Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Words have fascinated me as long as I can remember.  My mother said I was walking and talking before I reached ten months old, but a serious injury a few months later left me silent until I was nearly two. Between my own curiosity and my older sister's diligence in sharing all she learned in first grade, I began reading at four.  I don't recall what I read at that early age except every time my Dad bought gas in the nearby town of Arco I read Boyd's Coal on the side of the building next door and Nehi Orange on the pop bottle he handed me and I had to finish drinking before we left the service station.  Several farm magazines, The Children's Friend, and the Saturday Evening Post arrived regularly in our mailbox.  My mother had a collection of storybooks she shared with me and my siblings. My older brothers and sister brought books home from school, which I read or they read to me. As you can see, I began reading whatever I could get my hands on at an early stage.

It's not just reading and talking I like, I like words, individual words and words strung together in sentences.  Some words feel good to say.  Some give me a sense of pride because I can spell them.  Some words can brighten an otherwise dismal day. I find it interesting that some words sound like the object or feeling they represent, some don't even come close.  Many lovely sounding words have not-so-pleasant meanings.  It seems such a shame to waste words like diarrhea and pneumonia on such unpleasant meanings.  On the other hand scrumptious just sounds--well, scrumptious. There are some words I avoid speaking aloud because though I know the meaning and the spelling of the words, I've never heard them spoken and have no idea how to pronounce them.  It is said that most people have a far larger reading vocabulary than speaking vocabulary.  That's certainly true in my case. 

Some words cut and hurt.  Some are offensive.  I try to avoid these.  It seems odd that people with the most limited vocabularies are the ones most inclined to depend on offensive words in their communication efforts. 

Words go through a sort of evolution, changing with time and succeeding generations.  Thongs, square, stud, and so many other words no longer mean the same things they did when I was growing up.  In Nephi's day goodly was an adjective meaning someone with a lot of goods or in other words someone wealthy.  Later goodly became a measurement signifying a lot of something.  Today goodly is often assumed to be an adverb referring to character or behavior and is seldom used in modern written or spoken communication.

The meanings of words are sometimes confused because some words are spelled differently and have different meanings, but sound the same.  Unfortunately meanings are sometimes confused because of similar roots.  Recently I heard someone referred to as onerous when the speaker meant ornery. And who hasn't heard someone say he or she was nauseous?

Words are powerful.  They give us the means to communicate with others.  They give us the means to support, show kindness, share our thoughts, entertain, soothe, and work together.  Unfortunately they also give us the means to hurt, demean, mislead, misunderstand, bully, and offend others.  It's no wonder wise people have cautioned us to choose our words wisely, not say anything if we can't say something nice, and to speak no evil. 

Words are, of course, the tools of my trade.  Without words I couldn't be a writer. With the passage of years I've learned many words, mostly English (American), but I've picked up a smattering of words in a few other languages and consider myself richer for adding them to my vocabulary.  If asked what is my favorite part of writing, I'd have to say words.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Welcome to His Royal Highness the Prince of Cambridge

As the resident Brit (at least, the one still in residence in Britain) it probably falls to me to blog about the great events of yesterday (and today - as I write this we are awaiting the announcements of the little heir's name) and I'm happy to have that honour. I'm a bit of a royalist, and really admire the royal family and all the hard work they put on our behalf. They may be as dysfunctional as any other family, but the history and duty inherent in who they are and what they do transcends that.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are a happy, young couple welcoming their first child into the world, so it's lovely that the world is celebrating with them. Admittedly most families don't get to have the bells of Westminster Abbey chime for three hours, or a gun salute, or a town crier, when their children are born, but this baby will have the weight of duty and expectation on him for his whole life. The insane and doubtless intimidating media scrum outside the hospital and the palace are something he will face on almost a daily basis. Don't forget that his grandmother was, in a manner of speaking, killed by the paparazzi.

I'm loving all this wonderful pomp and pageantry. Like the NHS, the BBC and thatched cottages, it's something that's quintessentially British and brilliant. There are those, of course, who ask why this one family are entitled to own half of Cornwall, live in a string of luxury palaces and have servants to wait on their every whim. Well, they certainly work hard so I don't begrudge them any of it. Someone worked out that it costs every man, woman and child in the UK 67p a year to pay for the royal family. That's just under $1. They don't have any real power any more and are required to be politically neutral, but they are wonderful ambassadors for Britain and the Commonwealth. They also bring in far more in revenue than they cost the country.

I probably won't live to see the little prince become King, but he might rule over my children. That thought makes me very much aware of the historic importance of this event.

Monday, July 22, 2013


The past couple of weeks have been quite tender. We gathered together for my husband's family reunion, feeling sharply the loss of his sister, Arvilla. To pay tribute to her memory, we participated in a Relay for Life walk-a-thon to raise money for cancer research. We all wore yellow shirts in her honor, since that was her favorite color, and took turns walking around the track that night. It was a time of reflection and hope for those who may still fight this battle. It also managed to reopen our heart wounds a tiny bit.

During this same time frame, the mother of one of my closest friends passed away unexpectedly. I found myself grieving for the loss of this great woman, sharing my dear friend's sorrow as she copes with this difficult time. 

I have always found that writing things out helps me deal with painful emotions. So early one morning this past week, I composed the following poem, capturing what I may not be able to share any other way:

The mosaic of my soul lies tattered
Pieces of my heart have chipped away
With each loss inner tiles drift loose
Glue dissolving on pain-filled days.

How hard to be strong for others
When inner tiles slip from my reach
Most don’t comprehend this sorrow—
Save One who tried to teach.

He, alone, understands the heartache;
Counts every teardrop shed--
He paid for the pain I suffer
In unspoken agony He bled.

One by one, we all visit that Garden
Suffering invites us to softly kneel
To place our hand within His own
As He pays the price to heal.

Only then do we discern Eternal Love
Perceive the final cost;
Rising slowly to our feet
We know that all is not lost.

The strength to continue is granted
Inner glue renewed by humble desire
Refined we forge anew
Tiles sealed by the white hot fire.

The picture of our lives is not complete
Without tiles fashioned in hottest flame
And someday when all is restored—
We’ll be called by His sacred name.

Until then we press onward
Slipping our hand inside His own
Knowing we were never meant
To walk through infernos alone.

Cheri J. Crane
July 16, 2013

Thursday, July 18, 2013


My sessions with the physical therapist always start with twenty minutes in a darkened room with a compression ice machine attached to my knee.  Other than feeling like I'm in a refrigerator this is a relaxing time to just think before I begin a rigorous physical workout to strengthen my knee and relearn how to walk.  During my last session my thoughts turned to some of the advice my parents and others have given me through the years.  Much of it was in the form of clichés, but over the years I've found truth in some of their advice, sometimes humor, and I've even found myself repeating these cautionary words of advice to my children and grandchildren. Though some of this advice has proved helpful, I've also found some well meaning advice to be completely useless, but memorable. 

More and more I find truth in the advice my dad gave me when he taught me to drive.  "Every other car has a drunk behind the wheel and the one in between is driven by a fool," he advised me as he attempted to teach me caution.  And "Never argue the right of way with a truck; there's no value in being dead right." 

When I used to run and was feeling badly because I'm not a fast runner, my brother gave me this bit of advice, "You don't have to be the fastest runner.  If a bear is chasing you, you only have to be faster than one other runner." 

I overheard a son-in-law giving this advice to a nephew just before his nephew's wedding.  "There are only two rules you have to follow to have a good marriage. Rule one--she's right.  Number two--refer to rule one." 

My mother always cautioned me to like and respect myself.  She said if I didn't I couldn't expect anyone else to. 

Whenever I tried to rush through a task, Mama always asked me, "If you don't have time to do the job right, when will you find time to do it over?" 

My Grandpa Snowball was an interesting man who led an interesting life and built many of the dams and bridges in Idaho and Wyoming.  He was seldom without a thick wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth.  He also had a parrot that knew every swear word ever invented.  He advised me to eat pie and ice cream for breakfast so I'd get the milk, eggs, and fruit I needed to grow strong. Grandma advised him to keep his vulgar-mouthed parrot locked up when the grandkids visited. 

A classmate in high school advised me to take up drinking since I planned to be a writer.  He assured me that only alcoholics who live in unheated attics become successful writers. 

Somewhere I picked up some sound advice against becoming a know-it-all or paying too much attention to opinionated people: "Those who know the least know it the loudest." 

I've been told by more than one person in the writing/publishing field that a writer should pick one genre and stick to it, "establish your brand as one particular type of writer".  I haven't done this and I'm glad.  Writers who follow this advice may achieve more fame and make more money than I have, but I've had a grand time writing for every section of the newspaper, dabbling in magazine articles, delving into short stories, and researching and writing novels in half a dozen different genres. 

When I was a college student someone gave me a little framed motto for my birthday.  It said "Anything worth doing, is worth doing for money."  At the time I thought it was very clever and hung it on my wall.  Now the motto that graces the door to my office is one given to me by Cheri Crane, a fellow writer.  It reads, "I'm a woman of many moods, and they all require chocolate."  How my understanding of great advice has changed over the years! 

There is some advice that seems to be timeless and we're all familiar with "Don't start a trip without clean underwear for in case you're in an accident" and "If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?"  Cliché, but they still provoke thought.   I've shared a small part of the advice I grew up with.  Now I'd love it if you'd tell me of the memorable advice you've received.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tell about it!

I want to talk a little about this quote I love. It's attributed to a woman named Mary Oliver, whom I don't know, but her tidbit of wisdom has added scope to my life and my writing.

"Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it."

--Mary Oliver--

Cool, right?

PAY ATTENTION. It seems like a no-brainer to pay attention when going through life, but how many of us slump through our days, taking care of the mundane necessities, and not really seeing the places, things, and especially the people around us? I was watching my great-nephew the other day as he squatted down to look at some ants. He wasn't just looking--he was paying attention. And, he was astonished by their antics. When he looked over and saw me watching him, he wanted to tell me all about it and have me be a participant in his scientific discovery. I promised myself that I would pay more attention to ants, trees, and sunsets. I decided to pay more attention to what was happening in my neighborhood, state, and country. I vowed to pay more attention to those people around me who enrich, and expand my life.

BE ASTONISHED. Life actually does astonish me: acts of kindness, acts of bravery, the human spirit, the leafing of the trees in the spring, the taste of strawberries, the pictures from the Hubble space craft, the color yellow, babies giggling, and a thousand other things that make me stop in my got-to-get-things-done frame of mind, and take a breath.

TELL ABOUT IT. The final part of this equation is important. We can pay attention and be astonished, but if we don't share that joy or insight with someone else, it makes for an isolated life. This is especially true for those of us who are writers. Why do we write? Why do we go through the struggle of getting the words down on paper, the angst of submitting it to a publisher for scrutiny, and the worry if it will be accepted by the reading public? Why? Because we have noted something, been astonished, and now we want to tell about it. No, we have to tell about it.

I'd love to hear from you about something which has astonished you. Tell about it!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sunday Lovely Sunday

I am so grateful for the Sabbath. The more time passes, the more I realise how wise it is to have one day in every seven to just rest and reflect.

My life is a bit manic at the moment. Each morning I am up at 6.30 (at least Seminary has finished for the summer) to get the children up and ready for school. I start work at 9 and finish at 2, then head straight for the gym where I either swim half a mile or run a mile on the treadmill. I'm back at the school gates for 3.15 (with wet hair), then Monday is shopping and preparing a nice dinner for the in-laws, Tuesday is Gwen's riding lesson followed by youth at church, Wednesday is gymnastics for Ceri and then Slimming World for me, Thursday is ballet for Hari followed by cooking for the missionaries, and Friday is a church social this week, Temple night next week, and probably date night the week after.

Saturday I do all my housework because I've had no time during the week and by this stage we're usually knee-deep in laundry, dust and clutter. This Saturday I'm visiting my parents in their 500-year-old house in Ipswich, and next Saturday I'm at my writing club so goodness knows when I'll do the housework over the next two weeks.

But Sunday ... Sunday is lovely. Three hours of church means three hours of peace, reverence, learning, introspection and thoughtfulness. It restores my soul and reminds me what this crazy life is all about and what really matters. We're not the most fantastic sabbath-keeping family, and if I'm out of bread for the children's school lunches I will nip out to the shop to buy a loaf, but generally we don't go to parties or events on this day. In fact, Hari was supposed to have an extra ballet lesson last Sunday to prepare her for her upcoming exam, and I told the ballet school that she wouldn't do it on a Sunday, even if it meant failing the exam. (They added her to the Friday class instead, and I got to chat with my best friend at the ballet school as we waited for our daughters outside their Friday dance lessons, so that was a wonderful blessing for keeping the Sabbath holy.)

In theory Sunday afternoon is when I write to missionaries, or do my visiting teaching. In practice, I usually sleep.

One Sunday evening a month we join friends from another local church at Costa Coffee in Rayleigh for an informal church event including (usually) inspirational teaching and (often) free cake. And another Sunday evening the same church holds a book club which I really enjoy.

So one way or another, Sunday makes up for the rest of the week, and I wonder how people who treat it as just another normal busy day manage not to go mad.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


America, land that I love.  Since I was a small child I've been curious about other countries and through the years I've found a great deal to love and admire about most countries, yet deep inside of me I've thrilled to know that I am an American. What it means to be an American is difficult to put into words because it is a concept only understood by my heart. On this, our nation's birthday, I'll try to express a few of the things my country means to me. 

Freedom comes first to my mind.  To be able to worship as I choose, to get an education and to continue to learn in any field I choose, to develop my own interests and talents, to work and set my own goals, to live where I choose, and to share my life with the people with whom I most wish to be, are some of the aspects of freedom that matter to me.   

I love this land; the mountains, the streams, the fields and meadows, the deserts, the small towns, and the cities. There's a rich diversity of land and land uses across this country and I love the variety.  There's a feeling of pride in knowing America is the home of many natural resources such as rich soil, water, timber, coal, oil, most minerals and gems, rain, wind, and sun.  

The history of this nation brings a swell of pride for the heroes who sacrificed to make and keep this a free nation. It is a melting pot of immigrants from all over the world who have given much to form a nation where race and old world biases are softened, blended, and done away with to form a new people, Americans. 

We have our share of traitors, weaknesses, and attempts to dominate others.  Unfortunately that seems to be part of being human.  Lately our country has been plagued by divisiveness as many have moved away from the strengths of our constitution and from God.  Unless we turn back to those values that made this a choice land, we stand to lose our most valued rights and freedoms.

Over the many years I have celebrated America's birth I've stored a treasure trove of memories.  Some of my earliest celebration memories include watching my brothers and taking a turn cranking an ice cream freezer, sparklers whipping through the night sky, church bells, fireworks, picnics with Mama's potato salad, a watermelon snugged into a secure hole in an icy creek, marching in parades, then watching my children march with their school bands, foot races, rodeos, and breakfast on the back deck. And always the stars and stripes have flown proudly at our house, led the parades, and adorned our neighborhoods.

If I were blowing out the candles on America's birthday cake, my wish would be that our nation would continue for many more years to be a Godly nation filled with freedom, respect for one another, peace, and prosperity.  Happy Birthday America!

Monday, July 1, 2013


There are certain words that evoke deep feelings - that stir our emotions. They can bring a rush of memories or a flood of tears. Freedom is one of those words. Listening to the Star Spangled Banner never fails to bring tears and immense gratitude for those brave souls who gave their all to establish this wonderful country of America, free from the tyranny of an unrighteous, unsympathetic king. My dad served in the Navy during WWII. How proud of him I was when he wore his uniform. I remember the ration coupons he traded...we had several children who needed shoes. He traded his tire coupons for shoe coupons with a couple who had no children. I remember blackout curtains - every night we heavy black velvet curtains so the Japanese couldn't see our lights and find us if they flew over with their bombs. I remember the day every bell and whistle went off outside Farragut Naval Base in Idaho - the war was over!! Fire and police sirens, church bells, people banging on pots and pans signalling celebration of the first kind! We won the war!! Freedom was sweet, not just for us, but for all those who had been freed from the tyranny of the Germans and Japanese who tried to conquer the world. I was in the third grade and this made a huge impression on me. My husband received his commission in the Air Force when he graduated from Utah State and we embarked on 25 years of military service. It was not a sacrifice to have him gone seven days sitting nuclear alert - ready to fly away at the push of the red button. Freedom seemed very precious during the cold war. Russia and China loomed as incredibly awesome enemies, but freedom prevailed, thanks to all those families who waved good-bye to husband, brothers, fathers and sons, and not a few women who stood on that line and held it against encroachment by our enemies. I am saddened by the number of the newer generations who do not value Freedom - who do not salute the flag, who do not even stand when it goes by in a parade. Who failed to teach them that freedom is precious? Why did they never learn that freedom isn't forever unless we appreciate it, and protect it, and cherish all that it gives us? I, for one, will be lining my driveway with flags this week, will cry when I hear the national anthem, and will be sure that my grandchildren know and appreciate all that is required to keep that beautiful flag flying over the land of the free and the home of the brave.