great-nephew Jackson's first birthday. We had a grand time going to the zoo and later in the evening eating dinner at an Italian restaurant. Jackson opened presents (well, tore paper) and dug into his chocolate birthday cake (literally).

Smearing birthday cake frosting on one's baby face seems to be a right of passage for most American babies and I think it's precious. Thank heavens for Handi-wipes.

Jackson was a darling all day, and even though the actual reason for the frivolity escaped him, I think he enjoyed being the center of attention. The adults in his life were very aware of the sacredness of the celebration. We knew that Jackson came into the world with some medical problems, and that things were tenuous for a few months. With medical help, faith, and a lot of loving prayers, Jackson grew in strength and wellness. Now, there is not one trouble in his little body. He is a bright, jabbering, walking miracle.

As I looked around the restaurant table at the people dear to me, it was confirmed again that family is the most important earthly blanket that surrounds us. Through the family we pass on love, values, strength, and chocolate cake!


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Counting My Blessings

There’s a book that I keep near my bed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it. Sometimes I read it for the wit and humor, sometimes I read it for the wisdom. But for whatever reason I read it, it’s a book that I count among my favorites.

It’s the book by Kerry Blair called, “Counting Blessings- Wit and wisdom for women” I am sure anyone and everyone who reads the posts on this blogsite has read it, but hoping it’s okay, I wanted to quote a little bit from Kerry’s book. For some reason, this has been going through my mind almost constantly lately.

“As latter-day Saints we are practically obsessed with anxiously engaging ourselves in good causes. Maybe it’s subliminal. Glancing through the hymnal last Sunday, I noted that as sisters in Zion, we who are called to serve are all enlisted to go marching, marching forward because the world has need of willing men to all press on scattering sunshine. We wonder if we have done any good in the world today, because we have been given much and want to do what is right, keep the commandments, press forward with the Saints, and put our shoulders to the wheel going where He wants us to go. However, as the morning breaks high on the mountain top, truth reflects upon our senses, and while we still believe that sweet is the work, we also realize that we have work enough to do ere the sun goes down. And thus we ask Thee ere we part, where can we turn for peace?”

Kerry goes on to not only answer that question, but she talks about that paragraph in a most excellent way. (Rather than me summing up her words, I highly recommend you read it!) As for me, I ponder that paragraph, Kerry’s wisdom, and I have learned from her words as well as her example and friendship.

This paragraph also makes me stop to think about my time management. While I surely want to be anxiously engaged in good causes. I also realize that life can be overwhelming and there are times I am not able to do all that I want to -- sometimes I’m not even able to do anything I need to-- but I am grateful to know where I can turn for peace.

I love this time of year that the season gives reason to stop and reflect on the things in which we are grateful for. The fact that no matter how crazy or difficult life can be, I am grateful there are places where I can find peace amidst struggle.

I am grateful for the blessing of such amazingly good family and friends who lift me up and even carry me through the tough times. They are the same who are there to celebrate and rejoice with me in the good times.

I have far too many blessings to count, but I do know I am grateful for each and every one of them.
 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo

I've gone and done something reckless and foolhardy. I've signed up to NaNoWriMo for the first time.

For those not in the know, that's National Novel Writing Month. It should probably be called IntNoWriMo because there is a group right here in Essex holding parties and write-ins in the local library. Last year I resisted joining because I thought it was an American thing, but it seems that across the world there are people who have committed to write a full 50,000 word novel in a month.

Gulp. Now that I write it that seems like an awful lot. I should have signed up for Movember instead, it would probably be easier.

It's not the most convenient month for me, you see, because I will have to spend the first few days of it editing my forthcoming novel, No Escape. And I'm trying to finish two cross-stitch baby samplers for a friend. And I have a job, two blogs and three children, and a weekend away booked, and...  well, it's going to be tough, but I am determined to do it. I need to kick-start my writing, and I'm excited about the story I'll be working on.

I've left it rather to the last minute unfortunately by joining on 28th October. Whilst I can't start writing until 1st November, I could have spent the last couple of weeks outlining, plotting, researching, putting together a chronology or making character sketches. Instead I'll be winging it as best I can, but maybe that's part of the fun.

I'll be posting my word count at regular intervals, and since I'm writing a (gothic horror) book for older children, 50,000 words is actually the whole thing. So a month from now I may have a new novel to submit to my publisher. Wish me luck!