Saturday, November 29, 2014

Always Thankful

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."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Skating Around Important Decisions

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." ;)

Thursday, November 20, 2014


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 "played." 

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 one does. 

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.


Friday, November 14, 2014


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.

Monday, November 10, 2014

In . . . and Out of the Zone

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.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


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.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Lovely Places!

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!