Sunday, December 29, 2013

A New Year!

I haven't made New Year's Resolutions this year. Last year I read an article about a person who instead of resolutions decided she would make a list of things she wanted to do. I did that and of the 10 things/places I had on my list, I think I accomplished all but 8. We have the biggest Buddha in America just under a 2 hour drive from our home and I'd love to see it. It's been on the list for three years now. Maybe this will be the happy year! But today in Sacrament Meeting, a member of the stake presidency talked about hope and change and how that related to this time of year when we're thinking "new" and "change" and becoming better. He reflected what we've heard in general conference for the last few years...we don't have to set big major goals. They are too easily lost in the every day shuffle of life. But if every day we try to be just a little better...just say our prayers a little bit better; listen a little more carefully to promptings; reach out to someone who needs help. Just little things. Nothing earth shakingly huge. I can do that. I can even set a goal to call someone every day or send a note of encouragement or to say hello to someone I know may be hurting. I like that. A gift of service everyday. We have 11 missionaries we write to - a grandson, several grand-nephews and missionaries from our ward. I think that would count as a gift of service to write, especially if I tuck a few dollars in for lunch on the day member dinners fell through. Right now I'm quietly contemplating the blessings of the last week filled with family, fun, food and lots of chaos and laughter and music. As we opened a present on Christmas Eve, we all had to tell of a special Christmas memory, or our worst or best Christmas. This coming year, I hope to make a lot of very happy memories. I'm even thinking of keeping a special service journal to record what fun I had helping others. It might be a great reminder that there are many, many ways to serve. And that is my gift to my Savior this year: a gift of service all year long.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

MERRY CHRISTMAS, ONE AND ALL


Is there a word that carries more memories, hopes, faith, sadness, tradition, family bonding, and dreams than Christmas? It's a mixture of spiritual and secular, a day observed by both the religious and the profane. It's a time of giving and receiving. And for many it is also a time for quiet reflection and establishing new priorities. 

My childhood Christmases didn't include a lot of expensive gifts, though there was usually a new doll and a Christmas dress--even if the dress was made from flour sacks. The toe of one of my hated long, brown socks always held an orange, a few pieces of hard candy, a chocolate, and a handful of nuts. My siblings and I bought each other gifts at Kings or Woolworths.  Daddy read the Christmas story from St. Luke to us and Mama roasted a goose. 

Caroling hay rides, skating on silvery ponds, midnight mass, television specials, Secret Santa projects, making fudge, divinity, and popcorn balls, thought provoking firesides, along with band, drama, and choir performances eventually all became part of my growing up Christmas memories. 

As young parents, the Santa thing became important.  Money was tight and we did our best to give our small children a few of their wishes.  One Christmas we received a foster child four days before Christmas and struggled to buy him a few gifts.  The day before Christmas our mailman, recognizing that an envelope addressed to us held a check, called to have us meet him and pick up our mail at the beginning of his route instead of waiting until the afternoon when he would reach our house.  He made it possible for us to give our foster child comparable gifts to those already purchased for our own child. The lights at Temple Square, The Nutcracker performance, Christmas books, our children's choir and band performances, a soldier son far away at Christmas, Sub for Santa escapades, and various parties became part of our memories. 

As our children grew up, we spent Christmas Eves with my husband's family and exchanged family gifts that night, and since my own family always exchanged family gifts on Christmas Eve as well, we continued the tradition as our children began their young families.  How I love seeing my grandchildren perform the nativity pageant each year and share their musical talents, enjoy the pot luck style dinner my adult children and I put together for that special night, and treasure the laughter and fun as family gifts are exchanged. Each year I take a picture of all of my grandchildren sitting on the stairs in their new pajamas. Some have decided they are too old for the pajama part now, but we still do the picture.
 
 

 

Along with the warm memories of Christmases past, each year I feel excited for the coming Christmas.  I look forward to all Christmas is to me; an affirmation of my faith, the love of family, and a brief glimpse of a world where giving is front and center.  I believe each Christmas season should include at least one anonymous gift.  Those who pay off a stranger's lay-away bill, randomly distribute gift cards, carry out a sub for Santa or Angel tree project, drop coins in a Salvation Army bucket, donate food to a food bank, pay a stranger's library fine, give their waitress a big tip, or merely have a kind word and a smile for a fellow human being understand the spirit of Christmas.  I believe we observe Christmas best when we show the kind of love and kindness Christ practiced, but received little of in return.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Love my nativities!

My daughter is posting, one per day, her Christmas ornaments that she collects from countries she visits and has her friends guess which country they are from. It has been fun as we've had history, geography, cultural and ethnic discussions on each one. I didn't get a new nativity set this last year - the first 'barren' year I've had for a long time. Both my traveling kids were in Myanmar for business but apparently were too busy to look for a nativity set for me. Can't fault them for doing what they were there for! But I found one myself! We met my sister from Michigan and her husband and a couple of cousins who are wintering in Palm Springs at the Mission Inn in Riverside for lunch and as the guys sat in the sunshine and visited, we girls wandered through a delightful antique shop. And there it was in all its velvet and gold glory! I was going to post a picture on facebook for my friends who have seen my foreign ones at the Creche Festival, then decided maybe I'd just post a few each day before I got to this last special one. I really love collecting nativity sets as I am fascinated by the different ways different cultures portray the birth of the Savior. There is probably not a medium that isn't represented at the Creche Festival including a nativity set made of Twinkies! There are some made from coal, beeswax, and every other thing you can think of! My newest one is nothing like my own vision - or yours, I'm sure - of the birth of the Son of God as we know he was born in very humble circumstances. But knowing that He is the King of Kings, and had He been born in a palace, there is the possibility that the figures represented would have been clothed in rich velvets trimmed with gold. Here are a few some from Africa, one from Tahiti, a Bedouin tribe from Jordan, a beaded one from Zululand, and a clay one from Brazil. Hope they turn out!

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Best Christmas Gift


As Christmas approaches, I find myself thinking about last year. I was still recovering from a minor heart procedure, too weak to attempt many of the traditional items that I normally tackle each December. That may be why my children and grandchildren decided to set up the Christmas tree for me. I sat comfortably on the couch and watched as our artificial tree was pieced together, the ornaments were located, and the boxes opened for my grandchildren to explore. At the tender ages of four and one and a half, these precious children smiled with joy at the discovery of each ornament. Carefully they placed them on the tree in a random manner that to them seemed appropriate. My granddaughter sorted colors and shapes, while her younger brother made a nest on one side of the tree and lovingly set the ornaments he treasured in that safe place. Touched by their eagerness to help, the tree was left as they had decorated it, a reminder of that magical night.

I wrote the following poem this morning as I reflected on last year's experience. May I always remember the importance of reaching out to others in love. Gifts don't need to be large or expensive, but if they come from the heart, they are truly the best gifts we can give.

The Best Christmas Gift

Christmas
Can sometimes
Make us feel blue--
It’s sad to say but often true
This time of year we tend to miss
The items that bring true inner bliss
As we try to look impressive with lights and d├ęcor
Sending better Christmas cards than the year before
Tackling tasks we always think we must do this season
While we ignore the all-important behind-the-scenes reason
We celebrate this time of year—a time of hope, and love and cheer—
If we’ll reflect on what the best gift might be, an item not for sale, but given for free:
The love of our Savior—we can extend to others--the people around us, our sisters and brothers
He taught through love and the example He set, showing us it is much better to give than to get
Atoning for a world that doesn’t understand, the importance of being there for our fellow man
To emulate His life is the best gift to give, walking in His footsteps each day that we live
Reach out to those in need—lift the troubled soul
Make kindness, patience, and tolerance a goal
And in time we may begin to finally see
The path He walked in Galilee.
By: Cheri J. Crane

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

NOMINATIONS NEEDED


Think back.  What was the best book by an LDS author you read this year?  Did you nominate it for a Whitney Award?  Perhaps you read more than one book that made a lasting impression on you.  If you haven't already done it, nominate them all for Whitney Awards.

For a novel to be nominated for a 2013 Whitney Award, it must receive five nominations before the end of the current year and be copyrighted in 2013.  It must also be a full length novel, not a short story or novella. The author must be LDS, but anyone can nominate---except those who profit from the sale of the book.  That means I can nominate books by other writers, but I can't nominate my own book.  You can also nominate more than one book per category. Every year there are great books that don't get enough nominations because readers assume lots of people already nominated them or because readers aren't aware they are the ones who should be nominating.  I nominate lots of books and many other authors and reviewers do as well, which is great, but for the awards to have real significance more nominations are needed from the general reading public. It's kind of sad when nominations come only from fellow writers. The book doesn't need to  have an LDS theme, only be written by an LDS author. 

Award categories are General, Historical, Romance, Mystery/Suspense, Speculative, Youth Speculative, Youth General Fiction, Best Novel by a New Author, and Best Novel of the Year. Historical usually includes Westerns and Speculative includes Horror.  If you don't remember the titles or authors of the books you'd like to nominate go to Meridian Magazine's book reviews or to any other LDS fiction reviewer's web or blog page to refresh your memory.  You can also go to a bookstore's online catalog and scan the book jacket blurbs. 

Nominating a favorite book is easy.  Go here.  A form will pop up.  Fill in your name and email address, then add the book or books you wish to nominate along with the name of the author(s) and publisher(s), then submit.  You'll get back an acknowledgement that your nomination has been received by the contest chairman.  So get going! Nominate away! This is the big award for LDS authors and I assure you it means a lot to all of us to have our readers show their appreciation for our efforts to provide quality, clean books by nominating your favorites for these awards.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Lovin' Life!

This has to be my very favorite time of year! Wonderful Thanksgiving Day with kids and grand kids here and more good food than we could possibly eat. Time to just sit and visit and catch up. No TV. Of course the grand kids were on their devices, but that left the grownup to contemplate the past year, dream and plan for the future and just generally talk about what was on our minds. My son even convinced his youngest that we should do a little family history - though he didn't call it that. (He is aware of our advancing age and he wants the kids to know more about our history and what we've done in our lives so if we die next year, they will have something to remember besides Gramma always in the kitchen.) So they asked about what countries we've traveled to and which ones we liked best. In past years they have asked what airplanes Grandpa flew, and what cars he's had through the years(a lot!!) Now that holiday is over, I'm about finished with Christmas shopping - hooray for on line shopping and Amazon.com wish lists!! I'm sure my mail lady would much rather I buy at the store and carry them home myself instead of her having to deliver them to my mailbox, but I'm happy to stay out of the stores and do it the easy way. I've pulled out my Christmas music for piano and organ, sorted through some Christmas albums to put in the car so I can have Christmas music at the push of a button, and am making menus and gathering recipes for when another set of my kids come from South Dakota for Christmas! That will be a joyous time! We don't get to see them that often any more. Then two more families will join us for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day - so we'll get to see all but our Louisiana daughter and her girls. Next on the agenda is putting up the tree. Can't wait!! We'd do it today except I have something else to do this afternoon. After the tree goes up, the nativity sets get displayed...as soon as I get them back from the creche festival next weekend. We have a fake tree but hubby cuts greenery from our shrubs so the house smells of pine and juniper. Sparkling lights both sooth and excite me. Christmas music does the same. Watching the kids open their presents is a joy. Then we all have to decide what our gift to the Christ child will be next year. I need to start thinking about that now so I'll have the best possible gift to give Him who has given His all for me. I love Christmas because it helps me remember fully and completely how blessed I am because of His love, humility and obedience. There is so much to anticipate in the next four week! I can't wait!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanks

Thanks, dear Lord for all the blessings of life that have shaped me--the outrageously beautiful and the seriously painful. Thanks for the poignant messages that have come to me through sunrises and sunsets, through good people and bad, through funny experiences that made me laugh so hard my sides ached for day, and for the stunningly difficult challenges that have opened my heart to compassion. Thanks for my family members who are most times so wonderful that I cry with joy, and sometimes so pig-headed that I weep with frustration. Thanks for my friends who accept me with all my foibles. Thanks for the times I worked hard for very little money. Thanks for the times I worked hard raising my kids and never received a paycheck. Thanks for giving me a spirit that doesn't see success in terms of money, power, or prestige. Thanks for giving me the ability to make amends when I've messed up, and to accept apologies from others. Thanks for dogs, the many colors of green, and snowflakes. Thanks for you, dear Lord. Without your love, teachings, and Atonement I wouldn't appreciate the wonders of this life, or have the hope of the wondrous eternal life to come. So, thanks.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

SHOPPING! OH MY!


I really don't like to shop.  I know the stereotype is that women live to shop, but that isn't me.  I'm not good at picking out gifts for others and I can never find anything I like for me.  Still, this time of year, shopping is inevitable unless you're the bah humbug type who skips Christmas giving.  I love everything else about Christmas; the music, the decorations, the food, the nativity story, the heart-warming stories of generosity, the giving, Christmas books, getting and sending cards, the general good will, Santa, and even the Salvation Army bell ringer . I don't even mind the hustle and bustle of wandering through overly decorated malls. I just don't like traipsing through stores or scrolling through e-catalogs.  

I did a little Christmas shopping before my surgery and in the past few weeks since I've been a little stronger one of my daughters and my husband have taken me for a few quick shopping forays.  I tire too easily to leave it until December. I even ordered a couple of things online.  I've got a good start.  In fact it has been kind of fun to shop for my two littlest granddaughters.  At one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half, they don't already have every toy I can think of and they're easy to please.  My biggest challenges this year are the five eight-to-ten-year-old boys. Then there are the teenagers and the young married couple. I love them with all my heart, but shopping for the perfect gifts for them is something else. 

I seldom shop for wedding or birthday gifts anymore; a check or gift card is usually met with enthusiasm and easier for me to handle.  Gift cards are usually welcome for Christmas too, but I think everyone, especially the younger children should have the thrill of tearing into at least one wrapped present. Our family spends Christmas Eve together and that's when we exchange family presents. So I shop. But no matter how many door buster sales begin on Thanksgiving Day or how great the bargains, I won't be shopping that day. 
 
Shop early or shop late, but let's keep Thanksgiving a day for family, food, and gratitude and allow as many others as possible to have the day with their families too.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Thankful Thoughts

It's been interesting to read the postings on facebook about what people are thankful for. I'm not that public a person so I'm simply recording in my daily journal those things that I'm most thankful at the moment or what has struck me as a particular blessing that day. Besides all the obvious blessings in my life of family, the gospel, abundance, freedom and good health, one thing struck me this week that I've decided I take for granted. They replaced a power pole in our back yard - it was one of those very tall utility poles that brings electricity to the homes on our street. We were "fortunate" enough to have it in our back yard for the last 28 years we've lived in this house. You can see it when you look out our big glass doors in the living room that overlook the pool and gardens unless your eyes are drawn to something more beautiful - then it is sort of invisible, snuggled against the 9 foot back fence. Of course, we see it. Glenn even painted it a redwood color up to the fence line hoping that would be less conspicuous. But it had been there since the house was built in 1974 so it needed to be replaced. They brought in a huge crane - big enough to lift that 50 or 60 foot pole over our tall trees in the front yard (think two story house or taller) and over our house. They took the old one out, replace it with a new one (the pole man called it a beautiful new pole) and restored our power. This all took from 8:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon so we were without power all that time. What to do while we had no power? Couldn't vacuum - could dust and clean bathrooms. Couldn't get on the computer. Couldn't have phone calls on our land line. Could wash windows. Couldn't do laundry. Decided to just go to the Family History Center and work on Glenn's family tree. We met for lunch when he finished golfing and came home - to a very cool house and still not able to do anything.....but read! Thank heaven for books!! But I realized how much we take for granted those things that are so important in our lives. Fortunately it was a beautiful day so we opened the sliding doors and let the sun shine in and warm us up. Basically we had no heat, no communication (thank heaven for cell phones!) no power to cook with, no lights if it got dark before they finished. We are so dependent on these modern conveniences. Then I thought of hospitals with their dependency on power, and streets with stop lights, and schools with the teaching innovations of today. Our society depends so much on this wonderful convenience! So this week I added that to my list of things I'm thankful for, and every time I flip on a light or turn up the heat, or open the refrigerator or freezer, or sit down at my computer, or pick up the phone to call someone,I acknowledge what an incredible time we live in! My Great-grandmother would have delighted in all my everyday conveniences!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Simple Giving

One of my dear friends just joined the Peace Corps and is now in Uganda where she will serve the people for two years. Peace Corps volunteers not only work hard to better the lives of the people, but are also ambassadors of peace. It is ennobling work, and my friend will do it well. Her leaving has prompted an evaluation of life: what's important, what's superfluous, how's the best way to spend my time?

My mental evaluating has brought me to the realization that there are many good ways to spend those precious minutes given us on this planet--as many ways as there are people, and they don't need to be huge commitments, like joining the Peace Corps, but can be precious small acts of thoughtfulness. Each person has the opportunity (many times a day) to overcome selfishness and choose these small acts of service. It can be as seemingly inconsequential as opening a door for someone, or responding to a cranky person with patience, or putting a few coins in someone's ready-to-expire parking meter.

As I think of my friend in far away Uganda, I will try and do my little bit to make the world a better place.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mustard Seeds Matter


This past week has caused most in my family a bit of stress. One of my sister's daughters is currently serving a mission in the Philippines. If you've seen some of the news stories that the media has presented since Typhoon Haiyan made an appearance, you will probably understand our concern. Although we have been told comforting things like most of the missionaries serving in the Philippine Islands have been accounted for, there is still a tiny fearful nudge that afflicts us all from time to time. We believe she is fine, but we want sure knowledge. We want to know where she is, if she's all right, and to hear her voice . . . or at least read an e-mail typed by her hand. The continued silence on her end is a source of worry.

I suspect that times like these are tests. Do we possess enough faith to continue on, even when the way isn't sure? It is a difficult trial.

Years ago, after I spoke at a fireside for a group of girls attending an annual YW girls' camp, I was presented with a necklace that contained a mustard seed encased in resin. It was the first time I had ever seen an actual mustard seed. This necklace became one of my treasures . . . a reminder that we can do great things if we possess faith the size of this very small seed.

In the New Testament, Matthew tells us the following story: a troubled man had brought his son to be healed by Christ's disciples. They tried--but were not successful. The man then approached our Savior and begged for His help. He healed this man's son in an instant. Later, when his disciples asked Him why they had not been able to heal this boy, Jesus told them it was because of their lack of faith. He went on to say,
 " . . .  if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." He then adds the following counsel: "Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting." (See Matt. 17:14-21) In other words, yes, if we possess a tiny bit of faith, great things are possible . . . but it requires effort on our part--belief, prayer, and fasting."

I believe this to be true. I have seen miraculous things take place when faith, prayer, and fasting are combined. I've been told as a Type 1 diabetic that fasting is not my friend, and to be honest, I don't attempt it very often, but when the need is great, and I've done everything else I can think of to make a positive difference, I fast. I go without food and water for as many hours as my body will tolerate. Eventually, my blood sugar level crashes, and I have to wrap things up fast, but to me, these sacred opportunities are great blessings in my life--a way to show my Father in heaven that I have done everything I can possibly do to survive a difficult trial, or on behalf of someone else who is suffering through a heart-rending test.

Things don't always turn out the way I hope or pray for--but I am usually blessed with the gift of peace and an assurance that while I may not understand why the outcome wasn't what I had desired--someday I will. Someday it will become clear why things happened the way that they did.

Periodically, I may still wish for a magic wand that makes everything better for everyone--but then again, perhaps that would defeat the purpose of this life. Without trials, we wouldn't grow into who our Father hopes we will someday become. And with faith, we can survive whatever this mortal journey brings our way.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

MEANDERING THOUGHTS ON GRATITUDE


Sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas, Thanksgiving is almost the forgotten holiday. Since gift giving, other than a hostess gift here and there, is not part of the celebration and shoppers involvement is limited to dinner components , it doesn't get a big buzz from the advertising moguls.  After all how many turkeys can a family eat? Personally I'm glad Thanksgiving doesn't fit into the pattern of other holidays.  Instead of a noisy tribute to commercialism I think we each need a day of quiet reflection on the blessings granted to us. 

On Face Book there's a movement many people are participating in, where each day each person lists one thing he or she is grateful for. I applaud those who are taking the time to do this.  Some people do this more privately in their journals or on their desk calendars. This is great too.  However we do it, it is good to pause, and take account of the blessings, small miracles, and kindnesses in our lives. I've undergone four major surgeries in the past year and I'm deeply grateful for the doctors, nurses, and physical therapists who got me through what would have been a death sentence or at best a miserable crippled existence just a generation ago.  I'm thankful for my family, friends, and neighbors who have been generous and kind to me and my family.  I'm especially thankful for my husband who has cooked, cleaned, and watched over me in the kindest most helpful way.  And though I don't recommend losing weight the way I have, I am thankful to be fifty pounds thinner than I was a year ago. 

Thanksgiving is a good time too, to reflect on Thanksgivings past and the loved ones who no longer share our table.  I remember the Thanksgiving Day we were moving, but midway through the day Mama managed to serve us ham and beans.  I remember too, that Mama always cooked cranberries herself, no canned ones for our family and she made the best stuffing and carrot salad.  I remember the Thanksgiving I cooked the turkey, took it to my mother-in-law's house, and later placed what was left in the trunk of our car to take home.  When we reached home, we hurried five small sleepy children into the house and only emptied those things from the trunk that wouldn't fare well in the cold car overnight.  The next morning we discovered the leftovers were ruined since while we removed the few things we thought needed to be taken inside, our cat had hopped into the trunk and spent the night feasting. 

We only have a couple of decorations that can be considered strictly Halloween; the rest are simply fall and harvest items.  We've just never been big about that particular holiday.  I never trick or treated as a child because my mother considered it begging and was adamant that none of her children should beg. I found costumes and trick or treating a fun adventure for small children when my own children were small, but I have no use for the creepy side of Halloween.  Therefore my decorations mostly stay in place and I add a few pilgrims, turkeys, and cornucopias.  

For many people Thanksgiving Day is simply a football and "get-ready-for-Christmas" day. They wolf down dinner in front of the TV, glued to a Christmas parade or ball game.  They study the sale ads in the paper and this year they'll be able to shop all day in many stores instead of leaping into action at midnight or whenever the early bird specials begin on Black Friday. I find it kind of sad, but it's their choice.  As for me, I look forward to dinner where conversation with loved ones is as important as a delicious feast. I want to hold my tiny granddaughters in my arms and leave them with no doubts that they are loved.  I want to hear from all my children and grandchildren about school, and friends, and work.  I want to feel assured my parents would be pleased with my family.  Most of all I want to feel the peace that comes with expressing gratitude to friends, to family, and to God for the life I've been privileged to live.

 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Holidays

I must agree with Gale. I really hate Halloween. (Sorry to those of you who dress up and decorate extensively!) It just feels evil, not fun to me. Why would I invite goblins and witches into my house?? This morning, the first thing I did when the sum came up was to put my ceramic pumpkin away for another year, fold up my little pumpkin scarecrow, and put away the other scarecrow. Then my two feet tall wooden Pilgrims went on my front porch in place of the little wooden ghost, pumpkin and black cat. All the rest of my decoration are simply fall themed so they are good. Then my ceramic pilgrim figures came out from their hiding place and a cornucopia appeared with a wooden block that says "Give Thanks." I'm good for one month! The first of December all of that goes away and my red poinsettias brighten my front porch, and we decorate all the trees and bushes in the front yard and the house. Lights everywhere! I love Christmas! I love Christmas lights! And I especially love Christmas music! Sometime in the first week of December, I manage to convince my husband it really is time to put up the tree so we'll have time to enjoy it before we have to take it down. We always do it together - as far as the lights. If he hasn't yet put lights up outside, he'll escape to do that while I start unloading what seems like hundreds of blue and silver balls and ornaments and hanging them just right on the tree. I'm sure you remember doing icicles - thankfully I don't do that anymore, but it was beautiful. The first weekend in December we have our annual tri-stake Christmas Creche Festival - going on 15 years now! I've participated every year except the year we were in Armenia and a couple when we were traveling. This year, (as last) I'm only taking my foreign nativities - the ones that are different from most. As it is, putting up those 60 sets takes me at least 3 hours spread all over about 4 tables. But it is worth it. People from all over the valley come and oohh and aahh over the beautiful symbols of Christ's birth. From noon till 8:00 on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday there are musical groups from the local schools and churches, as well as solos and musical instruments of all kinds. Even Hawaiian dancers! The place is decorated to the nines...Christmas trees and glittering lights everywhere and hundreds of poinsettias that the ward members buy, leave for decoration and pick up to take home at the end of the festival. On Sunday night,a Hallelujah sing-along fills the chapel area with music lovers from all faiths joining in. It is glorious!! (I do display all 100 plus of my collection in our home, emptying bookcases, end tables, coffee tables and the buffet to show them.) Now how can you compare Halloween to that!!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween?



Halloween? Not my favorite holiday. When did this celebration get started? Medieval days? The Dark Ages? Perhaps it acknowledges the last gasp of summer. The demise of the sun. The death of warm pleasant days. All I know is that when it nears the end of October I get grumpy and anxious. I've even been known to flip my calendar over to November a week early.

When my kids were little I got involved with making their costumes. That was creative and a bit fun, but the rest of it: the gore, evil masks, and begging for candy did not impress me. I couldn't wait until the last of the trick or treaters scurried off into the dark night, and I could turn off the lights, and say a prayer of thanks that all hallows eve was over.

Some people are Halloween lovers. For weeks, they decorate their yards (as though it were Christmas), they watch scary movies, and they go to haunted houses. These semi-adults love to dress as witches, goblins, and monsters and scare the wits out of the little kids who just want candy. Candy! That's another baneful subject all together. Don't get me wrong, I like candy. In fact, there are a few kinds of dark chocolate that make me smile, but there's something wrong with kids going out with a bucket or pillow case and coming back, after a few hours of looting, with enough candy to rot their teeth for a year. Can I just say, dentist bills? Really scary.

So, there's my diatribe on the lovely holiday of Halloween. If you love it--go out into the dark night and enjoy! If you're like me, I advise looking forward to November 1st!

Oh no! Is that my doorbell ringing?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

MOTIVATION


Why do people do the things they do?  In real life it's sometimes impossible to unravel the reason some people do the things they do, but in novels the motivation is essential to the story. It's not good enough to have the hero do good things just because he's the designated "good guy" nor for the villain to do bad things because that's what bad guys do. The motivation for an action needs to be comparable in strength to the act committed. 

To be believable, writers need to be students of human nature.  They do this by being people watchers, reading news stories, and researching cause and effect through text books, listening to knowledgeable people in various professional capacities, and through drawing on personal experience.

As a journalist, I learned to question Who, When, Where, and Why, then found these Ws carry over into the fiction field.  It's the Why I'm concerned with today.  This past year I've undergone four major surgeries; the last just four weeks ago was the scariest and has left me with the most severe life altering after affects.  During my recoveries, along with a lot of physical therapy to learn to walk again and to adjust to becoming a total diabetic, I've done a lot of reading, including a number of books in genres I don't usually read.  Along with nearly a hundred books read, most of which I enjoyed, there were some that held little interest for me, three I couldn't force myself to finish, and several that left me wondering what was the motivation behind the actions taken by various characters.  There was even one that changed a character's motivation from financial greed to obsession.  Actually motivation can change, be enlarged, new factors brought in, but the change needs to be built into the story and made plausible to the reader. 

William Faulkner was a master at clarifying motivation.  Even his bit part villains rated a back story (not an info dump), leaving the reader with a clear picture of what made that character tick. Faulkner never wrote a dystopian novel, yet strangely two dystopian novels I recently read, A Nothing Named Silas by Steve Westover and The Witnesses by Stephanie Black, reminded me of why I enjoy Faulkner.  They both skillfully shared why their characters were in the predicaments they were in, why they continued to fight against the impossible, and why their adversaries were also motivated. 

Sometimes people do unexpected awful things seemingly out of nowhere, but a deeper analysis nearly always shows the factors that motivated the action.  It's usually easier to understand the protagonist's motivation, but author's often skimp on the other side of the coin. Envy, greed, hate, revenge, sense of inferiority, laziness, political zeal, religious fervor, lies, coverup, jealousy, control, and the list goes on and on for negative behavior.  Behind each word is an experience or philosophy that drives the villain and though these motivations are not usually the primary focus of the novel, they clarify the protagonist's dilemma and are important to the story.  It's not enough to know what the hero has at stake, when understanding what the villain has at stake clearly ratchets up the suspense and provides a more balanced story.  If the motivation is insufficient or weak the story loses credibility.  

Those of us who are news junkies and have a preference for printed news find ourselves frustrated with electronic news sources that don't answer all of the Ws.  We become even more frustrated with novels that fail to convey why the story matters, why the antagonist does what he does, and why the protagonist cares enough to fight back or escape.  Without motivation behind action, there is no story.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Christmas Gift



It's amazing to have a story published. It's doubly amazing to have that story transformed into a children's picture book. And, if the story finds its way into film, it is a gift--in my case a wondrous Christmas gift.

I normally do not promote my writing via blog, but this story is meaningful and dear to my heart. Besides, it's a tale that has a lovely message for this mixed up and materialistic age. It is based on a Christmas my dad and his siblings experienced during the Great Depression of the 1930's. My grandmother, Mary Margaret, had passed away a few year earlier and my Grandpa Kamp was raising five children on his own. My dad, Norman, had just recovered from polio which had left his legs weak and his left arm completely crippled. It was a rough time when the saying "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without" was on the lips of every parent. The prospect for any type of celebration that Christmas of 1931 was bleak. The story relates how my dad and his siblings created a Christmas of sharing and joy...with very little money. And the amazing gift my dad made for his little sister will hopefully make kids think about sacrifice and service, and how the heartfelt gifts of Christmas honor the baby in the manger.

The first week in November (for a limited time), this story will be shown on the big screen in Utah theaters. After that, it will be available on DVD at Amazon, Deseret Book, and Seagull Book.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Giving Blood

by Anna Jones Buttimore
www.annajonesbuttimore.com



On Friday I am giving blood. I've donated every sixteen weeks for several years now, and I think this will be about my 20th donation, so I'll probably get a little badge or a card or something.

I love giving blood. It just feels so amazing to know that I can do something so simple to save a life. I have never suffered any ill effects from it, and I have never found it painful. I also rather enjoy it because, with three children, a job and a seminary teacher calling, I rarely find time during the day to lie down for fifteen minutes. I don't mind the free drink and biscuit afterwards, either!

More donors are always needed, so why not pop along to your nearest session and fill in the health questionnaire to see if you're eligible? You too could save a life before the weekend rolls around.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Finding Peace During Troubled Times

As was mentioned repeatedly during this last session of General Conference, we live during troubled times. And as President Monson pointed out--there have always been troubled times. Since this life is basically a testing ground--a chance for us to develop our character and prove ourselves, there will be challenging trials.

I'll admit, however, that it is a bit disconcerting when one's country takes a nose-dive. These are uncertain moments and none of us quite know what to expect. When scary episodes take place during this journey we call "life," there is a formula we can follow to survive. I know this because I have survived a few perilous tests during my own mortal adventure.

Take the year, 1983. (Yes, as my children point out, I'm aging by the minute.) Several challenging events surfaced in my life. For starters, my pancreas finally gave up the ghost, and I went on insulin permanently. yay. This was a challenge, since my blood sugar levels tended to bounce everywhere but where they were supposed to be. I went from the 40 range up into the 400's at the drop of a hat, or so it seemed. (Normal people tend to bounce between about 80-120.) It didn't help that my husband and I discovered that I was expecting our first child during that tempestuous time. Needless to say, it was a challenging pregnancy--but prayers were answered and we survived. After nine challenging months, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy.

Just as it seemed as though we had passed that life test with flying colors, I developed blood clots in the main vein in my left leg--the one that takes blood to the heart. The largest clot was the size of a golf ball. Nice. So my newborn son went home without me as I endured 10 more exciting days in the hospital. This time the challenge was to stay alive, since everyone feared that the largest clot would dislodge and hit my heart. Good times. ;)

I survived yet again, beating the odds, and I returned home on crutches. Just as I began thinking the worst was over, my father, who had been enduring health challenges of his own, took his own life. My entire world seemed to implode. It took my family many years to pick up the pieces of that heart-rending challenge.

How did we get through all of that? I can look back now and see a pattern, since it's one I have clung to during other character-building moments. The most important thing is to keep breathing. Oxygen is our friend and we need it to keep going forward. So, take a few deep breaths when disasters descend, but don't hyperventilate. ;)

Keep your spiritual batteries charged. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as: prayer, studying the scriptures, hitting the temple, and reading through the inspirational talks given by our church leaders (hint: General Conference talks especially contain the tidbits of spiritual wisdom we need to continue our mortal journey.) Find what works for you, and do it daily. This is crucial.

Write out what you're feeling. During the nights when I couldn't sleep, I felt prompted to write out what was killing me inside. Then I shredded those pages into the garbage bin. It always made me feel lighter inside, and it hooked me on writing. This led to all kinds of interesting adventures, like eventually getting published.

Learn to take life one day at a time. And, as my mother has often pointed out, sometimes you can only deal with one minute at a time. After my father's death, she would wake up each morning and think, "All I have to do is to get up and get in the shower." Then that morphed into: "All I have to do now, is get dressed." Etc. and so forth. Take life in bits and pieces for a while. Don't let the big picture scare you into a non-functioning abyss.

Vent to a good friend. Sometimes it helps to simply share the fears inside your heart. This is an important release and it helps you make sense of challenges that often don't. There are times when all we need is a listening ear to sort through tribulation.

Make time for physical activity. There were times when I simply needed to go for a brisk walk to clear my head, or to play an aggressive game of racquetball. It helped me get rid of negative emotions that were tearing me apart.

And I can't emphasize this last suggestion enough: DO ACTS OF SERVICE!!!! I found that whenever I did something for someone else, it chipped away at the pain I was carrying around inside my troubled heart. The more I did for others, the better I felt.

As you can see, these are simple things, and yet they are huge when it comes to surviving distressing times. I find that I always return to this formula when mountainous obstacles block the path of my mortal journey. We can learn to climb those mountains, one step at a time--and along the way we learn that we are never as alone as we sometimes think we are. The veil is thin and there are numerous loved ones from the other side who are constantly cheering us on our way. We are indeed children of Heavenly Parents who are also cheering for us as we move forward past stumbling blocks. With their help, we can learn to turn those blocks into stepping stones along our path.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Happiness List







My daughter and I were talking on the phone this morning, and while our conversation meandered through many topics: holidays, travel, cookie baking--the one thought that intrigued me was her Top 10 Happiness List. She had taken time to ponder the things that made her happy on a daily basis, and then she'd made her list of the top 10. When she mentioned a few of them to me, I realized they weren't earth shaking things, but bright little moments of joy.

I wanted a Happiness List! So, as soon as I'd hung up the phone I grabbed pencil and paper and began jotting down happy events. It was fun. It made me smile. As you can imagine, I came up with many more than 10, but settled on these (for now).

Sitting next to my husband (and enjoying it after 40+ years of marriage)
Seeing random acts of kindness.
Participating in random acts of kindness.
(The above two I snuck from my daughter's list, but they're my favorite too)
Laughing with my daughter, sisters, and friends.
Rainbows.
Walking in the mountains.
The shared AMEN after grace at a big family dinner.
Seeing tearful hugs of greeting at the airport.
Enjoying the welcoming antics of my daughter's dog Beans.
The color yellow. (and chocolate) I know that's sort of 10 and a 1/2, but I had to sneak it in.

As I said, I wrote down many other happiness creators, but these are my current 10. It was a joyful way to spend the morning. It lifted my heart and put a smile on my face for the day.

Thanks, daughter!

(I'd love you to share some of the things from your happiness list!)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Cadbury Family

by Anna Jones Buttimore
www.annajonesbuttimore.com

George Cadbury

One person can make a difference.

I visited Cadbury World last weekend. It's a chocolate factory, and the tour was almost as wonderful as the chocolate. What I found most interesting, however, (OK, second most interesting after the chocolate) was the history of the Cadbury family.

John Cadbury (born 1802) was a Quaker. His religion made him unable to go to University or into the military or professions, so as well as campaigning against animal cruelty he opened a shop in Birmingham which sold tea, coffee and chocolate drinks. With his brother, he successfully formulated a way to turn chocolate into an edible bar, which proved very popular. He bought a factory in Birmingham to manufacture the chocolate bar, and passed the business onto his sons George and Richard. When they developed milk chocolate in 1904 (chocolate had previously been very bitter) the company really took off.

George Cadbury's suggested rules for the health of his employees - apart from the cold bath, I think these are still great advice and ahead of their time.
Birmingham was (and is) a large industrial city, and it greatly upset George that many of his workers lived in the tiny and squalid back-to-back houses of the slums. So he bought a large site in the countryside, close to the railway and canal, and built not only a factory, but an entire village of comfortable, attractive and affordable houses for the workers. 

He named this village Bournville, after the river Bourne which runs through it. As well as the homes George built several churches, schools, separate swimming baths for men and women, sports facilities, and ensured that at least 10% of the land remained parkland. He didn't build any pubs, however. Quakers are teetotal and to this day there are no pubs in Bournville. In fact, in 2007 residents of the village went to court to stop Tesco, the largest supermarket in the UK, stocking alcoholic drinks in their new Bournville branch. They succeeded.

George was years ahead of his time in the way he treated his workers, too. He directed them to live healthy lives according to his personal philosophy (see above) and decades before the NHS they all had dental and medical care available at work. Their working week was just five-and-a-half days (a whole day shorter than normal for the time), and George Cadbury would even stand in the rain under his trusty umbrella looking for the tram so that his female workers didn’t have to. When he saw the tram coming, he would call them from where they were sheltering.

I love chocolate, as my waistline testifies. I also loved Bournville. It is still a beautiful village, even though the city of Birmingham has grown and swallowed it up. I’m happy to know that one amazing man, George Cadbury (and the brothers, sons and grandsons who carried on his business until it was sold to Krafft recently), could make such a difference to so many lives, and bring so much happiness.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Avoiding Whales


So there I was, minding my own business, when an irritating inner nudge began to pester. I did my best to ignore it, coming up with all kinds of reasons to reject the prompting. No one needs to hear from me today. Others will share the message that needs to be contributed. It won't come out right anyway--and then I'll be mocked.

As these thoughts and others plagued during Fast Sunday, I continued to sit on my nice, comfortable seat, squirming in place until my husband inquired if I needed to make use of the facilities down the hall. =)

I found myself thinking of others who had felt a similar way. Take Moses, for instance. He was told that he needed to journey back to Egypt and have a chat with Pharaoh. I'm sure his inner struggle went something like this:

He won't listen to me anyway. Other people could do a much better job of sharing this message. It won't come out right--and then I'll be mocked. 

Then there was Jonah: They won't listen to me anyway. Someone else could do a better job of sharing this message. It won't come out right--and then I'll be mocked. Plus, I'm a tiny bit scared of these people. 

So on and so forth. In the case of Moses, he was given the reassurance that all would be well, and he was provided with a spokes-person in the form of his brother, Aaron.

Having a gifted spokesperson would be real boon. If I had such a thing, I could merely gesture to him/her and let them take over the conversation, testimony, talk, fireside, etc. whenever things get difficult. "And now, a word or two from someone who actually makes sense . . ." The pressure to strive for perfection would fade, since my personal spokesperson would see to it that the message I desire to convey is done so in the best way possible. I would LOVE that. ;)

However . . . I'm sure there could be a downside. For instance . . . what if my spokesperson had different ideas about how to present my message . . . and what if the message changed, based on their perspective? Then it would cease to be what I felt prompted to share. Hmmmm.

Let's reflect on Jonah. Maybe he had the right idea. When in doubt, run away. =) At times, I can see when this is preferred to standing up in front of people who judge you when something is stuck between your teeth, your shirt is buttoned wrong, or you're wearing two different shoes. These occasions tend to inspire creative mockery from the audience.

Upon further reflection, it didn't do Jonah any good to run away. He nearly caused the drowning demise of an entire shipload of people, not to mention the fact that he was swallowed by a whale. I can think of more enjoyable pastimes. I suspect Jonah was so relieved to be spit up on the shore, that suddenly, talking to the scary group of people seemed to be a better option. And we all know how Jonah's story turned out--an entire city was saved because he finally found the courage to share God's message.

I guess what I am attempting to say is this . . . when we receive promptings to do something . . . and it's a good thing . . . (one has to consider where the prompting is coming from) do it. As Nephi discovered, a way is provided for us to accomplish those often overwhelming "assignments." And as Joseph Smith learned, great things can come from small and simple acts of obedience. (See D. & C. 64:33-34 &; Joseph Smith History 1:7-19, not to mention, D. & C. 123:16).

Did I heed the prompting I was given yesterday? Grudgingly at first . . . but, yes, I finally did. I'll admit that I dragged my feet every step of the way up to the pulpit . . . but after gathering my courage, I did my best to share what was in my heart. Did it come out perfectly? No. After I returned to my seat, I was hit with "Dang it! I meant to say, this and this and this." Sigh . . .but then a quiet sense of inner peace indicated that I had done the best that I could do and all was well.

That's all our Father expects from any of us. We are given opportunities to do good things in this troubled world. We simply need to listen to the Still Small Voice, gather our courage, and faithfully strive to do our best. We may never know why we felt prompted to do some items--but I can testify that if it's a good thing, it's important to simply do it. Do it without questioning: "Why," "How," or "Me? Really?" If we will give heed to positive promptings, we will receive the guidance and help we need, one step at a time.



   

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Believe in Yourself

I've always loved Edgar A. Guest. When I was in elementary school I memorized some of his poems, and amazingly, sixty years later I can still remember some of them. The cadence was beautiful and memorable, as in the following: Believe in yourself. Believe you were made To do any task without calling for aid. Believe, without growing too scornfully proud That you, as the greatest and least are endowed. A mind to do thinking, two hands and two eyes Are all the equipment God gives to the wise. Believe in yourself. You're divinely designed And perfectly made for the work of mankind. This truth you must cling to through danger and pain; The heights man has reached you can also attain. Believe in yourself and step out unafraid; By misgivings and doubts be not easily swayed. You've the right to succeed; the precision of skill Which betokens the great you can earn if you will; The wisdom of ages is yours if you'll read, But you've got to believe in yourself to succeed. Edgar A. Guest We are now working with young single adults and so many of them need these very special thoughts. A grandson leaves in 10 days for his mission. He needs to believe this. Another grandson is walking too close to a dangerous line and he desperately needs to understand and believe this. The world is a scary place today. If we could help everyone understand and believe the truths that flow through this short work, I think it might not be quite so scary.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Don't Become a Writer

Don't become a writer if you want a career of social interaction. Writing is a solitary business. Writers often secret themselves away behind a locked door, in an attic, at the library, or in a beach house or cabin. Alex Haley, the author of Roots, used to sign onto a tramp steamer as a part-time work hand. I guess his cramped stateroom somewhere on the way to Fiji was the perfect get-away for his inspiration.

It's difficult to describe what goes on in a writer's brain when they're smacking down the words: wrenching effort is what it feels like 50% of the time, 25% it's brain freeze, 20% the words float out of you skull like bubbles and disappear into the ozone, or cosmos, or astral plain. Only 5% is inspirational bliss.

This is the reason we have to be hermits when we write. We mumble, we speak out loud in the voices of our characters, we scream in frustration when we can't think of the word we want, we scream in terror if we lose the storyline, and we scream in delight when a paragraph says exactly what we want it to say. We walk around grumbling. We walk around grumbling and eating Cheetos. And, we often sob loudly when we have to kill off one of our beloved characters. This behavior is not conducive to a normal workplace environment, and so writers tend to be solitary workers.

Don't get me wrong--it's wonderful to see a book published, to handle it and admire the cover, but then reality hits and you realize if you want to keep your name "out there" you have to go back "in there" and be a hermit for six months.

Just something to think about.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Extreme Makeover - Manuscript Edition


My current work-in-progress is 125,000 words long. It's a sci-fi epic, and they tend to be pretty huge. Goes with the territory.

Unfortunately it's not economical to print a novel that long by an author new to the genre, so I've been told to trim it down to below 90,000 words.

Gulp.

A challenge, you'd think. I am going through cutting out every single word which doesn't contribute to the story. Every sentence which isn't advancing the plot is history. Every phrase which doesn't enhance the narrative, deleted. It's turning my turgid work into a fast-paced, pithy and tight story which I am loving more with each cut.

Here's an example. In this scene, Emon walks into the cafeteria to find a table loaded with food for him. Among the delicious fare he describes is "a huge omelette filled with what looked like some type of vegetable salsa". At least, it was in the epic version. In the abridged version it is "a huge omelette filled with vegetable salsa." Six superfluous words slashed from one phrase. But really, is it vegetable salsa or isn't it? Does it matter to the plot whether he's not 100% certain what the omelette is filled with?

I waffle, I have realised. There are a lot of unnecessary words in my books. I might write all my books this way in future - ramble pointlessly in the first draft, and then mercilessly slash through my manuscript chipping off all the bits that don't make it look like something beautiful.

Editing is fun!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Learning From & Letting Go of The Past


Well, here we are, smack dab in the middle of September. The leaves are starting to turn vivid colors in the canyons, and though the sun is shining here and there (between impressive rain storms) a drop in the temperature indicates we are shifting from summer into fall.

Life is like that--it moves incredibly fast and it is full of change. You just think you've adjusted to one season, and another clamors for attention. Sometimes, it is good to look back and remember important highlights from previous eras--it helps form balanced perspectives for future adventures.

Earlier this month I returned to the place I consider my hometown--Ashton, Idaho. (My family moved eight times while I was growing up, but we spent the four years I was in high school in Ashton.) It was an interesting visit to this beautiful small town. As I walked around, savoring the crisp fall air, I felt a familiar urge to snap a few photos. [Those who know me well are rolling their eyes, very much not surprised by this tendency. ;) ]

I took a picture that won't mean anything to most people . . . but the empty spot on the side of Main Street holds a special place in my heart--the high school I once attended used to sit in this location. All that remains are a few trees, a patch of dried grass, and an empty parking lot. The deserted area tugged at my heart-- then I reminded myself that a brand new high school, both bigger and better, now exists on the other side of town. Some changes are good . . . it's just a little heart-rending to shift gears and move on.

While I was tripping down memory lane, I asked my husband to drive by the house my family purchased while we were in Ashton. It's located about two blocks away from where the old high school used to exist. The house appeared to be in great shape, with nice siding and a new roof. A sign indicates that it's for sale yet again. As I stood there, tears made an appearance. I quietly snapped a couple of pictures, took a deep breath, and walked down the street.

Turning, I gazed at the park that stands between my old house, and where the high school used to be. Tears gave way to a sense of peace as I realized that a horrendous ordeal that occurred during my sophomore year has helped shape me into a stronger, more determined individual. It was also a reminder of the importance forgiveness plays in all of our lives.

Years ago, as I walked home through that same park during the winter of my sophomore year in high school, I was attacked by an unknown assailant. By heeding the promptings that came through the gift of the Holy Ghost, I was able to get away with my virtue intact--a handful of bruises were the only visible marks that remained of that nightmarish evening. The inner bruising, however, would take years to heal. To this day, if someone walks up behind me and I'm not aware of their presence, a brief sense of panic descends. It is so much better than it was, however--and I have the Savior to thank for that great gift. 

Several years after I was married, I experienced a healing moment in the temple that helped me understand I had to let go of the hate I had developed for the person who attacked me. Tears flowed that day, too, as I gave my pain to the Savior, and though I still jump when someone approaches me from behind, the anger, the sorrow, and the fear have faded into peace. I no longer harbor ill will toward whoever was responsible for the assault.

I have learned that if we so choose, we can release pent-up anger, inner pain, and the sorrow others have caused us when we give those negative emotions to the Savior. He knows best how to heal our hearts--and He has already atoned for what others may say or do to hurt us. When we continue to hang onto grudges, we're basically turning our backs to our Elder Brother. We can't fully enjoy life and experience the peace of heart our Father and Savior wish for us to find until we forgive.

Though I will never know in this life who the culprit was who caused me so much pain (the police were never able to prove who it was who attacked me that night) I had to release the angry hatred I was carrying around inside--it was tearing me apart. I have discovered that the same is true for other moments in my life when I have been offended or hurt. We have to let go of the negativity to heal. We must forgive others, and we must forgive ourselves when mistakes are made.

As I walked through the park in Ashton a few days ago, I did so with total peace of heart. And later that day, I met up with beloved friends from my youth as we celebrated our friendship by eating pizza and enjoying huckleberry shakes in the pizzeria that now exists where my dad's drugstore used to be.

Life is change. That's part of why we're here. If everything remained the same and we weren't tested and tried, we would never learn the lessons our Father desires us to experience while on this earth. I know I will be forever grateful for the education I've received thus far in my mortal journey. Some courses have been more difficult than others, but each one has helped to shape me into who I am today.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

THE NINJA WRITER

I don't watch much television, but for some reason over the past few weeks I've drifted into watching Ninja Warrior--at least I think that's what it's called.  It's a show taking place in Las Vegas where the various contestants compete on an obstacle course hoping to be proclaimed the first American Ninja Warrior.  Most of the contestants wind up falling from rolling drums, swinging cables, or some other dangerous obstacle into the water below.  The few who actually make it through to the end of the course seem to me to be the ones who are neither cocky and arrogant nor nervous and hesitant, and they are the ones I find myself cheering for.  They're often the ones who have a band of family and friends cheering for them too. Life's a lot like that.  Sure sometimes the cocky and arrogant appear to be the winners and sometimes the nervous Nellys luck out, but overall I think those who succeed in this life and feel good about their accomplishments are the ones who approach challenges with a mixture of confidence and humility. They're the ones who want to win for their loved one's sake and when they win they turn first to their family instead of the TV cameras and the pretty young woman there to interview them. 

Because I'm a writer and over the years I've become accustomed to drawing parallels between most things that happen around me and writing, humor me as I draw a few parallels between writers and that Ninja show.  To even compete the contestants spend years working out in gyms, rock climbing, running marathons, eating right, and doing whatever it takes to build the strength, speed, and endurance needed to qualify.  Writers, too, need to do what it takes to qualify.  This usually means a lot of reading, attending writing classes and conferences, observing both physical and human nature, studying language and grammar, and learning the art of self-discipline.  (The self-discipline is necessary to keep us writing instead of playing on face book, watching TV, or cleaning the house instead of writing.) 

We have to be confident enough of our ability to actually finish what we start and submit it to a publisher or agent and to keep writing when we get those inevitable rejection letters.  We also need to be humble enough to learn from or at least live with poor reviews when we finally do get published. 

I feel great sympathy for the contestants who fall in the water after they've worked and trained so hard.  I feel great sympathy for writers who spend years perfecting a book then meet with one rejection after another. I can't help admiring those contestants who come back after failing, sometimes three or four years straight.  I also admire writers who take those rejections, work harder, and resubmit their manuscripts. 

My senior high school English seminar teacher, who knew I wanted to be a writer gave me some advice I've always remembered following some gushing remarks from a visiting writers' club president who compared my style to Hemingway's.  He said "Don't compare yourself to other writers. Be yourself.  But always remember you're better than someone, but someone out there is better than you."  I'm often asked at book signings and by those who dream of a writing career what advice I would give them.  Sometimes I pass on my teacher's advice and sometimes I simply say, "Read everything you can get your hands on.  Write something even if it's a journal entry or a shopping list every day. Join a critique group and stop talking long enough to listen to what the others have to say. Finish what you start and submit it; when you get it back, fix it and submit it again." 

Win or lose, luck sometimes plays a role, but hard work and perseverance are the attributes that can be counted on to take writers or Ninjas to the next level.

* * * 

This may be the last blog I write for a while for the V-formation.  I'll be having some pretty involved surgery before my turn rolls around again and it will depend on how quickly I recover how soon I'll be ready to blog again.  But I'll be back.