07 November 2008
“And what is the worst?” you ask.
When I was a little girl, growing up in the sparsely-populated Verde Valley, our closest neighbors were a pack of coyotes. They passed our house nightly on their way from their bedrooms on the bluff to their dining room down by the river. I sometimes saw them. I always heard them. I became absolutely convinced that one night they would jump in my window and eat me up. Don’t laugh. It was a legitimate concern. After all, I was young . . . plump . . . succulent . . . doomed!
Almost half a century later, I still remember how terrified I was of those coyotes, and how many hours of sleep I lost worrying over each night being my last. Perhaps that is why I remember my salvation so very clearly.
One night my grandfather came to visit. He sat on the side of my bed and said, “I hear you’re afraid of coyotes.”
“Yes!” I cried. “They’re going to jump in my window and eat me up!”
My grandfather nodded his understanding then got up and closed the window. (You’d think my college-educated parents might have thought of that.) Still, the glass was very thin, so I was only partly reassured. (Arizona coyotes are nothing if not tough, wiry, and determined.)
Seeing that I was still alarmed, Grandpa looked around my room until he found my shiny pink twirling baton. He put it in my hands and said, “Here, you can fight off a coyote off with this.”
I figured I probably could. I was a pretty awesome twirler for a five-year-old. “But,” I said, “what if there is more than one? What if there are threeteen?” (Math has never been my strongest subject.)
“We’ll leave the door open,” he said. “You yell for help and I’ll be here before you’ve finished clobbering the first one.”
I’ve slept soundly ever since.
I didn’t understand why this plan was all I would ever need to feel secure until I had joined the Church and been through the temple. The endowment teaches us to look for types and symbols in all things. I realize now that my grandfather taught me a simple, but eternal, plan to save myself from every coyote in life. Every single one.
You’ve probably already guessed that I no longer fear those mangy things with four legs. The scariest coyotes come around when you’ve faced long-term unemployment and are about to lose your house. A worse beast is the news that your youngest son volunteered for a special assignment in Iraq, one that he doesn’t expect to survive. Coyotes certainly arrive when a doctor tells you that he removed a twenty-pound tumor from your only daughter and the prognosis doesn’t look good; or when you’re diagnosed with a crippling, life-threatening disease for which there is no cure.
Because we live in a world that is subject to natural disaster, pestilence, and death, in a time of uncertainty and surely gathering darkness, and because we agreed to strive under a plan in which even evil men have free agency, the coyotes are more numerous and more numbing than any other time in history. Fortunately, my grandfather’s plan always works.
First, you close the window. This is the physical preparation that helps keep fear at bay. You put aside a little money when you can. You store life-sustaining food and water. You keep yourself as healthy and fit as you can against the day that maybe you can’t. You get as much education as you are able. You learn to make, make-over, make do, and – gasp! – do without. In other words, you practice sound principles of thrift and industry as best you can.
But sometimes it’s not enough to shut the window. Those rotten coyotes will sometimes break in, no matter how well prepared you think you are. That’s why the rest of the plan is the most important: you grasp that baton for all you’re worth and you yell for Somebody bigger and stronger and older and wiser and much more all-powerful to help you out.
You’ve known since Primary that the iron rod is the word of God. The baton, then, is the scriptures – and every word that proceeds forth as scripture in these latter days. My husband made a list of every counsel President Monson gave in the last General Conference. I put it up on my bulletin board and sent it to my kids because these words can save our lives – spiritually and physically.
There have been times when the scriptures have literally saved my life. The challenges, the despondency, the despair – the coyotes – were just that bad. I couldn’t cope. But I found in the scriptures that the Lord had a plan for me, even when I didn’t know what it was. Learn of me, listen to my words, walk in the meekness of my spirit and you shall have peace in me. Sometimes the only peace in our lives is found in the Savior.
Seeking the Lord is, of course, that call for help. Sometimes we wonder why He isn’t there, forgetting that we haven’t called. We think that surely He knows our perils and needs before we do ourselves, so where is He in our time of need?
He is bound as we are bound. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you. Ask and ye shall receive. Seek. Knock. Ask. Our Father answers our prayers – always, always, always, always, always. But we can’t say, “Take it away!” and expect it to happen. (At least that doesn’t work for me.) We have to plead, “Please show me the way through!” and He will.
Oprah is a gajillionaire, Dr. Phil has his own show, and sometimes-shallow people are getting rich writing books of “secrets” because there isn’t a mortal in this world who doesn’t fear coyotes. Everybody looks constantly for some complicated magical formula that will keep them at bay. Even in the Church – where we absolutely know better – we tend to inwardly groan and roll our eyes when the counsel is always the same: organize yourselves, prepare every needful thing. Read the scriptures. Follow the prophet. Attend faithfully to your prayers for your flocks and fields and families. But, people, it simply isn’t any more complicated than that. There hasn’t been another plan since the beginning of time. We don’t need another plan because this one works. It’s the only thing that does.
In the last fifty years, coyotes have circled my house. They’ve yipped and howled in the distance, pooped in my flowerbeds, and scratched on my doors. Once or twice they’ve even broken a window and crashed into the room, but they have never yet eaten me up. They never will as long as I have an iron rod and an open door to my Savior.
11 September 2008
I hit my first speed bump on the road to physical fitness yesterday. Possibly it was a pothole. At any rate, I went to Chili's for lunch with a group who drank Coke and root beer and ordered fried chicken, creamy Alfredo, steak fajitas smothered with sour cream, and -- get this -- babyback ribs, loaded mashed potatoes and french fries. On the same plate. (I practically swooned.) I drank plain water (not knowing the calorie-count of a lemon slice) and picked at the "Guilt-free Salmon Plate." It consisted of seared, mostly flavorless fish, unseasoned brocolli and carrots, and six or eight black beans. 480 calories, total. I'm not a restaurant critic, but I will warn you that when you've finished your meal you find yourself crunching down ice cubes while eyeing the napkin and wondering if paper is fat-free.
What I'm saying here, people, is that for the last three days I've eschewed temptation and consumed fewer calories than most people living in the ghettos of India.
So it was with a regretable lack of humility that I stepped on the scale this morning for the first time since Sunday. I told myself not to expect more than a pound, but I secretly hoped for two. Possibly five. At least. Words for the self-congratulatory (and yet deeply inspirational) blog I would post on my family's site ran through my head. So . . . are you ready? Contrary to all the laws of dieting (and decency) as I know them, I have gained three pounds!
So I came to you. I want commiseration. Consolation. I want cheesecake.
I'll settle for your stories. Inspire me. Make me feel worse. Just tell me I'm not alone.
08 September 2008
For years, the tears have been of gratitude and disbelief. Somebody liked one of my books? Really? It has always been easier for me to endure bad reviews than it has been to believe the good ones. It’s no surprise, then, that I’ve kept every positive stroke I’ve ever received. Since the release of Counting Blessings, my mail has increased ten-fold and the tears have increased many times that. But now I mostly weep because so many of the letters break my heart.
In the last weeks alone I have heard from a young mother with incurable cancer, an elementary school teacher who thinks of suicide, an abused teenager, and an elderly woman who fears dying alone. That these women reach out to me—a stranger—is touching, humbling, and absolutely terrifying. By the end of their letters I love them like sisters, never mind that we have never met. Often I must kneel at my computer chair before I can respond. More than once I’ve fasted, pleading for words of comfort, desperate to offer sound counsel when my poor advice has been sought.
If my in-box is any indication, life is tough all over. I’ve struggled myself lately with a surgery and ongoing infection. The merest threat this week of further chemo left me weary, weepy . . . overwhelmed. Since the cancer was diagnosed I have been trying to press on for all I am worth, scattering sunshine like a veritable maniac. And yet all around me people suffer. Sometimes they die. There is a point to all this, I know, but it is too often hard to see through tear-filled eyes.
I went to bed last night weighed down by the stories of struggle and hardship and pain and anguish and hopelessness we all encounter on a daily basis. Despite the heat, I pulled the sheet over my head and decided I’d never get up again. Ever. (If I chose to live past morning, the pit bull could bring me food; she knows where we keep the Ritz crackers and bottled water and is not above helping herself in a pinch.) I’d had it. No more trying to bear another’s burdens. A pox on compassionate service. The heart-rending mail could go unanswered and somebody else could arrange the funerals. Wasn’t my shoulder blistered from wheel-pushing? Hadn’t anybody noticed that where He seemed to want me to go was mostly around in circles? Quite obviously, I murmured to the cat, whoever wrote that song with “all is well” in every refrain had been out in the sun too long. Without his hat. All is not well in Zion and I would have defied anybody to prove otherwise.
I am no Lehi--if this is not already apparent, it soon will be--but I did dream. Being a lifelong Scouter, I dreamt I was with a group of family, friends, Cub Scouts and strangers, about to embark on a very long hike. An incredible man stood to introduce the guides and present the route. Everybody loved him for his goodness and admired him because he knew the way better than anybody else anywhere—he’d forged the paths, in fact. He explained that there were three places one could stop to camp and he himself would meet us at each site. One more simple instruction followed. Unlike a recent day camp, the guidelines for this excursion were not long, nor complicated, nor rigorous. All the instruction there was was contained in just four words. Ever prepared, I pulled out a pencil, scribbled on a scrap of paper, and tucked the counsel next to my compass and official Cub Scout knife.
We were off and it was marvelous fun! The morning was sunny but cool, and the terrain was easily traversed. Sure, there were rocks to climb and streams to cross, but they only added to the adventure. Before we knew it we were at the first campsite. I fear I lack creativity, even in my dreams, because the spot was the place in the Dells where I recently took my Cubs fishing—right down to the bright blue sky, gorgeous red rock formations, and natural lake that would give temple reflecting pools a run for their money. It was tempting to set up camp there. A few people did. I couldn’t imagine anyplace nicer, really, but fingering the note in my pocket, I soon gathered up my Cubs and pressed on with almost everybody I knew.
It was afternoon now and the sunny day had turned hot. The ground was not as level and the path was not as smooth. Almost everybody stumbled. Grumbled. Groused. As skinned knees, twisted ankles, and painful sunburns became the norm, some of our group turned back to the lovely site we’d left behind. I didn’t blame them. Perhaps I even wanted to follow. But, hey, we were Scouts—and there was still the instruction to consider. I kept hiking, helping the boys as I could and often being helped myself.We made the next camp by evening—bruised, maybe even a little broken—but triumphant and happy to have arrived.
This mountain meadow had all the first site’s beauty a hundred times over. I was all for pitching a tent, making s’mores, and staying forever. I’d just rolled out my sleeping bag when the beloved man’s instructions fell from my pocket. I read the four words then looked around. Some of my loved ones had already started up the next path. Some were clearly staying put. A guide urged me to decide—stay, go—but commit one way or the other. Since the Cub motto is “Do your best” and the best was clearly yet to come, I rolled up my bag, grabbed the hand of the nearest Wolf, and ran to catch up.
It wasn’t fun anymore. For one thing, it was nightfall. The guides’ flashlights always worked, but mine only worked sometimes. Mostly I stumbled in the dark, banging into things. Painful things. More than once I lost my way and had to search for a guide’s pinprick of light in the distance. The path wasn’t hard now, it was impossible. (In college I hiked down the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, since what goes down must come up, I also hiked the other way, ruing every awful step. This was deja vu.) I was tired, sore, sorry that I hadn’t stayed at the beautiful campsite farther down the mountain and . . . frightened. Mostly I was frightened. Even if I could keep putting one foot in front of the other, which was doubtful, there were terrifying drop-offs to my left. While there was a railing drilled into the mountainside to my right, my palm was so sweaty it kept slipping off. Worse, there were too many people looking to me when I couldn’t see the way myself. Worst, they were hurting and I didn’t have anything in my meager first aid kit that could help. Many, many people turned back now. I didn’t want to go back, but I couldn’t go forward.
I sat down.
It was then the instructions appeared in my hand. Under the starlight I re-read the four simple words: Endure to the end. Not: Enjoy the stroll, but be sure to quit before it gets tough. Not: Give it your best shot, that’s all anybody can expect from you. Not even: Keep going until you can’t stand it a moment longer. He’d said: Endure to the end. Since I wasn’t dead and I wasn’t at the highest campsite, this must not be the end. Even if I didn’t believe I could bear the journey a moment longer, let alone make it the whole way, apparently I could.
I got up.
If I were Lehi, I’d have made it to a tree-filled campsite, partaken of delicious fruit, and told you all about it. If I were Paul, I’d be able to assure you that “eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” But the truth is, I didn’t dream the end. Another truth is that what I did dream was so vivid, and the feelings associated with it so intense, that it was victory enough to have been standing—shaking, exhausted, still terrified but standing—when I awoke.
I got out of bed this morning and rummaged around in the closet for shoulder pads and a canvas tote. A little later in the day I will take my bag outside to refill it with sunshine—all it can hold. Perhaps Brother Clayton was not as addled as I’d supposed. While all is certainly not right with the world, at least not all the time, God is yet in His heaven and all is well in the grand scheme of things. That the end is not yet is not a trial. It is a blessing . . . an opportunity . . . a sacred responsibility.Perhaps I can press on, after all. I will keep trying at least . . . if you will.
Note: This was first posted on Six LDS Writers & a Frog. You can click on the link to read the comments that followed.
04 August 2008
We've all had those “deer in the headlights” moments when we realize we’ve been chasing the wrong things. Caught in the Headlights: Ten Lessons Learned the Hard Way is a frank, insightful look at ten key goals most of us think we want—only to discover our eyes are on the wrong prize. Barry K. Phillips not only entertains, but also examines common values, and enlightens us to the goals we should seek, and what to do differently now that we know better.
The ten “values” most of us seek? Happiness, self-esteem, pride, freedom, control, tolerance, forgiveness, success, the “big event,” and the perfect body. Alas, he is probably dead-on in his assessment of the human condition. (Or maybe he just has me pegged.) Most self-help authors and motivational speakers with Phillips’s keen insight and sharp moral compass are to be avoided at all costs. If they don’t lecture you to within an inch of your life, they will almost certainly drive you to antidepressants. Phillips not only holds the lectures—or at least disguises them very, very well—he is most likely to drive you to sudden fits of uncontrollable laughter. The good news? This very readable and highly enjoyble book will not only make you take a good hard look at your life and possibly resolve to change for the better, it will entertain you and put you in a better mood while you are at it.
In the interest of fairness, I ought to warn you that Barry Phillips is a bit of a show-off. (This is written tongue-in-cheek for those of you who have difficulty determining the inflection in my often murky writing-style.) Not only does he explore each value clearly and candidly, but he illustrates each point with an often-insightful cartoon. As if exposition and illustration weren’t enough for one man, at the end of each essay he tosses in an original poem to . . . I’m not really sure why he did that . . . probably just to prove that he could! This guy is so adept at artistic multi-tasking that it wouldn’t surprise me to learn he’s composed theme music to accompany each section. (Somebody let me know if a soundtrack becomes available.)
Caught in the Headlights is a short book at about a hundred pages, but don’t let the brevity alone draw you in. It’s a ploy. This is a book you will need to read at least twice—I have—and then put in an easily-accessible location so you can pick it up for reference again and again—I did. In a word, Mr. Phillips: Bravo! Oh, wait. Let's make it two words; I need to add another: Thanks!
· Paperback: 116 pages (including forward by Glenn Beck)
· Publisher: Cedar Fort (June 2, 2008)
· ISBN-10: 1599551675
· ISBN-13: 978-1599551678
Buy this book from Amazon HERE!
01 August 2008
I will, however, post my list, but only because I practically promised. A few weeks ago I could have done it easily; now, I’m not so sure. After pondering fifty lists of more than four hundred works, I’m not as confident in my choices as I once was. In fact, I’m not sure at this point that I could choose one hundred best-books that I felt absolutely solid about.
Over on the Frog Blog Hilary commented: Ask me again in six months because my list will have changed by then. That’s so true for me, except that mine changes daily. Hourly. If I’m melancholy I’m apt to go with Steinbeck – or maybe Twain if I want to overcome rather than languish. If I’m soul-weary, a little Dickinson or Barrett-Browning will cure me, but if I face long days of solitude, for sure I’ll take Tolstoy or Hugo. (Maybe Dickens or Faulkner.) Now that I’ve listed masters, I must confess that I don’t always reach for classics first. I’ve gone a couple of months, maybe, without reaching for them at all. I am also hopelessly addicted to at least a dozen modern authors, many of them considered hacks by literary critics. In my opinion, everybody should read Star Girl. Also Jesus the Christ. But isn’t that rather like recommending aardvarks and artichokes? (In that they have very little in common besides pages and covers and periods and all.) I don’t know. I could ruminate on this topic forever except that I’ve already thought myself thoughtless.
My list for today, and possibly only today:
1) The LDS Standard Works. The Bible defined my life and the Book of Mormon refined it. If the Book of Mormon were the only book extant in the world there would still be poetry, drama, romance, insight and inspiration to spare.
2) Jesus the Christ by James Talmadge. This book has changed my life every time I’ve read it. (Like the scriptures and the temple, it is too profound to comprehend all at once.)
3) Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues that will Heal Our Hearts and Homes by Gordon B. Hinckley. Like Virtues, this book could – should – change the world. President Hinckley talks about the Polar Star and this book is that star. I can’t write about it without tears coming to my eyes. I love it that much.
5) The Collected Works of Mark Twain. (Okay, so it’s not one book. I never said I wouldn’t cheat.) This man peered into the soul of humanity with a jaded yet infinitely compassion eye. Only Twain can rip my heart out and make me laugh while he does it.
8) The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. Absolutely chilling as well as amusing. I read it as a teenager and walked around for weeks terrified of the “voice” in my head. Clever, meaningful, revelatory, even. Every Christian should read this book. Every person, probably.
9) The Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke. An absolute gem. I read it and A Christmas Carol each December without fail. (But it’s not a Christmas book. Read it today.)
10) I simply cannot make myself list a tenth. By naming Faulkner I leave off Tolstoy—and his fables are classics most often quoted by latter-day prophets. If I list Ray Bradbury because I am simply mesmerized by Dandelion Wine, what of Viktor Frankl and Corrie ten Boom whose books affected me so deeply I could scarcely breathe? – volumes I’ve pressed upon each of my children. Okay, that decides it. Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is my tenth choice.
26 July 2008
This is the thesis of Room for Two, an autobiographical book by a man who faced the unimaginable—the violent suicide of his young, pregnant wife—and then turned his grief and guilt into a triumphant growth experience for himself, and a pattern for courage, faith-filled resolve, and ultimate forgiveness for his readers.
From the first chapter:
"Sweetie, I'm home." I tried to put as much kindness into my voice as possible. I didn't want to have another argument—at least not right away.
A gunshot echoed from our bedroom, followed by the sound of a bullet casing skipping along a wall.
Everything slowed down.
From the backliner:
When a life is destroyed, when guilt says you played a role in its destruction, how do you face the days ahead? Twenty-six-year-old Abel Keogh chooses to ignore the promptings he receives concerning his wife's mental illness, and now he feels he is to blame for her choices. If only he had listened . . .
At some point in our lives, each of us face devastating afflictions and must eventually cope with loss. Regardless of how it happens, the outcome is still the same—we are left isolated, alone, wondering what we could have done differently, and where we can turn for peace.
This is Abel's story in his own words. His search for peace and the miracle that follows is proof that love and hope can endure, despite the struggles and tragedies that shape each of our lives.
From the “reviewer” (me):
I read Room for Two at the recommendation of Candace Salima, author of Refiner’s Fire, and a woman I deeply admire as a writer and a person. I opened the book while seated on a hard cement bench, squinting into the hot afternoon sun while my two little nieces played nearby in a park. Three hours later, the sun was setting, my nieces were exhausted, the lower portion of my body was numb (I don’t think I’d moved in all that time; I’m not sure I even breathed at first) and I was still reluctant to close the book.
I can’t honestly say I loved everything about Room for Two—how the guy likes to be kissed is frankly a little too much information—but I can say unequivocally that Abel Kough is not only a solid writer, he is probably one of the most courageous and candid men on the planet. In the pages of this memoir of the worst (and, ironically, possibly the most promising) year of his life, he almost doggedly puts himself out there for the reader to judge if she will. I won’t. If there are shortcomings in his character—or writing—I didn’t see them. Rather, I admire Abel Keogh for being a man who is enough in touch with himself that he is unafraid to ask, and is sometimes able to answer, the hardest questions any of us could conceive.
In the final chapters, Keogh shares how he found a meaning-full poem written by his wife. This tender mercy allows him to at last make peace with a horror he can never fully understand in mortality. Then, with a new love at his side, he stands at the grave of his wife and infant daughter on the first anniversary of the suicide. He writes:
I felt that I should be crying or saying something profound. But my mind was blank, my eyes dry.
This, to me, was profound—and deeply touching. At the close of the third chapter I could not imagine how this young man would ever find hope, let alone peace, love, and eventual joy. Over the course of 200 or so pages I found out. Her name is Julianna and she is as remarkable as he is. The woman he calls “Marathon Girl” in his blog is perhaps the real hero of his book—and his heart.
Having written that, I wonder if I should post a spoiler alert. If I don’t it is because to me Room for Two was not intended to be suspenseful. Rather it is a generous gift: a chronical of a journey few of us have taken, a remarkable and meaningful glimpse into the worst and best life can offer. I could not have read past the thirty-eighth page if I'd had any doubt it would end any way but as it did.
Obviously, this is not a breezy summer read, but it is a book that will grip you from the first page and stay with you long after you have closed the back cover. Published by Cedar Fort, it is available at Amazon and other national booksellers. You can learn more about the author, read the first chapter of the book, visit his blog, and find links to other reviews and interviews on his website: www.abelkeogh.com.
Room for Two
Trade Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Cedar Fort (August 2007)
09 July 2008
Seriously, except for the Bible and possibly Lord of the Rings and To Kill a Mockingbird, I have issues with that list. Not that I don't like many of the books, I do. A few I even love. I just know for a fact that if I made a list of my own, it wouldn't have included any of their picks besides the scripture.
the Bible (Well, good for AOL, but it was #10)
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (More impressive to me in college than today.)
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Would probably make my top 20.)
Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (Brilliant man, but ick.)
DaVinci Code by Dan Brown (Oh, come on!)
Angels and Demons by Dan Brown (What were they thinking?)
The Stand by Stephen King (Yes, really. I liked this book, but again, really?)
Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling (Give me a break.)
Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (Well . . . maybe.)
I read lists like this every day and wonder A) what the world is coming to and B) why I continue to subscribe to AOL. But it has made me think. If somebody asked me for a stack of ten books to read before they die, what would I give them?
What would you offer? Send me your list either in the comments section or by e-mail, if you prefer privacy as I know many of you do. I'll give you three whole weeks to think about it. On July 30 I'll post my list and draw a name from a box containing the lists of everybody who's responded. Winner gets their choice of one of the books from my list -- either from my own collection or new from Amazon, their choice. If books are mentioned multiple times, I'll tell you that, too.
I really do want to know what you think!
PS: You may count scripture as one book -- as if a quad -- and include non-fiction if you must.
04 July 2008
02 July 2008
As Latter-day Saints we are practically obsessed with anxiously engaging ourselves in good causes. Maybe it’s subliminal. Glancing through the hymnal last Sunday, I noted that as sisters in Zion, we who are called to serve are all enlisted to go marching, marching forward because the world has need of willing men to all press on scattering sunshine. We wonder if we have done any good in the world today, because we have been given much and want to do what is right, keep the commandments, press forward with the Saints, and put our shoulders to the wheel going where He wants us to go. However, as the morning breaks high on the mountain top, truth reflects upon our senses, and while we still believe that sweet is the work, we also realize that we have work enough to do ere the sun goes down. And thus we ask Thee ere we part, where can we turn for peace?
A very terrific woman named Shauna replied:
As a family who loves the hymns I have shared with my husband and children your paragraph where you were glancing through the hymnal and noted that as sisters in zion, we who are called to serve are all enlisted, etc. We loved it! As I was e-mailing it to my children who do not live with me I added this PS at the bottom of your paragraph, and thought you might like it also:
Remember A KEY WAS TURNED so ALL CREATURES OF OUR GOD AND KING could SING PRAISE TO HIM and use FAITH OUR OUR FATHERS to COUNT YOUR MANY BLESSINGS and COME UNTO HIM. So, DID YOU THINK TO PRAY, “I NEED THEE EVERY HOUR?” Don’t WANDER THROUGH THE STILL OF NIGHT IN A WORLD (OF) SORROW; IMPROVE THE SHINING MOMENTS IN OUR LOVELY DESERET.
HOLD TO THE ROD in that SWEET HOUR OF PRAYER. COME, SING TO THE LORD THE GLORIOUS GOSPEL LIGHT HAS SHONE. THE LORD BE WITH US ON THIS DAY OF JOY AND GLADNESS and remember, OUR SAVIOR’S LOVE will LEAD INTO LIFE ETERNAL. So, YE WHO ARE CALLED TO LABOR, stay TRUE TO THE FAITH for THERE IS AN HOUR OF PEACE AND REST and THERE IS BEAUTY ALL AROUND. OH, IT IS WONDERFUL!
It really is wonderful, isn’t it?
Note: This is used with Shauna’s permission. Don’t be afraid to write to me! I’ll never post anything you write without asking you first, I promise.
30 June 2008
You can read the librarian’s brief description and kind recommendation HERE, along with a long list of other great books to check out. (Literally.) But be sure you come back when you’re done, because I have a surprise for you. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Back already? Great! Since Digging Up the Past is out-of-print, you’ll have to search for it in libraries, at DI, or buy it used from an online bookseller. OR you can read it on your very own computer by visiting my new website! Go to my dot-net address and click on the “Fun Stuff” page. Next click on the cover of the book and it will link you to yet another site where you will right-click for a free download. (It sounds complicated, but it’s really easy.) The book’s all there with Chris’s and my compliments. If you like it, we’d love to hear from you!
25 June 2008
She was referring, not to my ramblings about the Day of the Dead, nor the photo shoot at the cemetery, but to the fact that I hug pit bulls. (In my defense, I don't throw my arms around any old pit bull; I wait to be properly introduced first.) She added that she hoped I kept the “beast” well-chained and outdoors. Well . . . Bandi owns six or eight lovely collars, but I have yet to buy her a gold or silver chain. Something to consider for sure. Outdoors won't work for us, though. To keep Bandi outside, I'd have to move out her bed, toy basket, and "dining room" suite -- not to mention the couch, loveseat, and my bed. Too much redecorating, for sure.
Anyway, welcome to my new Wednesday feature! Since almost half of everybody who writes point out that I practically never update my website or post new entries on my blog, I am hereby repenting. My new goal is this: Mondays I will post a new blog. (Please note that I already started this week!) On Wednesdays I’ll continue “I’ve Got Mail!” in which I’ll share my most interesting note of the week and/or answer a question I’m asked by a reader. On Fridays you can find me, as always, over on Six LDS Writers and a Frog, but maybe I will move those posts here as well.
As for the website . . . ta da! (Or however you spell the Americanization of the French voila.) I have a new-and-not-necessarily-improved website up this very minute. You can find it HERE. I am still in the process of transferring things from the old site, so you can still find that one HERE. I sent it out to a small target audience who said it “made her kinda dizzy.” Just what I was going for! Colors . . . pictures . . . confusion . . . welcome to my world! The website is a little dizzy-making, for sure, but I think that’s what makes it so me. Still, if you hate it, write and let me know. Not only do I need new material for next week, but I cheerfully solicit advice on everything. Well, everything except dog ownership!
23 June 2008
Tonight is Midsummer’s Eve. I have just enough Celtic blood in me to not only know this, but to have anticipated the date for weeks.
Midsummer observances pre-date Christianity in celebrating life, love, and light. It is the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. (Yes, I know that June 24th is no longer the first day of summer, nor the longest day according to our calendars, but that’s because the astronomical solstice changes approximately three days every four centuries. So, while our calendars have been updated, thanks largely to Pope Gregory, the date of the celebration has remained the same.) It has been observed in many ways over the years – pagan and Christian – by many different cultures. My ancestors likely marked the date in the Middle Ages by tending bonfires on the hilltops. During the Renaissance I hope they traveled to (or performed in!) Midsummer Carnivals of music, dance, storytelling, and fireworks.
A 13th Century text explains the three-fold focus of Midsummer: Fire, love, and magick wreathe ‘round this time of year. How true that is, even in 2008.
Perhaps as a writer my imagination is especially vivid, but I lay on the grass at dusk this evening, watching the soft glow of porch lights coming on in the distance, and imagining my grandsires in Ireland and Brittany lighting bonfires that could be seen for miles. When the fires were well-lit, they took brands from the flames and walked with them through their fields to ensure fertility. Likely most of them believed their crops would fail if their Midsummer bonfires did.
Since my garden is doing more poorly than I would like, don’t think I didn’t consider the ancient custom more carefully than I probably ought to. Unfortunately, in the time and place in which I reside, a permit is required for a bonfire. (Not only that, but the heat would have given me pause even if the local ordinance didn’t.) Instead, I bought new a string of patio lights in fiery oranges, reds, and yellows and hung them well within view of my struggling cucumbers and tomatoes. In the gentle breeze, the bulbs seem to sway like the flames of a fire, so I hope it will suffice. If nothing else, the warmth it gives the hearth I hold dear is at least metaphorical if not actual.
As Shakespeare observed, Midsummer has long been very much a time of romance. Perhaps one of my many-great grandsires pledged his troth at a summer bonfire by leaping the flames to claim the hand of the woman he loved. Perhaps a grandmother whose name is lost to me until the millennium placed flowers under her pillow on Midsummer Eve to ensure dreams of her one true love – the man with whom she would continue the posterity that eventually led to dreamy, romantic little me.
It is said that divining rods cut on this night are infallible, that dew gathered on Midsummer morn bestows second sight, and that dreams that come between midnight and the dawn are most likely to come true. My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother almost certainly believed that a plant plucked at midnight on Midsummer’s Eve, or noon on Midsummer’s Day, had twice the aroma, taste, and medicinal power. I suspect there is little scientific data to back this up, but I have been dutifully tending my parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, and lavender nonetheless. No blade has touched their tender stalks. I’ve been waiting patiently to pluck a bit of each tomorrow at mid-day. (True, harvesting by moonlight does seem ever so much more romantic but, alas, I struggle to keep my eyes open after ten.) On Midsummer I will do as I fancy many of my foremothers did before me: gather my homegrown herbs with a prayer of thanksgiving for the bounty of the earth and the loving care of He who created and sanctified it. Truly, there is no greater, or older, magic in the world than this. Then I will preserve the plants carefully with the heartwarming knowledge that they will bless my family in coming months, if only in their tempting taste and soothing scents.
Like many of you, I love any excuse to deviate from modern madness; any reason to read of the past, imagine my progenitors in it, and devise ways to honor them through remembrance. Thus, Midsummer’s Eve is one of my all-time favorite days. (I consider it an added bonus that Hallmark doesn’t yet sell cards to commemorate the occasion!) There is too little love, magic, and fire of Elijah extant in the world, if you ask me. Here’s to rekindling what we can from this Midsummer’s Day forward!
10 June 2008
Farworld: Water Keep ~ J. Scott Savage (ARC)
A Modest Proposal ~ Michele Ashman Bell
Shadow of the Crown ~ Jeri Gilchrist
Journey of the Heart ~ W. Dave Free
All's Fair ~ Julie Coulter Bellon
09 June 2008
1. Sunshine and Pomegranate—Grapefruit 2, Mandarin 1, Pomegranate 1. This smells like sunshine. It's sweet and fun and very fruity. I nicknamed it "I Died and Went to Heaven." I've burned it in my oil warmer a LOT.
2. Summerhaven—Pomegranate 4, Grapefruit 8, Cinnamon 1. This one is similar to the first fragrance but the cinnamon gives it a little depth and mystery. It also has more grapefruit (which makes people think you look 10 years younger). I wear this fragrance a lot and it never fails to make me smile.
3. Maui Pear—Pina Colada 2, Pear 1, Coconut 3. McKenna was wearing this one day and I wanted to lick her arm. It smells so good and reminds me of the beach. When I burn this in my warmer it makes me want to dance.
I almost chose Summerhaven because of the ten-years-younger thing, but my heart has been yearning for the beach so I picked Maui Pear. Honestly, I didn't realize it was a contest, but it was, and I WON it! (Insert applause.)
No, I don't know what I won, but I won something and I'm thrilled. Being the type that fills out every entry slip at the County Fair, rushes home with bottle tops in hand to log on for cash and/or merchandise, and carefully considers every offer from Mr. Abdul Shimerwhymererken of the little-known country of Abduristan, you'd think I'd be buried alive in cash and merchandise by now. But, no. I do believe this is the first contest I've ever won. Wow.
You can win, too! Karlene has lots more going on over there. Check it out.
15 May 2008
I inherited a pit bull from the kid who failed to read the fine print, i.e.: No dogs allowed in barracks, when he joined the Marines. But he will need to put his top-notch combat training to good use to get her back. She is a keeper. The two cats in residence, on the other hand, were both acquired of my own free will and choice. Every day I wish I could give them back.
Clearly, I am a dog person. That there are cat people in the world – two of whom currently share an abode with me – is a constant source of wonderment. What do they see in the crafty little critters?
Here, in a nutshell, is the difference between the dog and the cats.
The dog goes outside. The cats go inside. Sometimes they’ll go in a box, if they’re feeling generous, but even then they kick damp gravel all over the room.
The dog barks when she’s happy. Even when they’re most content, the cats still grumble.
The dog comes when she is called. The cats come only when it’s least convenient. The moment they sense you want them, they employ their powers of invisibility. If you don’t want them, they appear instantly, then use their Spidey-skills to cling to carpets...furniture...the home teacher’s suit coat...
The dog begs. The cat jumps on the countertop and swipes her sandpaper tongue over the food. (Often in front of horrified guests who swear they don’t mind while surreptitiously dumping the contents of their plate into their napkins.)
The dog squirms in abject humiliation or slinks away when a misdemeanor is discovered – even when she’s not the guilty party. The cats remain at the scene of the crime, casually licking evidence from their paws or – more likely – affecting the vacant stares of a serial killer.
The dog welcomes me home with mad leaps of pure joy. The cats sulk in a back room until they are sought out and placated with gifts of salmon from the doggy bag.
The dog lives to be near me. The cats wouldn’t notice I was dead, assuming somebody else around here learned to work the can opener.
11 May 2008
You wouldn’t believe how often I’m asked that. I think it’s because I didn’t publish my first novel until I was forty. People are curious what I was doing all those years I wasn’t writing fiction. Since it’s Mother’s Day, I’ll confess. I have been writing. Besides eight novels and a book of creative non-fiction, I’ve written two roadshows, four stake productions, a few dozen PE excuses, almost a hundred Teacher Appreciation Day notes, more than my share of Cub Scout and Girls Camp skits, two reams of journal entries and dozens of blogs, not counting this one. I have ghost written for Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the ghost of a gerbil that I claimed “ran away for an exciting new life in the city.” (There was a cat in our home that knew otherwise.) I have also collaborated on dozens of Primary talks and more late-night school reports than I really should have.
Of course my adult life has not been all literary achievement. After all, I’ve shared a home with one husband, four children, two parents, eight dogs, five cats, seven rabbits, one cockatiel, four parakeets, a box turtle, a swimming turtle, two hermit crabs, five hamsters, nine gerbils (they’re prolific little critters), four ducks, ten chickens and pet fish, frogs, finches and bugs too numerous to mention. (I fear that if it is true that we receive our “beloved” pets back in the eternities, the only family we will be fit to live next door to will be the Noahs.)
But my point – and I do have one – is that along with all these people and animals I have loved have come certain domestic necessities. I have compiled a partial list: When I wasn’t writing I was changing diapers (about 14,600) and litter boxes (2,400) or washing 21,000 loads of laundry, preparing 27,325 meals (if one is generous enough to consider pouring milk on Cheerios and/or driving through McDonald’s preparing a meal), and cleaning toilets about 950 times. (Don’t do the math on that last one or you will never enter a bathroom in my home!)
In my spare time I’ve logged enough carpool mileage to have driven to Mars and back. I’ve rooted for the underdogs at pint-sized sporting events that lasted longer than the Summer Olympics, and sat enthralled through three-hour concerts in which one of my kids played the triangle – off key and at the wrong tempo. I’ve served on ten PTA boards at six different schools, chaired enough carnivals to make P.T. Barnum blanch, outsold amazon.com at school book fairs, and discussed with Kindergarteners the entire holdings of the Metropolitan Art Museum in the Mesa Public School Art Masterpiece program.
Of course, it’s not been all work and no play. I wore out two copies of “The Cat in the Hat” when my kids were preschoolers, and later read all seven volumes of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Aloud. Twice. I’ve orchestrated quality time with my family at Disneyland, Sea World, the Grand Canyon, Mesa General Hospital’s emergency room, and the USMC’s Boot Camp Graduation.
In case you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a mother. Not only that, I’m a veteran mother. I’ve survived the terrible twos, the fearsome fourteens, and am now facing the terrifying twenties. Over the years I’ve sent my kids off to preschool, Scout camp, first dates, the senior prom. . .and war in Iraq.
In short (although I know it’s far too late for that) I have spent the last twenty-five years of my life trying – and failing – to be the kind of mother they’ll extol in sacrament meeting this Sunday. No fame. No fortune. Not even enough sleep. But I can live with that. (Or, rather, without that.)
One of my favorite writers, the apostle Neal A. Maxwell, said, “When the surf of centuries has made the great pyramids so much sand, the everlasting family will still be standing, because it is a celestial institution, formed outside telestial time.”
Thank goodness. There’s never been enough telestial time to accomplish everything I think I should do. (Like write. Or sleep.) Thank you, Elder Maxwell, for the assurance to all us mothers that every late night, every early morning – every single minute – of mothering is the best way we could possibly spend our lives.
So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last quarter century. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. Almost. This time I’d make sure I had two female gerbils before I left the pet shop…
published in Counting Blessings as "Sands of Time"
13 April 2008
With a purple elephant gun.
Then how do you shoot a white elephant?
With a white elephant gun?
No! You squeeze its trunk until it turns purple and shoot it with a purple elephant gun!
I’ll prove it. In a drastic departure from “to review or not to review” – and just for the record – here are the top five things I hate about chemo:
Mouth sores and chapped lips. I go through two tubes of Chapstick and one bottle of mouthwash a week with no noticeable improvement. It is the first time in my life I’ve been grateful for thin lips and a small mouth. Julia Roberts and/or Joan Rivers would not survive this.
Trashed taste buds. Everything tastes terrible. Some people say it’s metallic, but I think it’s more . . . I don’t know what it is . . . but it changes eating as I know it. Bland is barely tolerable. Sweet is nasty. Salty is at least close to normal. Anybody remember the salt-craving creature from Star Trek? I feel such a strong kinship these days that I downloaded her picture and put it on the mantle with the rest of the family photos.
The singular opportunity to observe results of my body’s semi-digestive process up close and personal. Repeatedly.
Soliloquies. “To wig or not to wig. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (as in the looks one is bound to get when bald) or to take arms against a sea of troubles (as in poaching somebody else’s hair) and by opposing end them?” Of all the thousand natural shocks that chemo-flesh is heir to, hair-loss might be the worst. I’ve spent hours looking at wigs. Long hair. Short hair. Brown hair. Red hair. Goth hair. Mohair. Even a curly blonde bubble-do Barbie wore in 1955. Suffice it to say that despite being sorely tempted by a purple shag, I decided to hope for the best instead of prepare for the worst. I will think positively . . . and avoid hairbrushes. If I go bald anyway, Plan B is already in the closet: the knee-length curls Hilary wore at the last Mystery Dinner. Bonus: Since I'm so short, all I will need to reenact Rapunzel is a stepladder and a witch.
Pity Parties. While I do allow that an occasional intimate tea with self-pity is gratifying, I despair of larger soirees held in my honor. Almost everybody I know feels so dang sorry for me they can’t stand it. Well, I can’t stand it either.
Q: What did the mother elephant tell her son who was late for his botany fieldtrip?
A: Pack up your trunk and leaf!
Q. How do you fit four elephants into a Volkswagen?
A. Two in the front and two in the back.
How do you stop a charging elephant?
Take away his credit card.
Why do elephants paint their toenails red?
To hide in the cherry trees.
Who is the most famous male singing elephant?
How can you tell when an elephant has been in your refrigerator?
Look for elephant tracks in the butter.
What cheers you up when you are sick?
A Get Wellephant card.
How do you get three elephants in a taxi?
One in the front next to the driver, and two in the back.
How do you know there is an elephant in your house?
There's a taxi outside with two impatient elephants.
Person with ADD: Why did the elephant cross the road?
Normal Person: I don't know. Why?
ADD: (Blink, blink) I'm sorry, what was the question?
Normal: You were telling me a joke.
ADD: A joke? Okay. Knock, knock.
Normal: (Sigh) Who's there?
ADD: Hey, look! An elephant!
Q: What did Kerry say when a man dressed in an elephant costume knocked on her door?
A: Sorry, Rob. No interviews.
Q: What did Kerry say when she dropped off her elephant in the elephant exhibition pen at the Phoenix Zoo and found Jeff Savage blowing water out his nose?
A: Call Letterman.
How do you stop an elephant from charging?
How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.
Who is the most famous female singing elephant?
Because your nose is squished against the ceiling.
Why don't elephants ride bikes?
They don't have a thumb to ring the bell.
What time is it when ten elephants are chasing you?
Ten after one.
Q: What do elephants have that nothing else has?
A: Baby elephants.
What is gray and comes in a powder?
I probably have enough elephant jokes to entertain my Cubs for months to come, but I'm always open for a few more . . .
08 April 2008
Good news! Farworld, the much-anticipated fantasy series by J. Scott Savage, is as full of adventure, magic, and charm as it is enduring wisdom. Better news! This is a book the whole family can enjoy together -- and those are about as rare these days as magical flying pots. Ready for the best news? You don’t have to wait until fall to get your hands on a copy! Very soon, Scott will award more than a hundred lucky people an ARC (advance reader copy) on blogs across the country – including right here!
Since Scott has offered to answer questions while on his virtual pre-tour, that will be our contest. E-mail me any (and all) questions you’d like to ask a soon-to-be New York Times bestselling author. Each question qualifies you for one entry in the drawing for Book 1 of Farworld. (In other words, if you send ten questions, you have ten chances to win!) The interview and drawing date are yet to be announced, but the contest starts here and now. (Or is that Now and Here?)
In the meantime, check out FIND YOUR MAGIC. I don’t need the wisdom of Master Therapass, or even a crystal ball, to predict that you’ll find the Farworld world as magical as I do!
01 April 2008
24 March 2008
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I'm weary, say I'm sad,
Say that health and wealth have miss'd me,
Say I'm growing old, but add,
Jenny kiss'd me.