A V-formation flock of geese seems to have one member of the group as the leader, but each member takes its turn at the point of the V, leading the way as the others in the formation honk in encouragement. The geese stay together, even when one becomes sick or injured; the group stays with it until it is well enough to continue the journey at its regular pace.
Since my turn to blog falls on New Year's Day, I decided to post my blog a little early.
Each year at this time of year there is a flood of top ten
lists published; top ten movies, books, news events, etc. Once more I'm joining
in the game, listing my favorite novels of 2014.The only problem is I can't narrow my list
down to ten so I'll call it My Top Baker's Dozen.I can't place them in numerical order either
so just consider them all number one.
I read many other enjoyable books as well.This has been a great year for LDS themed
adult novels.There are a few Young
Adult novels I hope to read eventually and one Middle Grade novel, Rebel Princess, by my daughter Janice
Sperry I enjoyed.Unfortunately there
are still about a dozen adult LDS novels in my "to read" stack I
haven't gotten to yet and some of them may turn out to be favorites too.I've reviewed all of my top novels listed
above on Meridian though some of the reviews aren't out yet, but will be posted
soon. If you would like to read any of the reviews go here.
the advent of a new year, I challenge Latter-day Saints everywhere to
undertake a personal, diligent, significant quest for what I call the
abundant life—a life filled with an
abundance of success, goodness, and blessings. Just as we learned the
ABCs in school, I offer my own ABCs to help us all gain the abundant
A in my ABCs refers to attitude.
B is for believe—in yourself, in those around you, and in eternal principles.
C is for courage. Courage becomes a worthwhile and meaningful virtue
when it is regarded not so much as a willingness to die manfully but as a
determination to live decently."
He really covers a lot of area in those few sentences. Attitude: it's everything! If our attitude is in tune with the Spirit, we are ready for the world!
If we believe in our Savior and His promises and atoning sacrifice, we ought to believe in ourselves and our ability to do all He needs us to do.
If we have the courage of our convictions, the courage to speak out and invite others to Come to Christ, the courage to overcome temptations, we will certainly reap the blessings that come with those acts.
Then whatever happens, we are on the right track and I believe, as President Hinckley so often said, "It will all work out!"
Happy New Year to you all.
It is the end of Christmas day, and hubby and I are brushing our teeth and climbing into bed. There are no visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads, or sounds of reindeer on the roof. There are no carolers on the doorstep or last minute wrapping to be done--all that is finished. The family has gathered, the feast has been eaten and the presents exchanged. Now it is time for rest and reflection.
As I put my thoughts to paper, images of the past several days surface and I find myself smiling. It was a joyous few days: we went shopping with a desire for simplicity, we found most of the store clerks friendly and 95% said "Merry Christmas" as we finished our transactions, we participated in religious services which honored the Christ child, we read the scriptures with more pondering, and we turned our short comings and ill feelings over to the kind Judge of the World.
We let pestering things go. We held precious memories close. We found ways to serve. It truly was a tender Christmas. And, when we woke up to a winter wonderland on Christmas morning, we were filled with a sense of childhood wonder. It was true Christmas Magic.
I hope you had a lovely Christmas. I would love to hear some of the highlights!
Christmas has always meant different things to different people. As the others have so eloquently shared who write for this blog, it is a time of sharing and making fun memories as we celebrate the birth of our Savior. Annual traditions are important, and it tickles me to see some of our family traditions being passed on in my children's families--like our much anticipated Christmas Eve dinner. A tradition that started in my maternal grandmother's family has been passed down through the generations. We fix seafood dishes, and fun finger foods for everyone to enjoy. My maternal great-grandmother was from Scotland, and a love of seafood has been passed onto her posterity. Christmas Eve became a special time of sharing food that was hard to come by in the small Wyoming farming community where my great-grandmother raised her family. She would be happy to know that this tradition is very much alive and well in our clan.
This year, however, it has been more of a struggle to feel the Christmas Spirit. So many of the people I know and love are struggling with difficult trials. My heart goes out to all of them, and I pray daily that somehow, we'll all make it through these trying latter days.
For example, tomorrow there is a funeral in my husband's family. A cousin has passed away after bravely facing a debilitating illness. We learned yesterday, that a dear friend of my mother's passed away after falling and breaking a hip. Two good friends of mine were recently released from the hospital after enduring challenging surgeries. Others are facing financial setbacks, life-threatening health issues, and all kinds of icky trials that I wouldn't wish on anyone.
For some, it really doesn't seem like Christmas this year. And yet . . . if we understand what this time of year means, it should be a season of peace, regardless of what we're facing. (Note to self: pay attention to this message. I was feeling less than peace yesterday.)
The birth of our Savior brought hope into the world. His arrival meant that eventually, all of us would be able to return and live with our Father in heaven--thanks to the overwhelming sacrifice our Elder Brother would be making on our behalf. He paved the way so families can be reunited when this life is through--something that can bring comfort to those who have lost loved ones.
His example showed us how we are supposed to treat each other while in mortal mode. It would truly be a much better world if we all followed the precedent He set. He also gave us the precious gift of peace. "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7) To me, this means that when we are going through heartbreaking moments, we need to remember that we're not alone. The precious gift of peace can be ours, if we so choose--a gift freely given by our Elder Brother.
In my own life, when heartache has descended, the gift of the Comforter has eased that inner pain. "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you . . . Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (John 14:18; 27) I have found this to be very true, and inner peace is treasured gift I seek on a regular basis.
How do we discover this gift when our hearts are on the floor, feeling stomped on by life? It truly is the simple things that open the door to peace. Acts of service seem to help the most. Whenever I'm having an extremely bad day, even though I'm not in a great frame of mind, I have found that when I do something for someone else, even if it's just a phone call to check on them, it eases the pain I feel inside.
Going for a walk to clear my head is also helpful. Eventually I spot something that reminds me of the beauty of this world, and the great gift it is to us. An attitude of gratitude inspires peace.
Searching the scriptures has also brought a ton of peace into my life. I can't tell you how many times I have turned to scriptures that have given me a feeling of hope when I've needed it the most.
Prayer. Plain and simple, heartfelt prayer. I always rise from my knees feeling better than I did when I first knelt down.
Those are the main things that help me through when life throws a curve-ball at my midsection. I still get caught off guard periodically, like the inspiring song that cracked through my fragile walls of defense yesterday (music always manages to pierce through to my heart--in part because it has been such a huge part of my life) but when I follow my formula, I can usually pick myself up, dust myself off, and continue on with peace in my heart, compliments of our Savior.
So this year, as Christmas arrives, pause a moment to consider what the birth of our Savior actually means. Ponder the numerous ways our Elder Brother has touched our lives, and remember that the best gifts are those that come from the heart.
One final scripture that has inspired peace in my life: "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed . . . For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts . . ." (2 Cor. 4:8-9; 6)
Part of my childhood was spent in a small mountain valley
where on Sundays, special occasions, and Christmas, church bells rang out the
glad news. Locked in my memories of Christmas mornings is one when the valley was covered with a
thick layer of snow.The air was sharp
with cold, and frost had turned the trees to fantasy sculptures. As I stood
outside before entering the barn, I heard the bells.The sound carried from down in the valley
creating one of those perfect moments of beauty that became a piece of what
Christmas means to me.
Over the years my parents, my siblings, my husband and
children, friends, teachers, co-workers, neighbors, ward or branch members, those
who read my books, and even those I only know from mutual interest internet
groups have woven their way into my Christmas feelings and memories. I've given
and I've received.The secret Santas,
the homemade gifts, the shopping binges, the parties, concerts, and school
plays have taught me the joy of giving and gracious receiving.
A great musician learned by chance that I'm tone deaf and
made it his mission to teach me to hear. Among the pieces he painstakingly
helped me to differentiate the sounds from noise to music were the old
Christmas carols.Years later, working
in the Oquirrh Mountain Temple, the organist on the shift where I serve
discovered that I can hear the melody of songs played on the chime setting of
the temple organ. Since then she always adds the chimes anytime she plays the
organ when I am present.Thus music has
become a deeply appreciated part of Christmas for me.
When family or friends gather, food becomes one of those
social mediums that brings us together. At no time is this more true than at
Christmas.Most of us have a favorite
food we associate with Christmas.My
older brothers gave my sisters and me a box of cherry chocolates for Christmas
each year when we were little.Without
cherry chocolates would it still be Christmas?I grew up with a goose, not turkey or ham for Christmas dinner. Mama's
carrot pudding, oranges, and raisin filled cookies all mean Christmas to me.
There are those who remind us Christ wasn't really born on
December twenty-fifth. Others are adamant that the gift giving and parties
distract from the true meaning of Christmas. Some make a big deal over wishing
someone Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I don't think it
matters what day we celebrate as Christ's birthday; the important point is to
recognize that He came and the manner of greeting matters far less than the
sincere heartfelt desire to wish another a message of caring.Giving gifts, providing comfort, warmth, and
good meals for the homeless and poor, the gathering of families in love for one
another are the very things He taught us. It's good to have a time to pause and
reflect on our beliefs, acknowledge those who have helped us in life, join
together in families and friendship, give the best gifts we can, and spread
good will throughout the world.As for
me, I choose to also make Christmas a time to worship and a time to ask God's
blessings on all those who have touched my life for good. It's a time to
remember Jesus is the greatest gift to mankind.
Christmas is a time to wish all of you a blessed Christmas.
May this season bring you warmth, joy, peace, and the best of memories.
I know I say that every year, but I really DO love Christmas. There is more love in the air, more kindness, more service to others, and more good music! I love Christmas music - not the Santa Claus songs, of course, but the classic Christmas carols. And I love decking the halls!
Here is my Christmas tree: blue and silver.
I really love all the memes and artwork that comes out at Christmas. I have a friend who does a Christmas boutique every year and I keep adding to my collection of Christ-centered things:
I love displaying all the nativity sets from all over the world my kids have brought me and that I've collected.The shelves on the right are all from different African nations and the ones on the left shelves are from Poland, Tanzania, Armenia, Portugal, New Mexico and Arizona.
The stained glass came from Haiti, and the one in the middle from an antique store in Riverside, CA. the bottom one in the red satin box is from Hong Kong - each piece carved from a nut!
This is from Viet Nam, made from driftwood. I put it on our entertainment center this year so it could actually be lit so I could appreciate the delicate pieces that were carved from different woods. I love how every nation depicts the Nativity in a different way.
One year we had the grand kids choose some of their favorite but not worn toys to share with the children of Tiajuana, Mexico. All of our children and their children stayed overnight in San Diego and by prearrangement with a bishop across the border, we met the missionaries at the border and delivered boxes of toys, food, clothing and other things the bishop had said they needed. My family bought me this paper mache nativity made by a master craftsman who said the art was dying out as the young people were not learning how to do it anymore. It is one of my favorites!
I've already posted my Armenian village in years past, so I won't do that one again. Needless to say, I love sharing my treasures with everyone. I love Christmas because Christ gave us a gift we needed so desperately in order to return home. My gifts this year to my family and others are given with much love and thanksgiving for that first gift our Father gave to us of His Son, and then His Son's gift of the possibility of eternal life to us. Merry Christmas to all!
I was all set to write a blog post this morning, when the phone rang. The news was not good at all. In fact it was terrible news, and not a great way to start the day. I'm currently serving in a brand new Relief Society presidency (I taught my final teen Sunday School class last week) and we're still trying to get the hang of things. Today reminds me of a story a friend once told me about how he learned to swim. An older brother threw him into the lake and it was either sink or swim. Today is one of those days. I suddenly find myself submerged in the middle of a deep lake of emotion and I'm doing my best to attempt a weak form of dog paddle. My head is above the water--barely--but there is hope.
That is what comes to mind this morning. There is always hope, no matter how dark the storm around us might seem. I've probably touched on this theme before, but it seems to be an important thing to remember these days. I believe the adversary is pulling out all of the stops, doing his best to fill hearts with discouragement and despair. How do we counter that tendency?
This is a subject I'm all too familiar with. My entire family felt like we were dropped off in the middle of an ocean of pain when my father died. None of us knew how to swim through the intense emotions of losing a loved one to suicide, but with God's help, we all found a way to do just that.
In the beginning, we learned to take life one day at a time. Sometimes we had to break that down into smaller increments, and coped minute by minute, or hour by hour. It was a basic survival strategy, but it worked. My mother would start her day by thinking, "All I have to do right now, is to get into the shower." Then after that it was, "Now I just have to get dressed." Followed by: "I should probably eat something for breakfast," so on and so forth. And eventually, the difficult day passed by, then the difficult week, month, year, etc.
The advice a beloved bishop told us truly was a life-saver: "Keep busy!" At first, we looked at him and furrowed our collective brows, but there was wisdom in that counsel. Keeping busy helped us get through extremely difficult days. For example, my mother went back to school and earned a degree as a dental assistant. Her busy days of schooling, and then working in a dental office kept her going. We all found varying ways to follow her example.
I stumbled onto the fact that each time I did an act of service for someone else, it chipped away at the the pain I carried inside my heart. It was like a soothing balm. So on really bad days, I looked for ways to help other people, and it helped to get me through that grieving process.
And on the nights I couldn't sleep, I would grab some paper and write out everything I was feeling. Then I shredded those pages into the garbage. I didn't know it, but I found out later on that this is an important form of healing therapy. When my brother majored in psychology in college, he learned that this is a major way to work through a traumatic incident.
It also helped to get together on holidays, and keep things light. One year we basically did an impromptu karaoke concert, dressing up to make fun of the silly songs we selected. We filmed most of our performances that day and that tape has been the source of multiple laughs through the years.
We learned that there were items we had to avoid for a while. For a long time, I couldn't deal with Father's Day programs, music, or talks. The days I tried to endure such things, usually led to crying sessions in the women's restroom, and a massive headache. So on those days, we sometimes gathered as a family (there is strength in numbers) or went for a scenic drive. Eventually that day became easier to tolerate--I even spoke in church on that day a few years later and it was okay. But at first, when the emotional wounds are raw, we don't have to dump salt into them.
I'm a water person, (ironically) and on bad days, it often helped to simply sit beside a calming creek, river, lake, waterfall, etc. and let the sound of the water soothe my inner pain. I would often make silent mental lists of the good things happening in my life to counter the ugly pain that often surfaced as I sat, doing my best to relax. This form of calming meditation always worked to help me survive.
Physical activity was also important. I would often go for long walks, or get together with a good friend to play racquetball. Activities like these helped to release the angry frustration that goes along with this healing process. I took out the anger I was feeling on that racquetball, or burned it out by walking briskly in the fresh air.It always helped to clear out the mental cobwebs that were forming.
I also had to realize that tears were another important release when dealing with an intense grieving process. I hate crying. It makes my nose run, usually gives me a headache, and makes my eyelids look all puffy. But it serves a purpose. It helps to release some of those intense emotions--it's a safety vent, like on my pressure cooker. That inner steam has to flush out to help us work through the healing process. Tears are an important part of that process. I learned the hard way that keeping everything tucked deep inside is just asking for trouble. Eventually, those tears would come, usually in a public format which was less than desirable, at least for me. I'd rather do my crying in the privacy of my home, not out in front of everybody. ;)
Something a good friend is fond of saying, also comes to mind: "Just keep swimming." Or in other words, never give up! We all have icky days on occasion. It seems to be part of the test of this life. I have found that on those really bad days, it is important to just keep pushing through, knowing that the following day will be better. Because I grew up in a musical family, songs would often pop into mind that sometimes gave me the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other. One in particular, sung by Maureen McGovern, was a favorite boost (The Morning After):
There's got to be a morning after
If we can hold on through the night
We have a chance to find the sunshine
Let's keep on lookin' for the light
Oh, can't you see the morning after
It's waiting right outside the storm
Why don't we cross the bridge together
And find a place that's safe and warm
It's not too late, we should be giving
Only with love can we climb
It's not too late, not while we're living
Let's put our hands out in time
There's got to be a morning after
We're moving closer to the shore
I know we'll be there by tomorrow
And we'll escape the darkness
We won't be searchin' any more
The words to that song, and others, would often pop into my head, lending a much needed emotional balm, just when I needed it most.Was it all coincidence, I don't think so. That's something else to remember, we're never as alone as we sometimes think we are. Heavenly help is all around us, on both sides of the veil. We saw too many miracles in my family to ever think we were on our own. Too many things fell into place for us to ever doubt that we are watched over and helped when we needed it most.
So . . . when we find ourselves flung into deep water--instead of flailing about in a panicked state, or sinking to the bottom, simply take a deep breath (of air) and strive to keep swimming. Eventually we'll reach the shore of peace that we each are seeking. The important thing is to never give up.
There are days I feel like I might meet myself going out the
door as I come in.The past couple of
weeks have been like that. With four major surgeries in a little over a year
and learning to deal with diabetes, there are a lot of things that didn't get
done during the past two years, so I decided to tackle some major house
cleaning before Thanksgiving, get my Christmas shopping done, and finish the
novel I'm writing.Then there was a
Relief Society lesson to teach, a book signing, books to read for the Meridian column
I write, Christmas decorating, Thanksgiving, etc., etc.
The housecleaning exhausted me and had a bad habit of
dropping my blood sugar count. I managed to get some major projects done,
however not all I'd hoped to do.Anyway
by Thanksgiving the house looked pretty good. All of our children and their
families were here for dinner that day.The food was good, but just being together was even better. We had three
tables and twenty-six people!That's a
lot of people in one house, but well worth it to have the people who top my
list of things I'm grateful for all together.
I did something this year I've never done before.I managed to stay within my budget for
Christmas. Shopping for twelve adults, five teenagers, five elementary age
boys, two preschool girls, a husband, and a few assorted friends and neighbors
takes some strategic planning and lots of lists.There have been some great sales and when
going to the stores became too exhausting, I resorted to a little online
We were almost through decorating for Christmas except for
the tree when our three-year-old granddaughter came for a quick visit before
pre-school. She approved it all, especially the music boxes and the M&M
Christmas tree jars.She even had to try
the Nutcracker soap dispenser in the bathroom. When it was time to leave for
school, she wanted to be sure it would all still be there when she comes again.
The cat who visits us every day isn't so sure he approves of
our Christmas tree. It's kind of scary and too close to the back door where he
likes to mooch a snack. Actually we put up two trees this year, a pre-lit
artificial tree and a cute little real tree.The pre-lit tree takes center stage in the living room and the little
tree is in a big flower pot on the front porch.
Sadly I didn't get much writing done, but I'll try to do
better in the next few weeks, right after one granddaughter's choir concert,
another one's dance recital, a school program, the ward party, wrapping a
gazillion gifts, preparing another Relief Society lesson, celebrating our
wedding anniversary, and reading a few books.(Be sure to read my Christmas Books column on Meridian Thursday, Dec. 4)
This message was meant to be posted on Thanksgiving day, which did not happen because I was busy cooking turkey, preparing potatoes, and tidying the house for expected guests. Then, when the family arrived with their assigned offerings of stuffing, green bean casserole, and pumpkin tort, the precious minutes were filled with visiting, stories, laughter, and of course, eating. After the feast there was clean-up, more visiting, and the preparation of the turkey and fixings take-home bundles. Lastly, came the hugs and final good-byes at the door. It was a lovely day.
With quiet ringing through the house, I sank into the living room chair. There were a ton of grateful thoughts swirling in my head, but I did not have the energy to organize them, or put them down on cyber paper; I just took them with me to bed where they brightened my dreams.
I love Thanksgiving day, but I also love the thought of gratitude every day--opening our eyes to the simple and precious wonders that surround us: warm water straight from the tap, quick cook oatmeal, dogs, people who still write letters, fall colors, fleece blankets, the laughter of babies...the list goes on and on.
I agree with Edward Standford Martin, who wrote,
"Thanksgiving Day comes by statute once a year; to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow."
This entire month my teen Sunday School class has been learning about the importance of becoming self-reliant. Yesterday's lesson was all about making important decisions--you know--those life-altering moments when we stand at the crossroads and strive to determine what is the best path. College, mission, marriage, career, family . . . little choices like that--those items that eventually determine who we will become. We all face those crossroads at multiple times in our lives. And the decisions continue. It's part of the test we call mortal life.
It's interesting how those plans change on occasion. For instance, at one point in my life, I pondered becoming a professional ice skater. One year for Christmas, my entire family received ice skates as gifts from Santa. We were thrilled. A lovely pond existed not far behind our home, and we spent many hours enjoying our new pastime. For someone who is not very gifted with grace, I found that I could balance and glide with ease with my new skates. (Amazing, eh? You would've had to see it to believe it.) I believe I was about ten years old at the time. My parents told me I was a natural and of course my confidence grew. I practiced and watched ice skating competitions that were broadcast on TV, thinking I had found my niche in life. Then disaster struck. It happened at school one day. For some unknown reason, an ice skating pond had been developed in the middle of the school yard that year. I hadn't brought my skates to school yet, still keeping my secret new love close to my heart. That was something I enjoyed after school, when I returned home.
On the day in question, I was walking along the side of the pond, daydreaming about my future plans, when I heard a teacher holler, "Hey (I can't remember the boy's name) _______, grab Cheri's hand and swing her around on the ice." In this teacher's defense, I'm sure he thought he was doing me a huge favor by helping to pull me out of the shell of shyness that I often retreated into as a child. He meant well, but his suggestion turned into a horrific event in my life.
The boy he had hollered at obediently ran over to where I was standing in shock, grabbed my hand, and pulled me out onto the ice. I was quite small for my age and this rather tall boy was able to swing me around without any problem, until I hit a bad spot in the ice. Needless to say, because of the momentum, I went flying through the air. I'm sure it was spectacular to watch . . . until I landed hard on my face on the ice. That's all I remember. When I came to in the school infirmary, people were running and shouting, and my head felt like it had connected with a brick wall. After things came back into focus, I caught on that the blurry red stuff that was all over the place, was coming from my nose.
My mother was called, and by the time she arrived, it had pretty well been decided that my nose was broken. My new coat was ruined, and I endured a horrible headache that lasted nearly a week.
I didn't ice skate much after that incident. I tried, but memory of my very bad day at school surfaced, and the tiny bit of confidence that I had been developing, slowly faded away. Falling became an every day event on the pond, and after a while, my ice skates mostly hung in my closet, tucked out of sight.
Life is like that. We believe we have things all figured out, and then an unexpected explosion changes everything, like an unwanted health diagnosis, the death of a loved one, unemployment challenges, so on and so forth. We are left standing at the edge of an icy pond, questioning what's really important.
I think that's why it's crucial to have a sure foundation in place. That's what helps us survive the glitches in our lives. If we've already made the decision to find out who we are, why we're here, and where we're going, we can survive those unexpected bumps in the ice, even if we feel slightly broken for a while. In time we heal, and take baby steps back out onto the ice, until we're ready to glide about with ease. The trick is to never give up, despite the difficulties that arise.
I wish now that I had persevered with the ice skating adventure. I seriously doubt that path would've eventually led to a professional career, but it might have remained a favorite pastime. The old adage, "get back in the saddle," is something to consider when dealing with unexpected challenges . . . unless it is applied to riding Shetland ponies. Then my grandfather's advice is possibly more on the mark: "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, throw a dirt clod at the naughty pony, and walk back to the house with your head held high." ;)
As life becomes a little overwhelming with wars, rumors of
war, disasters, diseases, and all manner of ills, I find myself thankful for
two-and three-year-olds and other assorted toddlers.Perhaps that's part of the purpose for small
children.They provide a different
perspective on life.They teach us faith--and
they make us laugh.
A few weeks ago my small granddaughter informed the clerk at
Harmon's grocery store that "You need to clean your store."Taken aback the clerk asked if she'd found
something dirty. Little Jen pointed to the array of Halloween spider webs
overhead."'piders!Get a broom."
Attending a baptismal service for one of my grandchildren,
the then two-year-old impressed me with his generosity when he passed out
candy-like fruit chews to every child around us until I realized he was only
giving away the blue ones which he adamantly disliked.
As foster parents we once were blessed with a half-starved
two-year-old who had never had solid food.Slowly we added fruits, vegetables, and cereals to his diet.He stood by anxiously waiting every time I
baked cookies. He became an enthusiastic fan of cookies warm from the oven. Then
came a day when my husband and I sat in church with him between us waiting for
the sacrament prayer to begin.All was
quiet, then the other ward that shared our building rang a bell to signal their
class time was ending.Andy jumped to
his feet shouting, "Cookie done, Mommy!"
When it came time for our first grandson to get a haircut, I
somehow got elected to do the honors. Chris wiggled and ducked, turned his
head, and refused to sit still.Finally
I handed him a cookie, hoping it would distract him long enough to get the job
done.He sat still for about a minute
and I cut quickly, letting his hair drop wherever. He then solemnly handed back
the cookie, telling me, "Don't like fuzzy cookie." The cookie was
covered with fine, blonde hair.
Nate was quiet and behaved beautifully in church or while
shopping, then suddenly he would announce "Done," then he would
squirm, run off, yell, and be unmanageable.This is the same child who "worked" instead of
A friend's three-year-old grandson is in love with
cleaning.He loves to Swiffer and
demands that she shop at Walmart because he likes the way the cleaning products
aisle smells. I wonder if this obsession will last through his teenage years.
Jen does her best to teach me lessons in logic and fairness.
If I give her a treat, she holds up her other hand and lets me know she has two
hands so she needs two treats.Once she
was with me when I received a call from another grandchild's school telling me
he was ill and needed to be picked up.Naturally Jen went with me to get him, but once he was safely strapped
in the backseat beside her, she insisted I should go get the other boys (five
boy cousins nearly the same age). She's sure that the boys are a group package
and should all come to my house if
A long time ago, when I was a small child, I found a small pine
tree of only five or six inches tall, that had been uprooted.I took it home and an elderly neighbor
invited me to plant it in his yard.He
dug the hole, then let me do the rest.Through
the years I've often thought of him and the things he told me that day about
planting trees and raising children.He
said trees and babies represent faith.Those who don't believe tomorrow will come or that babies will grow into
fine adults lack faith. I'm convinced he was right.Planting trees and appreciating the wonder of
toddlers is what keeps us believing a better tomorrow is possible and that both
the trees and the babies, grown tall, will help it happen.
Now is the time of year we begin to think of all the traditions our family has kept through the years. It rarely varies. Thanksgiving at Gramma's house - turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes with lots of pecans and brown sugar and maybe a few marshmallows for those that like it that way. Of course, hot rolls timed to come out of the oven just as we sit down for the blessing ready to be slathered with butter and honey. A couple of veggies - probably green bean casserole and corn. Then in the center of the table there's always an assortment of olives, stuffed celery, pickled beets and even cheese slices.
Everyone is way too full for dessert, but by the time dishes are done and the kitchen restored to some degree of order, it is time to break out the pies. Pumpkin, of course, mince with added apples and nuts to the mix from the bottle, some kind of chocolate, apple, and ice cream and whipped cream for garnish.
Talk of all the blessings that have been accumulated during the year accompanies this feast, and as we live in California, everyone usually congregates outside in the sunshine for BB gun practice, archery - if they remembered to bring their bows - and whatever new game is popular at the time. Sometimes it is marshmallows shot out of PVC pipes - hopefully they don't go in the pool!
When it cools down and everyone returns to the house, someone wanders to the kitchen and grabs a leftover yeast roll, spreads on some cranberry sauce, adds a hunk of turkey, and the next round of eating begins. My husband agrees with a son-in-law that the sandwich at the end of the day is almost as good as the turkey in the middle of the day!
I think it's funny that Thanksgiving revolves around food and family, while Christmas revolves around service and surprising people with presents they didn't expect but needed, and our Savior's birth. It's all about beautiful music and lights and sights and sounds we only see and hear once a year.
In our family, we didn't read the Christmas story from the scriptures. We listened to it on a big 33 1/3 inch record - "Journey to Bethany" - the dramatized life of Christ. I can still hear the soldiers feet tramping down the street as they posted the notice that all Jews had to return to their family village to be counted or taxed. We heard the donkey's bray and Joseph's tender concern for Mary, and the innkeeper's gentle compassionate wife who led them to the stable. And we heard the shepherds in the field, amazed and awed at the angel declaring glad tidings. The little shepherd boy who gave his shepherd's staff to the tiny baby was a tender moment.
I wondered how my children with their families could enjoy that same tradition but I found that it had been converted to CD - by Covenant, I think! I bought copies for all my children and they are continuing that tradition today.
I love our Christmas traditions! I love choosing special presents for my kids and grandkids and siblings. I love making mountains of caramel corn to deliver to the neighbors. I love all the wonderful traditions we have established to celebrate special times, but especially the ones when we celebrate the birth of our Savior.
We all have a comfort zone. It's where we feel loved, accepted, and safe. However, life very rarely lets us stay there. I'm thinking that's part of why we're in mortal mode--it's a challenge we actually thought was a good idea during a certain council meeting we all attended before Earth life began. Because of the decision we made during that time, we are continually presented with situations that force us forward. As such, it probably doesn't behoove us to throw ourselves when change arrives in our lives. (But we tend to do it anyway, eh?)
It takes a certain amount of courage to tamp down our nervousness, and do our best to embrace those growing experiences when they come. I'll admit there are moments (like this past week) when I've been tempted to run screaming the other direction. To borrow a phrase from Cap'n Hook, that is considered "bad form."
This past week, I was sustained in a calling that terrifies me. A lot. I'm totally being pulled out of my comfort zone of working with the youth . . . and find myself serving adult women. Gulp! I suppose this means that I have to grow up now. ;) It helps that I won't be facing this challenging time alone--I'll be serving with some wonderful women who are already doing a fantastic job. But there are still moments when a bit of fear gnaws at my heart and I tremble as I ponder some of the stretching that will now take place in my life. (Did I mention, GULP?!)
I've been thinking a lot about other times in my life when courage was required. For instance, when I was about nine years old, one of my great challenges involved a feisty rooster. We lived on a small acreage and possessed several animals, including chickens. One of my assigned chores was to gather the eggs each day. I loved finding the eggs--it was like a treasure hunt as I searched the creative places our hens tended to use in the chicken coop--instead of the nice nesting boxes my parents had constructed. I hated that each day I had to face a mean rooster we had named, Doodle. Doodle was a rooster with an attitude problem. He felt it was his duty in life to attack anyone who dared to invade the chicken coop. He was particularly gifted at utilizing the large spurs on his strong legs to share his displeasure each afternoon.
I caught on that it was a good idea to enlist the help of my younger brother with this task. He would stamp around the outside of the fenced chicken yard until Doodle ran out to accept this obvious challenge to his manhood. I would race inside the chicken coop and slide a board over the opening that led out into the yard, effectively locking the rooster out of the coop. Then I could gather the eggs in peace. This system worked well--my first adventure with teamwork. But there were days when my brother couldn't help me. Then I had to come up with a different plan.
One day when I came back to the house bleeding and eggless from one of my daily battles with Doodle, my mother gave me some good advice--speak not so softly and carry a big stick. I didn't like this option as well, but I found that when the ox was in the mire--or Doodle was on the rampage and I had to face him on my own, I could smack him upside his head with the stick and while he wandered around trying to regain his fetchies, I could quickly gather the eggs and leave before he realized what was going on. It took a lot of courage on my part to tackle this version of handling Doodle. When he came charging at me, my instinct for survival kicked in and it was tempting to run the other way screaming. Instead, I had to stand my ground--and bravely face the oncoming fury, praying for help as I wielded my small wooden sword.
We're all facing battles of epic proportions in today's crazy world. It requires a lot of courage to stand our ground, and not give way to the fiery attacks of the adversary. He loves to inspire fear and discouragement anyway that he possibly can. It's up to us to figure out a way to avoid the pitfalls he leaves in our path, and to continue on with our journey, leaving our comfort zones behind. How wonderful that we don't have to make these journeys alone--that we are blessed with the help of others who can bolster us along the way, giving us the added strength we need.
Someday, when we look back on the lives we led in mortal mode, I think it will be those times when we left our comfort zones that will mean the most to us. We will look to those occasions and smile, knowing those were the moments that inspired the most growth, helping us to become who we are meant to be.
P.S. Before I wrote this post, I woke up with Hymn # 243 going through my head. Its title: "Let Us All Press On." ;) Check out the lyrics when you get the chance.
Over on Meridian where I've been reviewing books for almost twelve years, I'm making some changes in my column.First off my column is going to switch from weekly to bi-weekly.But the most important change is going to be to the content.This is where I need reader input.What do you want to see?
Several writers and author forums have advised authors to not read reviews of their books.This is because of trolls who haunt sites like Good Reads and get some kind of sick pleasure out of posting nasty comments and reviews.There's something about being able to post anonymously that brings out the sickos. Real reviewers don't attack authors or make blanket negative remarks.If there is something wrong with a book, an honest reviewer will point out what the flaw is and often suggest a way to correct the problem.Real reviews are an examination of a work, not an attack on the author.
One thing I want to do is help readers understand literary jargon and to know the difference between genres.I find it a sad commentary on the reading public when someone gives a book a low ranking number, star, etc., simply because it isn't the kind of book the reader prefers, such as finding a book is an historical novel when he/she thought it was a romance. It's unfair to pan a book because it's a genre the reader doesn't care for. I think it might be helpful too, to let readers know what to expect from a novel since book covers and blurbs don't always indicate the genre and sometimes a book fits into more than one category.
I review for an LDS-oriented magazine.In the future I want to place more emphasis on books that carry a message compatible with LDS values and I'll write about that value.This doesn't mean the book has to specifically mention the Church or a particular doctrine of the Church, but it does need to have a theme compatible with LDS standards.
I review both books from the well known LDS publishing houses, small publishers, and indies. Contact me by email or on facebook private message if you need my address.
A few years ago I asked readers what they wanted and I was overwhelmed with requests for a warning concerning typos, spelling and grammar errors, and all of the messy results of a new electronic age. Does anyone still want this? This situation has improved, but not gone completely away.
Another thing I will be doing is grouping books with a common theme together in one review.I'll do this both when the books represent a common genre and when they illustrate a common point in spite of being from different genres, time periods, or styles.
This is where you come in.I want my column to benefit readers and writers.Let me know what I get right, what you want to know about fiction, and what doesn't work or what you have a differing opinion on. You can use the comment section with my column on Meridian.You can tell me here or on Facebook.
We love to take day trips in the area to see the beautiful things God has given us to enjoy. In October we took two such trips so I'd like to share with you some things you might not have had the opportunity to see.
This is the Devil's Post Pile near Mammoth Lakes,CA Tall columns of basalt that have from three to seven sides. Eventually they collapse due to water freezing in the cracks and fall into the debris pile at the bottom. Very impressive!
A pine tree that is half dead on one side and green and thriving on the other. There didn't appear to be a fire that caused it. But it made for an interesting picture.
Beautiful red leaves snuggled against a tiny waterfall that disappeared under the rock next to it. It gurgled happily away down the mountain.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine tree in the Bristlecone Pine Forest near Mt. Whitney, CA Some of these trees were old when they built the pyramids in Egypt! And they are still living and growing in their twisted shapes, formed by the cold wind that whips them all winter long.
Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental USA. Took a dozen pictures because the weather was perfect and it was so beautiful!
The Old Mission at La Purisima. Love these California Missions! Have visited nearly all of them and hope to do a Shutterfly book - or several! Love the history, love the settings, love the old buildings that have been cared for and in some cases restored after earthquakes.
Third hole on La Purisima golf course where we love to play. The shadows are long because the sun has barely come up. We stand on the first tee and wait for it to get light enough to see where our balls go when we hit. That's one reason I don't play golf every day with my golfaholic husband. I really don't like to stand and wait for the frost to melt or the sun to come up and he loves being first off and having no one in front of him.
Just a few of our adventures to share with you. We're now preparing for a drive across the country to visit a daughter in Charleston, South Carolina and one in Lafayette, Louisiana. We love road trips - listening to a good book on CD and drive! We get to see so much more of our beautiful country when we do instead of flying over the top of it. Thank heaven for good house sitters, a comfortable dependable car and the beauty and wonder of America!
For some reason I've been thinking a lot about some of my pioneer ancestors lately. Possibly in part because I've been tackling a bit of family history work. I think it's a wonderful thing to do when life seems a little overwhelming. Sometimes it helps to look at our ancestors and see how they handled some of the stresses in their lives. True, their trials were of a different nature and time, but tough times are tough times regardless of when they occur. The emotions are the same: disappointment, heartache, and grief are experienced by one and all. Ponder, for example, how Adam and Eve must have felt when Cain slew Able. That had to have been a difficult time. And yet, we read nothing that indicates they threw in the towel, and said, "That's it! This is too hard!" Instead, they lived on, had other children, and did the best they could under challenging circumstances.
I think that's all any one of us can do, when tribulation enters our lives. We all get knocked flat from time to time by various trials. The true heroes are the ones who quietly pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and continue on their way.
One of my ancestors, my 10th great-grandfather (John Howland) fell off the Mayflower. (This is where we suspect we inherited our klutz gene, but I digress.) It would've been easy for him to have panicked and decide that was it--life was over. Instead, he fought desperately to survive. He managed to grab one of the halyard ropes hanging off the back of the ship, and he held on for dear life until some of the other passengers noticed his plight. He was hauled aboard, and fought off the ravages of a severe cold. He also managed to survive that first, ugly winter in the Plymouth colony, during which time, several people perished from illness and lack of food. John Howland managed to live through all of that, and he eventually married another survivor, Elizabeth Tilley. Both of Elizabeth's parents died during the first winter in that settlement, but she endured, and went on to help her husband raise a large family. (I descended through their daughter, aptly named: Hope.)
Keturah Lunn Broadbent, was expecting a child when she crossed the plains in a handcart company during the 1800's. One day as they crossed the Nebraska plain, she didn't feel very good. During a brief lunch break, she wandered off and sat under the only tree visible for miles. The pioneer company didn't realize she was missing, and started back on their journey west. Meanwhile, my 2nd great-grandmother went into labor all by herself. Eventually, a passing Native American saw her plight and helped deliver the baby, a strapping boy she later named, Orson. This wasn't the way she had envisioned giving birth, but she got through all of that, and the new friend who had helped her, rode after the pioneer company to let them know that she had been left behind.
I could go on and on . . . but I won't. ;) I think you get the idea. This life wasn't meant to be a smooth and easy journey. It was to be filled with challenging trials that would stretch us to the limit of what we think we can endure. Looking back over my own life, there are things I have experienced that I would never want to wade through again . . . like the suicide death of my father . . . barely surviving my first pregnancy that was filled with complications . . . the severe illness I endured before finally getting diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic, etc. and so forth. Though I wouldn't want to relive those events, they are the things that have helped to shape me into who I am today. From the lessons learned during my own school of hard knocks, I have learned patience, empathy, tolerance, and the fact that no matter what life throws my way, I can survive if I will follow the courageous example of my ancestors, and keep moving forward. An interesting sense of humor has been passed down through our family line. I know it helps us to cope when challenging moments come. I've always believed that laughter is truly the best medicine. There are times when hard trials surface and it seems like you will never smile again. But I have found, even during those difficult days, the Comforter helps us find a way back to the sunlight.
Someday, our example will be discussed by our posterity. Hopefully we will have left a legacy that will inspire faith, a smile, and the courage to continue on. We may think that we are the only ones affected by the choices we make, but we're not. Others will come along who will look to us for guidance in dealing with the challenges they will face. May our lives reflect the image of hope they will need.
One birthday, about twenty years ago, a friend from Australia sent me a book entitled "A Fortunate Life." It was written as a memoir and as I read into the first, second, an third chapters I wondered why the publishing company let that title slip through, because the author's life was anything but fortunate. He would overcome one trial or obstacle, only to encounter another that was waiting in the wings. Several times I set the book aside in frustration, only to pick it up again to see how the man shouldered his burdens and moved ahead. And, he not only moved ahead, but did so with lightness and gratitude, saying, "Mine is a most fortunate life."
By the end of the book the fortunate life was evident. The determination, positive outlook, and kindness he'd built into his character over the years made him a person to admire and emulate.
I can't remember the author's name because the book is gone and my reading of it was twenty years ago, but I do remember his life outlook. In fact, the story came back to me yesterday as I was grumbling about some little irritant that was ruining my day. I paused, looked up at the mountains with their Autumn colors of burnt orange and yellow, and took a breath. "Mine is a most fortunate life," I said loudly, and a most wondrous thing happened...my heart was changed from grumbling to gratitude.
October is a
time to tidy up, clean up, and put away. The harvest is done.Only a few die hard potatoes are left in the
garden.The last brilliant roses are
defying the coming snows. The season is nearly over.
Every year the onset of cooler weather is my signal to trim
back my perennials, root out the annuals, dig in mulch, roll up and drain the
hoses, rake leaves, put away the patio furniture, and generally get my yard
ready for winter.I learned a long time
ago that the more effort I put into making all secure in the fall, the more
beautiful and work free spring will be.
Like most writers I find an analogy to writing in almost
everything around me.I've often
compared spring to the excitement and discovery of starting a new work.Summer as the patient slogging through the
grand vistas and discouraging, blistering middle, and fall as the completion,
the time of harvesting or finishing a novel.October is that period of clean-up; the time of going back through the
manuscript to check the spelling and grammar, ensure that it's in the best
possible shape. Review the comments of beta readers. It can be seen as
exhausting necessary work or it can be filled with satisfaction from knowing
you've done your best and you have a completed, ready for submission story
ready to send to an agent or publisher.
October is also the time to plant tulips.Tulip bulbs, or those "big seeds"
as my granddaughter calls them are almost magical and are often used as
symbols.To me they are a symbol of faith,
a promise that no matter how deep the snow and how low the temperatures fall,
spring will come.Each writer needs a
bit of tulip faith.Even as this
season's manuscript is sent on its way, seeds, big seeds, need to be
planted.Start that next manuscript before you hear back on the one already
sent.Dream big.Plant big seeds.
I'm fresh off an eight-day stay with two teen-age grandsons. What a completely different experience from raising my own kids! Granted, I only had one son who lived - these boys are the offspring of that son. Their third son is currently serving his mission. My son always said he probably missed his brother more than we missed having a second son. That may have been true when his three sisters bugged him and one shared his journal with a girl friend. (Not sure that breach has even yet been repaired!)
But these two grandsons are a fun mix of his good and not-so-good characteristics. It is fun to see, and yet there are times I wanted to tell them their behavior was not acceptable now, nor was it from their father all those years ago.
The 13-year-old is totally in the moment. He never misses a thing. He can quote conversations verbatim that you didn't even realize he heard. He is a talented musician - plays a wicked piano and is now taking voice lessons. He sings from the minute he gets up until he falls asleep at night - much to the annoyance of his 15-year-old brother because he isn't singing softly, but at the top of his lungs! He spends as much time fixing his hair as I do - maybe more. He has an immaculate and well-organized closet. His shirts are color-coordinated. He's extremely observant and questions everything. Why do you do it this way? Why? Where? How? Fun conversations with this one! And he loves shopping. Being the youngest, he got to do lots of shopping while his mom was redoing their house. She is working at being an interior designer. He is thinking of being an architect. He loves taking long solitary walks.
The 15-year-old is something else. Totally lost in his phone and music. Never without ear-phones. Also spends much time with his hair and grooming. He is an individual who doesn't want to be classified with the crowd. He started wearing headbands to school and tie-dyed a bunch of shirts while I was with them. His friends call him a hippie, but he's certainly not laid-back like that generation that we are familiar with was. He also is musical (their mom plays the piano beautifully and sings). He plays the piano and last year began guitar lessons. He's quite good and loves blues combined with rock. Thank heaven! Couldn't have stood eight days of rock! He also loves to bake cookies and has the recipe memorized for amazing chocolate chip cookies.He is a skateboard star - doing things that frighten me! His dad's dare-devil streak certainly came full bore to him!
They are too busy to eat unless I force them to sit down to the table - then they devour whatever is there and are gone again! Getting them to bed was impossible, though they both had set bedtimes - 9:30 and 10:00 respectively - but it never happened! My instructions were to take their phones when they went to bed - and I'm convinced that if I hadn't, the 15-year-old would have stayed up all night on his!
I guess the electronics are the main difference in raising my kids and staying with these boys. Homework is done with Google. Texts are sent to teachers about assignments. Everything is instant communication and constant! Although I was very happy for it so I could text them and say "I'm coming to pick you up. Be out front." Or "Where are you? It's time to come home." or they could text me. "Gramma, I forgot this. Will you bring it to me when you pick me up from seminary?"
It is a new world, but some things never change. Boys will always be boys and try your patience and press to test at every opportunity. I'm just grateful they are good boys! What would I have done if they were juvenile delinquents!!
I would love to know the statistics on the number of students being home-schooled now as compared to thirty years ago. I know the number would be vastly greater today, therefore, my next question is, why? Does education today have a different purpose and dynamic than it did thirty years ago? Does it have a different focus than envisioned when America was established?
The Founding Father's set the Constitution on pillars of decency and morality. Because of this standard, there was a philosophy of acceptance of all religions in the communities being established across the country. The Northwest Ordinance, drawn up in 1787, outlined the standards that territories must follow in order to become states. Article 3 of the Ordinance required that schools in the new communities should be established, and that students should be taught three basic things: religion, morality, and knowledge.
When French political statesman and writher Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in 1831, he was intrigued by the vibrant successes he witnessed in the fledging country. In his famous work, Democracy in America, he wrote the following:
Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of
society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political
institutions...in France I had almost always seen the spirit of
religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions.
But, in America I found they were intimately united...There is no
country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater
influence over the souls of men than in America.
In the early 1900's an influential educator by the name of John Dewey began to train teachers at Columbia University Teachers College. By 1953, 1/3 of all the presidents and deans of teacher training schools in America were graduates of Columbia's Teachers College. There is a note of interest which should be looked at in connections with this training. John Dewey based his entire program on humanism, in fact, he was the President of the American Humanist Association. He signed the Humanist Manifesto, and consented to its principles, one of these being:
I believe in no God and no hereafter. It is immoral to indoctrinate children with such beliefs. Schools have no right to do so, nor indeed have parents. I believe that religious education and prayers in school should be eliminated. I believe that denominational schools should be abolished...I believe that children should be taught religion as a matter of historical interest, but should be taught about all religions, including Humanism, Marxism, Maoism, Communism, and other attitudes of life...I believe that unborn babies are not people; I am as yet unsure whether the grossly handicapped are people in the real sense. I believe there is no such thing as sin to be forgiven and no life beyond the grave, but death everlasting.
With such dogma permeating our "modern" educational system, is it any wonder that the basic strength of our system has deteriorated? Whereas America in its early years was the envy of its European neighbors, it now ranks towards the bottom of global comparison. The 1950's, 60's, and 70's brought a further "dumbing down" of American education and morality.
Is it any wonder that more and more parents are opting for private schools with a return to the principles of education set down by the founders, or for home schooling? It doesn't surprise me in the least.