Friday, June 27, 2014

Janice Sperry's Rebel Princess

Middle school and young adult fiction are not usually my cup of tea and I seldom read them unless our book group has chosen one of that genre for the month. (Then sometimes I simply skip the book!) I volunteered to read Janice Sperry's new book out of curiosity. Her first effort, the Candy Cane Princess, was delightful and I wondered if she had inherited her mother's talent for storytelling. Jennie Hansen has long been one of my favorite authors and yes, Janice apparently did inherit that marvelous talent for putting words together to amuse, amaze and enthrall.

Janice has a fun voice. She constantly surprised me with a clever turn of phrase. I found myself thinking time and again, "I would never have thought of that! What an imagination!" I loved Raven, the princess who did not want to be a princess and definitely did not want to be bejeweled.

The "living" house was a fun innovation that added endless possibilities to the story and Janice took great advantage of that. I kept wondering what would happen next and it was always a surprise. I did miss the foreshadowing of the rat on page two which turned out to be a huge part of this enchanting story.

The descriptions of scenes are vivid and detailed so you are visually in the middle of the action. My mind never wandered and I was never allowed to "leave the dream" as I read, which says a lot for Janice's storytelling prowess.

Apparently I have been out of the fairy tale mode too long  (my youngest grandchildren are into Cars and Tinkerbell) as Janice constantly surprised me with fairy tale references that fit perfectly with the story.

I highly recommend this delightful book to all ages. My eight year old granddaughter would have enjoyed it at age six, and will love it even more now. My older grandchildren will find it a fun read, but I think my book group would appreciate the clever dialogue and surprising turns this story takes even more than the younger set. Published by Sweetwater Books, an Imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc. Springville Utah.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Pecking Order

When I was almost five years old, my family moved to a 13-acre piece of land that my father had inherited from his family. My parents had made arrangements to have a beautiful brick home constructed in the middle of the property and as soon as it was finished, we moved in. Shortly after arriving, we began collecting  animals. Eventually we ended up with dogs, cats, chickens, geese, one milk cow, three Shetland ponies, a horse, and 16 dairy goats. It was all very character building and we gleaned important lessons from our experiences with these animals.

My father was a pharmacist in a town located about 30 minutes away, so most of the chores fell to my mother, my brother, and myself, since we were the oldest. Our two younger sisters helped as they could, developing a great love for animals that continues to this day. Dad pitched in whenever possible, but he usually left for work early in the morning and returned home exhausted each night. (We didn't know it at the time, but he was also dealing with a health condition known as Narcolepsy, so his physical strength was limited.) As such, the rest of us rolled up our sleeves and did our best to tackle the landscaping and gardening adventures, as well as animal care.

We raised the dairy goats in part because my father had learned there was a great need for goat's milk in the area. Several babies were allergic to formula and goat's milk was a crucial part of their diet. Deciding we could help with this problem, our parents started with one goat. We gradually increased our small herd, raising Nubians, Toggenburgs, and Saanens. We quickly learned that each goat possessed a colorful personality and we grew to love most of them. A couple of the Toggenbergs were a tad bit ornery but we soon mastered the art of staying out of their reach. The others were a lot of fun and we came to think of them as extended family members. Daisy pranced around like a princess, since she was the first goat purchased. Bianca developed a great love of beets; her white face always revealed whenever she had raided my mother's garden. Prometheus was a soft-hearted tease, so on and so forth.

Though the goats were often our favorite, I learned a great deal more from the chickens. One of the chores I was assigned was to gather the eggs each day. I loved this job--to me it was like a treasure hunt. I didn't enjoy cleaning the eggs as much as finding them, but I relished the time I spent searching in the egg boxes, and in every nook and cranny of the chicken coop. Our chickens were quite productive and I usually found a small bucket's worth of eggs each day.

The more time I spent with the chickens, the more aware I became of a bothersome tendency. I noticed that most of the chickens seemed to pick on one poor member of the flock who for whatever reason, stood out. Each day their selected victim looked worse. Feathers were disappearing. Wounds from sharp beaks became more apparent. Then one day I saw that blood had been drawn. Troubled by this behavior, I reported it to my parents. I was informed that this was typical conduct for chickens, but my parents did their best to intervene. The decrepit looking chicken was isolated from the others. Dad brought home a salve from the drugstore that we smeared all over the bloodied wounds. It was all to no avail. The poor chicken died despite our best efforts.

I'll admit I wasn't very proud of our chickens after this event. The sad thing was, after we removed the one they had hurt so much, they found another target and that chicken soon looked as bad as the first. Though we tried everything we could think of to prevent this from happening, nothing worked. The chickens couldn't be trained to be nice to each other.

I've often reflected on that incident. Sadly, I have observed that same behavior in some of the people that I have known. Why is it that we tend to pick on those who are somewhat different? Instead of trying to help those who are struggling, we sometimes do just the opposite, causing them more pain.

None of us are perfect--we've all made mistakes in this area, I'm sure. But wouldn't it make for a better world if instead of being critical and judgmental, we stopped to consider that maybe we don't know all of the facts in a given situation? Maybe we should try to view each other as the Savior tried to teach--with love and understanding, realizing that we truly don't know someone else until we have literally walked a mile in their set of troubled shoes.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Correcting errors, pointing out weaknesses, stating my opinions!  I'm not sure if this is a tendency of years of editing, my role as a critic, if I can blame it on a Type A personality, or what, but I have a tendency to notice flaws and I can't help wanting to do something about them. Editors and school teachers use red pencils to make corrections.  Sometimes I wish making all kinds of corrections could be that easy. 

As I read social media posts, I groan at the abundance of incomprehensible sentences, misspelled words, and the incorrect usage or omission of words, even though I know a good share of the blame for the problem can be placed on spell checker or simply trying to type as fast as the writer thinks. With the sudden emergence of e-books and independent publishing on the world, the error rate has gone up in the books I read.  I wonder if a certain amount of the blame might also go to our schools for not spending as much time on educational basics as they once did.  Itty bitty keyboards can claim some of the blame too!  Where's my red pencil! 

I'm a news junkie and I've always been keenly interested in politics.  Today's politics provide plenty of disgust and annoyance whether you lean right or left.  Mistakes, errors, and downright incompetence and dishonesty abound.  Most of the time I'm glad I'm no longer an editor or reporter, but sometimes I get an urge to write what I think, then I remind myself we, the people, voted for these people because a) we were too lazy to get informed, b)we've confused government with fairy godmothers, or c)we're gullible and actually believed their campaign rhetoric.  I also blame today's news organizations since most belong to wealthy individuals who are more interested in their bottom line than real journalism. And what's with posting a cute story about a sweet little kitty on the front page and informing the world of the atrocities being committed by ISIS on an inside page?  I need gallons of red ink! 

This world is full of things I can find fault with; big uncovered bellies that hang over the tops of skirts or pants, people who think they know more than God, texting drivers, Federal ownership of most of the Western states, dresses that are too short on both ends, neighbors who don't water or mow their lawns, yapping dogs, boys' pants that sag below their underwear (if they bother to wear any), the price of gasoline, unvaccinated people, the lack of rights for Islamic women, people who believe rules are for other people, playing the race card, cancer, the cost of prescription drugs, atheist bigots, wasted tax dollars . . .  It's going to take more than a dozen red pencils! 

This world is full of problems, big and small.  Perhaps my impatience with some of these problems can be attributed to the fact I'm getting older, but I think I've always been aware mistakes, errors, weaknesses, and dishonesty can be readily found.  They're everywhere.  Some bother me more than others.  I remember asking my dad once why God allows bad things to happen and why some people seem to have worse problems than others.  He said he didn't know all the reasons, but he believed some were so we'd have something to work on while we're here.  This life is like school he explained; you can't get an A for just sitting in class or for not bothering to show up for class.  Assignments are given and homework has to be done. He also said some people aren't tempted by things some other people are because they've already passed those items off before they got here and don't need to prove themselves again.  It was his belief that we weren't all given the same talents and abilities because like at any good school, we aren't all taking the same classes. He assured me that in the end it all evens out. He left me a firm believer in doing my best to pass the tests that come my way, change what I can if it needs changing,  and that it's a good thing that God's the one who wields the red pencil.



Thursday, June 12, 2014

An Open Mind

I've heard it said that if you want to know what's going on in a person's head, just take a look at their office space. As I sat in my office this morning, looking around at the stacks of mail, papers, magazines, books, and sundry items of I-don't-know-what, I lamented for the confused state of my brain.

I vowed to organize and purge. I vowed to put things into filing cabinets. I vowed to put books onto bookshelves. I vowed never to let this happen again! Of course, I have vowed that before.

This sort of chaos seems to happen when I'm writing a book. Papers, books, and stuff come my way and I just open the door to my office and toss things in. Then I shut the door and go elsewhere to research and write--someplace quiet and uncluttered. I delve into the world of the book and forget about the room of pandemonium. Yet, there comes a time when the book is finished, the door is opened, and the mess must be dealt with. Today was that day.

I am now on stack #3--an assortment of unopened requests for donations and store advertisements promoting sales which happened three months ago. Next it's on to the filing!

I'm trying to keep a positive attitude , and, I must admit, my brain actually is feeling less confused.

Please tell me I'm not alone in this propensity to clutter. Please let me know if you have a similar place of chaos...maybe just a drawer? It would make me feel better.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


A few days ago I read a blog about whether or not children should be required to share.  It had some good points, but others with which I disagree.  I agree that forced sharing isn't really sharing, but unlimited use of toys or items belonging to a nursery or co-op group fails to teach social manners or contribute in a positive way to helping a child understand ownership. 

 It reminded me of when my children were small and a couple of friends and I had a discussion on teaching our children to respect other peoples' property.  There had been a rash of ugly graffiti turn up on fences and walls as well as several houses were used for parties while the owners were away.  Bicycles had been stolen from their owners' yards and a teenage neighbor sneaked in our back door and helped himself to a carton of ice cream. (I returned to the kitchen in time to see him running out the back door, leaving a trail of melting chocolate revel behind him.) We didn't want our children to ever be involved in such objectionable behavior. Teaching children concepts of this nature isn't easy, but we decided to give it a try. 

We concluded that in order to respect someone else's property, a child has to first experience ownership.  How can anyone respect someone else's ownership if they've never experienced ownership themselves?  We decided our children had to know certain things were their own. The child had to have complete control of those items that belonged to them exclusively such as toys, a favorite cup, or clothing.  That meant it was up to the child, the owner, whether or not to share.  

From there we moved on to group ownership.  Some things belong to the family and anyone in the family has a say in who can use those items, when they can use it, and for how long.  Any member of the family can make the rules. Next came toys at the church they all played with in the nursery. I knew my son had caught on to the concept when the nursery leader told me he'd informed another child the toys belonged to Jesus and He was the boss of them and Jesus said everyone could have a turn. I soon learned he wasn't the only one of our children who drew a strong distinction between sharing and taking turns.  Taking turns is what we do with items owned jointly.  Sharing means giving or allowing the use of something that is exclusively yours. 

This led  to all kinds of rules around our house.  If a friend came to play, I didn't require my kids to share, but I did have a place where they could put toys they didn't want someone else to play with.  It was their decision whether or not to risk having a beloved toy broken by a careless playmate. They learned to take responsibility for toys left out where children who didn't respect property rights might help themselves to them.  We didn't replace broken or stolen items since we thought their painful loss might reinforce our children's understanding of their rights as owners so they wouldn't do the same to someone else.  We noticed that when they replaced an item themselves with their own small allowances they took very good care of it. We had discussions on good manners and being kind to guests, but it was up to my child to decide which toys he would share and which went onto the high off-limits shelf.  Taking turns with the trucks and dishes my kids decided to share or the group items like the swings was seldom a problem, though my oldest daughter sometimes set the stove timer to help everyone remember when a turn ended. 

I don't know if our efforts produced the results we wanted, but none of our children ever seemed to have any problems with taking liberty with other people's property.  They all know what is theirs and what belongs to someone else.  They're also extremely generous, never hesitating to share with others.  Perhaps that group of young mothers I was once a part of stumbled onto a great truth when we decided even small children need to discover ownership and that sharing isn't really sharing unless the person doing the sharing is contributing something he/she truly owns.