Monday, December 31, 2007

Only One Resolution

By Rene Allen

With this essay I complete the circle. Last year I wrote on January 1. Today is the 31st of December. It is time to close the book on 2007. As I recall, I had a list of resolutions, all of which I made progress on, but none of which I completely realized. At least there is comfort in progress.

This year I have only one resolution. It came to me after I prepared last weeks’ Gospel Doctrine lesson. I love preparing for these lessons. During the quiet, early morning hours when all I hear is the soft hum of my laptop’s fan and the click of my fingers on the keys, I am not distracted from the gentle promptings of the Holy Ghost. It is a lovely feeling: the spiritual nudges that come to emphasize this part or that of the lesson, how to present it in a way that will invite class participation and bring the presence of the Spirit.

Last week, we reviewed the Christmas story. As I prepared, I sat at the kitchen table pulling pictures of the Savior from my gospel-in-art file. I went through the stack and studied them, recalling the many stories of Jesus Christ that we had studied during the year. With each one, the Spirit whispered “Rene, He is real. He lived here, on the earth. He died for you. He is real.”

It was a profound moment for me as I felt the reality of His life in a deeper and more personal way. It also became the foundation for the single New Year’s resolution I am making this year which likewise came in the hushed whisper of a still, small voice.

This year, my sole resolution is to put first the things of the kingdom of heaven. There are no specific goals such as taking dinner to five people every month or sending twenty cards to non-actives. The only specific part of this resolution is to do those things that will enable my ability to hear the tiny voice that speaks to both heart and head and offers, among other things, direction.

I am amazed at how much peace I have as I contemplate this resolution, so different from years past when I have felt the pressure of performance. I also feel a sense of adventure about it, as if I were at a new trailhead ready to take my first steps into unknown terrain. Where will it take me?

Tomorrow, we begin a new year. I look back at 2007 and find it filled with drama, adventure, grief and joy. It has been full, and I believe, as I have read the essays of my ANWA sisters, fully lived. To us all I wish the best for 2008.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Looking Forward to 2008

by Marsha Ward

2007 had many great aspects, as do all years. Debuting this blog was one of the fun things I did, in cooperation with the great members of the blog team. They have done a super job with all their posts. In addition, your reader comments have added to the joy in my life.

2008 is coming on fast, and you can look to a few changes in our lineup. Donna Hatch will be leaving us, going on to other endeavors in her writing life. Kristine John will take the open slot on alternate Fridays. I anticipate many good posts from her. We're checking into adding bloggers on Saturdays, too. I'll introduce those team members when all the slots are firmed up.

May the coming year bring you happiness and contentment, peace and joy! Happy New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Tis the Season to Be Jolly

Valerie J. Steimle

This past Christmas season has been an interesting one. After all the drama of the breakup with my boyfriend right after Thanksgiving, I didn’t feel like celebrating Christmas at all. I didn’t do any Christmas shopping or Christmas caroling. I didn’t do any decorating or baking until the very last moment when I had to, including the tree. I ignored my Christmas card writing and our traditional neighborhood Christmas cookie deliveries because I was being a Scrooge. I did eventually get my shopping done but it wasn’t fun. I really wasn’t looking forward to Christmas at all. Not to mention the washing machine broke down, one of my sons lost the second set of car keys and I forgot to pay the phone bill. December was not turning out so well.

But there were several activities and events that improved the month as I went. One of those being our stake singles Christmas Dinner and Dance the first weekend of December. I was in charge of the whole thing and I really put my heart into it with decorations, food and music. Maybe that’s why I was so burned out by December 3rd. But the activity was a smashing success and everyone was happy with how it turned out. I was glad I could help others have a good time.

Another highlight of my Christmas celebration was our ward Christmas party. Our whole ward had dinner together in the cultural hall and our activity committee decided to include only adults in the annual Christmas story performance so there were three wise men (one of which was my returned missionary son), and four shepards (two of them being my other two sons all over 6 feet tall). There were six angels (I was one) and a Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. There were several young women helping in the singing and a handful of primary children doing one song. When we got together for practice the Wednesday night before the actual day, it was a disaster. The piano player kept missing his cue, the wise men kept singing faster than the angels and the angels were getting very frustrated and upset. Baby Jesus was getting fussy and the shepards were singing off key. I think on purpose. The narrator had to read his part several times over to make sure everyone knew what they were doing. Poor Sister Benham (our activity director). I don’t think she thought we could pull it off but we did. Even though one of the wise men kept losing his head piece throughout the whole thing, we did beautifully. The Spirit was strong and we all sang Silent Night at the end. It was wonderful.

The biggest highlight of the month was Christmas day itself. Eight of my nine children, one son-in-law and my first grandchild were gathered in my living room talking and laughing. We opened presents, ate food and had a great time. My other child was in Las Vegas on a mission so I got to talk with her later that day.

All in all it was a great day and next year I’ll try to start earlier in my preparations and won’t be such a Scrooge no matter what may be going on. Oh and by the way, the washer got fixed; my son found the car keys and the telephone was turned back on again.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Dancing in the Rain and Goal Setting

by Heather Horrocks

Christmas day was very nice for me and my family. I've been thankful for the abundance with which we are blessed -- gifts, warm home (it is really cold outside, about 12 degrees), good food.

One of my favorite gifts this year is a wonderful framed saying which I think ... something about life not being about praying that the storm will pass, but about learning to dance in the rain. I love that mental picture ... I'm picturing Gene Kelly in my mind, singing in the rain with style and flair and fancy footwork.

This last few weeks I've been pondering goals. What do I want to accomplish in 2008? What changes do I want to make to my life? If The Secret is correct and the law of attraction is the key to success, what do I want to attract into my life?

Well, to begin with, I'm going to make more choices based on how they'll lead me to better health. Like getting 8 hours of sleep each night (hahaha -- that's a good one ... but I do intend to work at it). Walking/working out an hour a day. Getting 3 hours of writing in each day. Taking a day off every month to just play: no housework, no worries, not even any writing.

I've read in several places lately that only a small percentage of people make goals -- and only 3% actually write down their goals -- and that's the same percentage of people who succeed fabulously. So I'd like to challenge you today to make some goals, and write them down. Intend to succeed fabulously this coming year. : ) I do.

My goals? Dare I state them here? That would make them so ... official. (Gasp.) Okay, I'm going to be brave and announce them here: Finish the current book for Deseret Book and the next one they've asked for, write the first book in the wonderful new mystery series I'm very excited about, write the next edition of Women Who Knew (the Pre-Mortal Messiah - Old Testament), and get at least the first draft written of the next book. I don't even know what the next book will be yet, but I've decided that it will be whatever book publishers are buying : ) If they're buying LDS romantic comedies, I'll write a romantic comedy; if the national market is buying mysteries, I'll write a mystery.

So now that I've put it out here like this, I guess I'll have to actually meet my goals so I can hold my head up next year.

It feels great to set some goals and know I actually have a foundation of writing habits that can allow me to achieve these lofty goals. So go ahead, if you haven't already -- what will you be writing in 2008?

Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. And many pages written in 2008 : )

Heather Horrocks

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Day Late

by Terri Wagner

I had a note to remind myself that I had the good fortune to be the blogger for Christmas Day, and I even had picked out what would be appropriate, but my aunt passed unexpectedly and threw eveyone's Christmas holidays into overdrive. I'm back at work today, my nephew is due in and I forgot my wonderful Christmas message. I apologize.

In my childhood home, the 26th was always just another day (until said nephew decided to come to earth that day), and my mother always took down the decorations. Christmas was over. We looked forward to New Year's. To this day, I still have a tendancy to do that. It's the 26th, it's all over, everything goes back in its boxes for next year. Maybe she was that way because since my birthday was on the 5th, the decorations and tree and presents had been up for some time and she was sick of it.

No matter, the funny thing is I feel the same way. So my Christmas message is simply this: I hope yours was merry; this year, ours not so much. But having the gospel does comfort me in knowing precisely where my aunt is and how much joy she is having in being reunited with her family. And in the end isn't that the message of Christmas, eternal families?

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Poem for Christmas Eve

by Joyce DiPastena & Francis Thompson

Here it is, Christmas Eve, and like most of us (some of us?...at least, I hope it’s not just me!), I’m running around like a Christmas goose with her head cut off, trying to finish all those “little things” that still have to be done before Christmas morning. (Wrapping Christmas gifts, stuffing the stockings, participating in whatever Christmas Eve program my sister dreams up this year, etc, etc, etc…)

Since I consequently don’t have a lot of time to write a blog, I decided instead to simply share with you a favorite poem that my mother taught me when I was a child. I think she chose it for me because I was so “shy”. (Note first line of poem.) Anyway, I’d like to share it with you today. The poem is by Francis Thompson, and is quoted on pp 94-95 of the series, Out of the Best Books, that formed a Relief Society course of study way back in the 1960s. As the editors of the book comment at the end of the poem: “Some of [the poem’s] theological details will seem inaccurate to Latter-day Saint readers—such as the reference to angels’ wings—but the poem is in all ways so lovely, so charming, so movingly spiritual that such technicalities should not be dwelt upon.”

I hope you all enjoy this poem as much as I did as a child, and continue to treasure it today!

Little Jesus
by Francis Thompson

Little Jesus, wast Thou shy
Once, and just so small as I?
And what did it feel like to be
Out of heaven, and just like me?
Didst thou sometimes think of there,
And ask where all the angels were?

I should think that I would cry
For my house all made of sky;
I would look about the air,
And wonder where my angels were;
And at waking, ’twould distress me—
Not an angel there to dress me!

Hadst there ever any toys,
Like us little girls and boys?
And didst thou play in heaven with all
The angels, that were not too tall,
With stars as marbles? Did the things
Play Can you see me? through their wings?

Didst Thou kneel at night to pray,
And didst Thou fold Thy hands, this way?
And did they tire sometimes, being young,
And make the prayer seem very long?
And dost Thou like it best, that we
Should join our hands to pray to Thee?
I used to think, before I knew,
The prayer not said unless we do.
And did Thy Mother at the night
Kiss Thee, and fold the clothes in right?
And didst Thou feel quite good in bed,
Kissed, and sweet, and Thy prayers said?

Thou canst not have forgotten all
That it feels like to be small;
And Thou know’st I cannot pray
To thee in my father’s way—
When Thou wast so little, say,
Couldst Thou talk Thy Father’s way?

So, a little Child, come down
And hear a child’s tongue like Thy own;
Take me by the hand and walk,
And listen to my baby-talk.
To Thy Father show my prayer
(He will look, Thou art so fair),
And say, “O Father, I, Thy Son,
Bring the prayer of a little one.”

And He will smile, that children’s tongue
Has not changed since Thou wast young!

*************************************

Merry Christmas to you All!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Home for the Holidays

By Liz Adair

I’ll probably quote Robert Frost incorrectly, but in Death of a Hired Man, he said, “Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in.” I’ve often thought of that in my situation, because for three of my children, home has been a place they were not allowed to return to. These were my adopted children who came to us as older, abused, deprived waifs, dragging baggage that would make them, at some point, dangerous to the rest of the family.

Faith wished us all a merry, cozy Christmas in her posting last week, and that phrase has lingered with me as people began to arrive.

First it was Jack (grandchild number 17), making his sudden advent three weeks early, weighing 8 lbs 11 oz. Mother and son had a rocky first week, but things are going better now.

Next was Clay, back from Egypt with a friend in tow, keeping us up until three a.m. because it was mid-day in Cairo and his inner clock hadn’t yet reset. We had all local children (except for Jack’s parents) over to our little house, and Clay and Whitney cooked Middle Eastern food for us: falafel, hummus, cuscus, and chicken rubbed with a marvelous spice and then roasted. Afterward, we all got out our baritones and played for Whitney, whose eyes got very big. She’s a musician, so that must have meant she was impressed.

Then my brother arrived. A professor at Utah State and single, he often visits us for Christmas. My children and grandchildren all love Uncle Ron and look forward nonstop Scrabble and other frivolous endeavors, because, as Ron says, frivoling is serious business.

Last to arrive was my adopted daughter. She spent last Christmas with us, just Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. This year, she has come early and will spend about four days. We’ll all go to church this morning and take up a whole pew and then come home, Scrabblize all afternoon, and just take joy in being cozy together on a rainy winter day.

There are two more out in the world, two adopted children, sealed to us in the temple. I hear from them periodically when life is going well for them. But that is followed by long stretches of silence where, I infer, life is going ill. Time may come when they’ll make their way back and be welcomed into our cozy holiday group. Who knows? There have been other Christmas miracles.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Unbelievable!

by Anna Arnett

I still can't quite believe it. With all the discussion on email about to blog or not to blog, I eagerly looked forward to this week's posting, with two or three great topics in mind. On Tuesday I reminded myself with "Tomorrow, I blog."

The next day my brain still repeated, "Tomorrow, I blog." So I took a garbage bag full of sox to Caryn Shoemaker at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Chandler, and helped count, pair and pinn sox for about fifty minutes. Then I checked out half a dozen good books at the library, and did a bit of shopping.

My youngest daughter is preparing a tribute booklet for our oldest son's birthday, which was today, December 20. Fortunately, we're celebrating with lunch tomorrow. I took a couple of hours talking with her, wrote up tributes from myself, transcribed and edited my husband's, and before long the day was over.

To understand the next, you need to know Kat decided at about Thanksgiving time to paint and redecorate the living room and change the dining area to a library, since nobody dines there any more. It has taken a couple of weeks to remove the popcorn ceiling, strip the wallpaper, and paint the walls. It still needs fine-tuned touchups at edges. We have furniture on the back patio, a hutch in the kitchen, and a piano blocking the pantry. The drapes are down, and need replacing, the Christmas decorations are still in the barn. From about nine to midnight, Kat and I discussed samples of new curtains, drapes, valances, debated about carpeting, furniture, picture frames and decoration, put together a new floor lamp which we tipped over and broke the glass shade within the first three minutes, and counseled how to get rid of the ever-deepening feeling of frustration. I did check the blogsite on my way to bed to see what was new, but somehow still didn't check the day or the date. My turn was still, "tomorrow."

Today I knew I had to blog, at least before midnight. My daughter's requests take precedence, so in the morning I polished up tributes to Wayne, after which I read a little about Beatrix Potter for the book club meeting tonight, worked a tiny bit more on Christmas cards, and then set everything aside to go with my husband over to the VA hospital dental clinic to have one of his teeth extracted. He probably didn't need me, but who knows how an 88 year old man will respond to having a tooth pulled? Charles comes first, at least sometimes. Besides, I took along my knitting. There was only time to lug a small forest of trees and one nativity into the house and fix some soup and soft foods for my husband before the book club meeting.

Just a while ago (well, by now it's been two or three hours) on my way to retire, I took a last look at my e-mail and the blogsite. "Hey, wait a minute," I told myself, "Kari jumped the gun and blogged already. Her turn is the day after me." THEN, I looked at the day and date. My 'tomorrow' was yesterday, not today. Suddenly, all coherent thoughts left me. My great ideas evaporated. I could only post what dregs are left over.

All I can say is that I'm sorry. Oh yes, and one more thing. It's fantastic that you and I can forgive even me and move on. With renewed determination, then, I'm still posting, which means you get double one day; feast after famine; but please feel fed, even if this cooking is 'not so hot'.

Bring It On!

By Kari Diane Pike

It all started because I wanted to set up the Christmas tree. The couch sat in the only spot the tree would fit. I couldn’t move the couch until I got rid of the oversized Lazy Boy bequeathed to me by my father. I didn’t care for the chair, but I couldn’t give it away. My soon-to-be married son staked his claim on the chair as soon as he saw it. But, in order to move the chair, I needed to clean the garage.

I just stood there staring. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. I felt stuck. I didn’t have time to clean the garage. I needed the time to send Christmas cards, bake cookies, shop for gifts, and take my psychology final. Aurgh!

After a silent prayer, and a stern talking to myself, I finally wrote out a plan. First, take the final. While I technically had until after Christmas to take the test, the testing center would close the week before Christmas. Besides, getting that out of the way would relieve some stress and allow me to put away the clutter of my books. After the final, I could tackle the garage, get the chair out of the front room, move the couch, and set up the tree. I could see the light. I didn’t hear the distant rumbling telling me it was really an on oncoming train!

I wanted to be ready for Christmas. I wanted everything to be perfect…perfect house…perfect gifts…perfect tree, all perfectly organized. Instead, I found myself greeting unexpected guests, filling numerous orders for food and commodities, and shuttling children and their friends to games and holiday events. When the missionaries called and asked if I would attend a discussion they were having with a new investigator, I couldn’t believe I heard myself say I would be happy to be there! I just didn’t have any more time to spare. And why, oh why, did I buy those tickets to see “The Forgotten Carols?” I still had too much to do to get ready for the holidays.

I attended the discussion with the missionaries. The gifts of the Spirit were so strong. My life was forever changed as I shared my testimony of the gospel with a new friend. Later that night, sitting with my husband and parents, Michael McLean’s music filled my soul with joy. I expressed these feelings as Doug and I finally crawled into bed. I think the words I used were, “I may not be physically prepared, but my heart is prepared for Christmas. Bring it on!”

I need to be more careful about what I say. I thought I had today and tomorrow to catch up on cleaning and shopping and getting ready to have all 23 children, spouses, and grandchildren in our home for the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s. Unexpectedly, at 6:00am this morning, seven of them walked in my front door. All I can say is,

“A very Merry Christmas to all of you…and a great and joyous New Year!”

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Have You Ever

by Betsy Love

Have you ever heard a carol that touched your very core,
The last refrain left you wanting more?

Have you ever seen the face of a child lit with glee,
All his hopes lying beneath a Christmas tree?

Have you ever smelled the fragrance of cinnamon, and pine
Leading to contentment, splendid and divine?

Have you ever received a neighbor’s gift baked with tender care;
Her love for you she simply had to share?

Have you ever been reminded as you held a tiny hand
of the Infant in a far and distant land?

Have you felt the love from our Savior at this time of year,
Knowing of His presence brings a sacred tear?

Have you taken yet a quiet moment from your daily living
To celebrate His birth and His perfect life of giving?

If you have done these quiet miraculous things,
You know the blessings that make the heart sing.




Monday, December 17, 2007

A Fine Christmas Spirit

by Rene Allen

Tawnya has done my hair for years. “You have a lot of hair,” she says. “But it’s really straight.” Because I am hair challenged, I have sat in her chair every five weeks since my son, who is now 23, was 12. I know about her daughters, where she goes for vacations, and that her father died a month ago. It was this last subject that we talked about during my most recent haircut, the day I brought her Christmas present since I wouldn’t see her again until after the holidays.

I’d given some thought to what I wanted to give her, wanting it to be meaningful. She is the embodiment of a “good Christian,” desiring to do that which is good and moral. She turns her problems over to God. During the last general conference, my husband and I were taken with Pres. Eyring’s talk about remembered blessings. Dwight was so impressed, he started a “Blessing Book,” similar to the one Pres. Eyring kept in which he recorded on a daily basis each day’s blessings. Perhaps, I thought, feeling that warm and certain impression myself that comes from a still small voice, I should give Tawnya a blessing book.

I printed a copy of Pres. Eyring’s talk and highlighted the story in it about his effort to write about how the Lord blessed his life and how he was doing this for his family. Then, I purchased an attractive journal, put the talk in it and on the card told her how I wanted her to have something that would last. Recording our blessings can change our lives, I wrote.

As Tawyna told me about her father she said “I feel so blessed.” A few days before he died, she had been impressed to tell her father about Jesus Christ and that repentance was never too late. “Every little thing you’ve done, pa-pa,” she said. “You don’t have to be afraid.”

Her father had a loud and colorful vocabulary. He was an alcoholic. Did he find peace before he died? I don’t know, but Tawnya repeated again how blessed she felt to have words come to her to comfort her father. “They weren’t my words,” she said. “I never would have thought to tell him about Jesus Christ.”

She looked at my gift. “Should I open it?”

I hesitated, wondering. There was laughter in the hall outside her door. I decided the gift would best be opened at home, where she would have time to read the story. There were too many distractions at the salon. “When you open it,” I said, “remember this conversation. Remember what we talked about. I can’t believe how in sync we are.”

But I could believe how in sync we were, and I knew why I had been prompted to get her a Blessing Book. It is that fine spirit of Christmas when our thoughts are turned to others’ happiness and we consider how to serve and bless them. She took the gift, and I felt the happy landing of a spiritual confirmation that I had heeded a prompting, and now, what happened next would be in the Lord’s hands.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Climbing Wall

by Marsha Ward

There once was a man who took his children to enjoy the physical challenges of a climbing wall. He watched from the bottom of the wall, shouting encouragement as each child, in his turn, scaled the sheer wall, bounding from handhold to handhold, until each reached the top and descended, triumphant.

The children then turned to the man and said, "Now, Father, it's your turn."

Reluctantly, the man looked up at the wall. It was so high. How could he ever get to the top?

"Don't worry," said the employee of the facility who was known as the Belayer. "I will hold you with my rope. You will be safe."

Reassured, but with a great deal of hesitation, the man started to ascend the climbing wall. Slowly he progressed, until he was close to the top. But now, his hands seemed permanently curled into claws, his forearms ached so badly. He thought he could not go on.

"Just lean back on the rope for a moment, and rest," came the voice of the Belayer from below.

The man took a few minutes and did as the Belayer suggested. He caught his wind, but his muscles still ached, and he wanted to go down.

He could hear the voices of his children, urging him to finish the course, to get to the top. The man felt the strength seep out of his muscles. He just could not do it!

Then he felt a slight tug on the rope. The Belayer was giving him aid without his children knowing. The man put out one hand and one foot and climbed a step closer to the top. The rope remained snug and seemed to give him heart. Slowly, with the help of the Belayer, the man made his way to the top of the climbing wall. Amid the cheers of his children, he slowly slid to the floor.

Jesus Christ says, "Come unto Me, all ye who labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." He will help us to the top of our climbing wall of life, just as the Belayer and his rope helped the man ascend the recreational climbing wall.

The Atonement of Christ is for everyone who has trouble climbing through life's adversities. Come unto Him!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Working At Home?

Valerie J. Steimle

I had it all worked out. I would increase my writing income to work full time at home. I would spend the morning hours homeschooling my two youngest children and spend the rest of the afternoon writing for my paycheck. At least that’s what I thought I was going to do. I even started writing an essay for a contest that was centered on women working at home. This is what I had written so far:
“I have seen both worlds. The corporate office with the nine to five hours, the business suits with heels, and the office politics. The rat race of being gone Monday through Friday and getting all the housework and laundry done after hours and on Saturday. And shopping…..what about grocery shopping? I have to spend more time away with grocery shopping. Sunday is the only day I had off.
Working at home has its advantages. No dressing up every day, no driving back and forth in all weather. Content to know that I am doing an important job by being home with my children. My home is clean and in order most of the time. I am sane.
Those are the two choices many women have and sometimes it is difficult to choose which one is the right one. For me it was easy to choose because I had more children than the average modern woman: I had nine. I accepted my calling as a fulltime mother at home even with all of its challenges. I would hear of other mothers getting praises for their work done out of the home but I knew I was doing the right thing by staying home. True, you do get more pats on the back at a job outside the home, but there is a certain fulfillment in being at home.”
Well, not anymore. That dreamed popped and I was thrown right into reality when I could not find writing work fast enough. The only way for me to survive with only one parent income is to work fulltime outside the home. At least that is the way it will be for me for the next few years. Oh, I still have nine children, don’t get me wrong but I just have to change my thinking and how I spend my days. I can’t be home as much as I would like and that will force me to be more creative in getting the house work done.
So now the routine is to get my three youngest up and ready for school, drop them off and drive myself to work. Then it’s come home at 6pm in hopes that the house is in one piece, serve dinner from either the crock-pot I put up in the morning or assign one of my older children to make dinner after they come home and pray they don’t burn the house down. This will be good for them, I know. They will have to step up to the plate and be more responsible. It will teach them independence. But I still don’t like having to be away for so long. For many single mothers, there is no choice involved, you have to work. But the attitude that we can have towards our purpose in life and what we can do for our families can be positive and we can make the best of what is asked of us.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Merry Cozy Christmas!!

by Faith St. Clair

Merry Christmas to everyone!!

I don’t have anything inspirational or thought provoking to write about today. I am just enjoying the hustle and bustle of this Christmas season and feeling grateful for the tinsel on the Christmas tree that reminds me of my Mother’s love for Christmas that she passed on to me. I remember her putting the tinsel strands on one at a time, starting on the inside by the trunk and working her way out, putting at least three strands on EACH branch! I love the cozy lights and the baby Jesus in His cradle under the tree that still makes my 10-year-old pause for a quiet moment. I love every nook and cranny filled with red and green and lights and figurines and snow and music and joy that still makes my 18-year-old flash a toddler smile.

I am grateful for this season where my cozy surroundings (which doesn’t happen much in Arizona) can match my cozy heart – the one filled with gratitude for Jesus Christ, for His knowledge, for His example, for His love of all, for His quiet demeanor, for His humility, for His faithfulness, for His ultimate sacrifice. I am thankful for Heavenly Father whose brilliance never ceases to amaze me on a daily basis with his bounty and creativity and humor, who loves me, who gives to me every moment of the day, who safeguards me and who empowers me.

I am most grateful for the gift He has given me of a testimony that He lives and that His gospel has been restored to the earth this day. My testimony is the hearth aglow, decorated with green holly-speckled garland, twinkling lights and stockings in a row. It is the warm cocoa cupped in my hands and the fuzzy socks on my toes as the world's snow storm thrashes and the piercing cold ravages OUTSIDE my door, unable to penetrate. My testimony – my cozy – my peace.

GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST, AND ON EARTH COZY, PEACEFUL TESTIMONIES FOR ALL!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why is Thank You So Inadequate

My dad informed me at 10 pm last night that his buddies from the Disabled Veterans of America need the veteran angel tree presents Wednesday. We get two every year. Since we have a niece going to school and staying with us this year, we got three. So tonight off we go to get the gifts they requested which are usually simple everyday kind of things. I love doing this particular holiday tradition.

As I was driving in today, I was discussing with myself (yes, I talk and answer myself, ha) how to sign the accompanying Christmas card. Thank you just seems so inadequate. I mean what is thank you to someone who laid their life on the line for you and was permanently wounded in the process. How can those words mean anything? Aren't there deeper words that would more completely convey how you feel? What are they and how do I find them?

Are they in a dictionary, a therasus? Is the word gratitude too grandiose? Do I use a word too airly, too formal, too common?

Then I started laughing, right out loud. Only a writer would struggle so to find that perfect word that describes that perfect feeling. Only a writer would agonize over such perfection.

Every year my office plays dirty santa for our Christmas party (or should that be its??) and since our soldiers have been at war at Christmas, I have taken that money and sent it to them. And most of these like Treats for Troops or Operation Gratitude have posted letters back from the troops. They all seem to say the same thing. That the simple thank you, I'm praying for you, be safe, take care, I'll check on your family, mean the most to them.

There's no need to search for a perfect word or phrase. There is power in thank you. In just the simple act of giving you say how much you care.

This all related back to our Sunday School lesson where our teacher had pictures of our Savior and played a song and had us think on all those things He did, what seem to touch us that day. I fixated on His tender bathing of His disciples' feet. So a simple act, so full of example, love, humbleness and perfect sweetness.

The simpliest acts are the most powerful, perhaps so are the simpliest words. As writers we enjoy (and bemoan) our search for the perfect word only to find the simple ones really are the best ones.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Unsolicited Advice

by Joyce DiPastena

[This post springs from some of my personal experiences, both before and after I self-published my medieval novel earlier this year.]

“I can’t sell my medieval novel,” I sigh. “Agents and editors say they like it, but they don’t know how to market it. ‘It has too much plot to be a romance,’ they say. ‘It doesn’t have enough pageantry to be a historical. And it doesn’t follow the mystery formula strictly enough to fit on the mystery shelves, either.’”

Sometimes a writer just needs to whine a little about the unsympathetic publishing world. Sometimes, all we’re looking for is a listening ear, an encouraging pat on the back, a bracing, “Don’t give up.”

But what do we most often get instead? Unsolicited advice.

“I’ve read tons of fantasy books set in the Middle Ages,” my sister enthusiastically informs me. “Just throw a little magic in. Or hey, the ‘alternative history’ field is big right now. Tell a historical story, but change the way history actually turns out. Your book would sell like anything!”

A friend in the ward, after reading my novel said, “I enjoyed your book, but my favorite historical author of all time is Dorothy Dunnett. I’ll bet you could write a book like hers and it would sell. Or Sharon Kay Penman writes books about Henry II, the time period that you like. Why don’t you write a book like hers?

“I’ll bet you could write great LDS novels,” a non-member friend tells me. “You’re so strong and active in your Church. You’d be a whiz at it. Why don’t you try the LDS market?

And my brother? “Aztecs,” he says. “Just put a couple of Aztecs in your [European medieval] novel. That’ll catch an editor’s eye. It’d be a bestseller for sure!”

(It’d catch an editor’s eye all right, but for all the wrong reasons!)

And my weary refrains to each of the above, stating what should have been the obvious?

To my sister: “I don’t want to write a fantasy novel. That’s why I didn’t write a fantasy novel in the first place!”

To my LDS friend: “ I don’t want to write like Dorothy Dunnett or Sharon Kay Penman, I want to write like me. Besides, if those were the kinds of books I wanted to write, I would have written those kinds of books in the first place!”

To my non-LDS friend: “I don’t want to write LDS books. If I’d wanted to write LDS books, I’d have written an LDS book in the first place!”

As for my brother, I think I merely snorted inelegantly. (Aztecs, indeed!)

There is a time and place for receiving advice about our writing. How to improve it when structure, plotting, characterization, etc, are weak. And yes, about marketing realities…when we ask. (And of course, attending such things as critique groups, writing workshops/conferences, etc, carries with it an implication that we are asking.)

But I repeat, there are also times when what a writer—like any human being discouraged about any other subject--needs most of all is just a listening ear. Unless some version of the words, “What am I doing wrong?” spills forth from our lips, it is likely that we are not looking for solutions at the moment nearly so much as we are looking for a sympathetic ear and an understanding heart for what we are feeling.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Free Agency and How to Enforce It

By Liz Adair

My love affair with a baritone horn began about four years ago, a short while after my husband, Derrill, ordered a trombone from Ebay. He was a great trombonist as a young man, and after a hiatus of about forty years, he got the itch to play again.

My daughter and son-in-law were living in our basement at the time while finishing college, and when SIL said he used to play the baritone horn, I ordered one for him on Ebay and found an alto horn for myself.

I had played an alto horn for a week when I was in seventh grade, as that was the only instrument left as a loaner from the school. However, I wanted to play the clarinet, and I begged my mother to rent one so I could get away from that alto horn. She did, driving the winding, two-laned, thirty-two miles to Anchorage to the lone music store in the area and then back, with me squeaking and squawking beside her all the way home.

As I listened to Derrill play the trombone, I thought about my music teacher, Leo Plumbley. I can still picture his broad backside as he leaned over in the instrument closet, rifling through brass instruments and coming up with that alto horn, which I spurned. Maybe it was repentance that made me click on the ‘Bid Now’ icon on Ebay. However it was, I became an alto hornist. But what a struggle! My range was severely limited by my novice embouchure. I scored several hymns for the trio of trombone, baritone and alto horn, but I never got to play melody because I couldn’t play the high notes.

And then one day I played my SIL’s baritone and said, “I think I’m in love.” It was so easy, after my travail with the alto horn. The very same day, I was on Ebay, looking for another cheap baritone.

That was the beginning. I think to date I have purchased eight baritones. I loved the instrument so much, I figured everybody had to love it, too. I leaned on another son-in-law, who played saxophone in our mostly-brass family band, and made him take up the baritone. My viola-playing daughter, married to the SIL who got my first Ebay baritone, is now playing baritone. My son, who used to play string bass in orchestra and who avoided being sucked into family band until I got him a baritone, now plays with us. His wife has a baritone, too, but is pleading pregnancy (she’s due in 2 weeks) before beginning. Some of the horns look as if they were run over by a truck. Most have lost quantities of lacquer. But all the valves and slides work, and they sound pretty good. Well, they sound adequate. Our aspiration is to be mediocre, and manage to do that once in a while.

So, now our family band consists of a trombone, a French horn, and seven baritones. Most of us are beginners, but there are moments when we play “O Little Town of Bethlehem” that we sound as mellow and rich as Christmas chocolate, and “Hark, the Herald” has full and majestic parts—at least when we play in a small room.

What has this to do with agency? It doesn’t. It was the absence of agency that made each child and in-law salute, take the proffered baritone, pucker, and blow.

Which reminds me: my youngest is bringing a young woman by to meet the family for Christmas. Time to hit Ebay again. This will be the acid test—probably more for her than for us. Do you think it’s over the top to require playing the baritone as a prerequisite to joining the family?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

On being forgetful and laziness, and homonyms

by Anna Arnett


My blog for Dec 5 – on Dec 8 (I hope).

Another woops. I forgot to blog. It’s the first time all year I actually forgot, though I admit to being late. I even checked on Wednesday, felt disappointment that no blog was posted, and still didn’t remember the missing one was supposed to be mine. I could give you a nice long list of things that kept me from blogging, but why enumerate lame excuses?

I read this morning in Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” that he thinks the most common form of laziness is that of being busy so you won’t have time to do something important (which, I suppose, for some reason or other you would rather not do). Now, this hit me hard because with me at least, it’s true. I do all kinds of handwork—knitting, crocheting, etc.—rather than tidy my rooms (though I love a clean house) or even write (though I love to have written, and once I get at it, it’s really quite fun).

So, rather than tax my brain right now, I’ll be lazy and send you something I got this morning in my email. And surprisingly, I read it through correctly the first time. A couple of them gave me pause when I didn’t pick up on the homonyms, or more specifically, the homographs and heteronyms, because I read the meaning without even noticing the identical spelling. I found it interesting. Hope you do, too. Take a minute now to discern the minute differences, and minutely become minutely aware. (Excuse me, but that last clause was fun, though I would hardly call it good writing.)

English Is A Crazy Language - Part One...

English is a tough language to learn: Can you read these right the first time?

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce.
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture.
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present .
8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10) I did not object to the object.
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
13) They were too close to the door to close it.
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting, I shed a tear.
19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
BJLAuth.
Hope you enjoyed it.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Never Give Up

by Donna Hatch

Since today is Pearl Harbor Day, I’d like to remind us all about the spirit of the Americans who never gave up, and draw a parallel to writing. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Americans alternated between shock and despair at the horrific loss of life caused by a people with whom we technically were not at war. Then Americans got mad and did something about it. The rest, as they say, is history.

As a writer I encounter all kinds of people, often very well-meaning, who do or say things that I find discouraging. It might be a critique partner. It might be a contest judge. It might be a rejection letter. Writing for other people, rather than just for oneself, opens up a writer to all kinds of opportunity for heartache.

A friend of mine, after critiquing someone else’s writing, got back the complaint, “I feel like you just told me my baby is ugly.” Whose fault is that? The critique partner? Maybe. She might have been un-diplomatic or un-gentle about her criticism. More likely it’s the fault of the writer for taking offense and worse, lashing out at her critique partner. If you can’t take criticism, you don’t have any business trying to get published. Sure it hurts. Sometimes, after years of writing, entering contests, and submitting, I still get my feelings hurt. I cry. I pout. I rage. I eat chocolate. Then I roll up my sleeves, take a second, and hopefully objective, look at the criticism, and ask myself if there’s any truth in their words. Sometimes no. Sometimes yes.

The point is to not give up. If, at some point in the race, you fall down and skin your knees, get up, dust yourself off, put on a Band-Aid, get a kiss from your Mommy (or whoever is in your corner cheering you on), and get back into the race.

Persistence will eventually pay off. And sweet victory will follow.

Happy Writing.

Donna Hatch

Thursday, December 6, 2007

What Do You Do?

By Kari Diane Pike

The question caught me by surprise. One moment I was on the phone discussing Relief Society business with a sister in the ward and the next moment she asked,

“What do you do when your kids are making stupid choices and the washer stops working and the car breaks down, the air conditioning dies, and your husband comes home and tells you he had to take a cut in pay or lose his job?”

Based on our earlier discussion, I assumed the question was rhetorical. We talked a bit about how it seems that challenges come like waves, several rolling over the top of us in quick succession, diminishing, and then catching us by surprise by knocking our feet out from under us, and trying to pull us out to sea. She stopped me mid-sentence.

“I really want to know. What do you do? How do you cope?”

“Me, personally?”

“Yeah. You. What do you do?”

The first answer to pop into my head was not the one I considered proper and worthy for a Relief Society President to give. But the words slipped out of my mouth before I could stop them.

“I eat chocolate.”

There. I said it, quietly and guiltily. The truth was out. Why, oh why, didn’t I bear my testimony of prayer and scripture study? My face burned with embarrassment and I was glad she could not see my discomfort. Mortified, my mind raced trying to come up with a way to cover my faux pas. Then I heard laughter on the other end of the line. Not a titter or a giggle, but great gales of laughter. What could I do but laugh with her? We snorted and snickered and named all the glorious kinds of chocolate and how to eat it. Then came the tears; torrents of healing, cleansing tears. And I cried with her.

“Thank you! I feel so much better. I guess I just had to let some things go before I could move forward. Laughing seems to have broken the dam. I’m going to be okay now. That’s all I needed.”

I hung up the phone in amazement. My heart felt twice as big and twice as tender. I knew that those words of “truth” came from the Spirit. They weren’t the words I would have chosen, because I couldn’t see my friend’s heart like the Lord could. He knew exactly what she needed to hear. He knew that she knew the importance of prayer and fasting and studying her scriptures. She just needed to know that she was not alone. She needed to know that other women experience similar feelings. She didn’t need a discourse. She needed lots of love-

and a little chocolate.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Blessings

by Betsy Love

This week has been one of joy as several things happened and I'm finding it difficult to pick one to write about.

Don't you just love Sundays? I do. Not because I get to sleep in, although that is a blessing, but because of the sweet spirit in attending Sacrament meeting. As many of you know our stake suffered the loss of our beautiful building. While the ward is strong and we meet in a building another stake graciously offered to share with us, we feel a little displaced. Bishop Huish conducted for Fast and Testimony meeting. He told us the FBI concluded their investigation and the church was turned back over to the leaders. Going through the ash and rubble proved to be a difficult task, but found among the remains were a few items which suffered only smoke damage. Bishop told us that the fire burned hottest in his office and the clerks offices and everything was destroyed, except for a small bag of items. His bore testimony of the love of the Lord for the organization who serves him the most is why these items had been protected. I sat reflecting on which organization had items in their closets and which things might have been spared. He then said that the items spared were the missionary plaques which hung on the wall in the hallway outside the Bishops' offices. My husband got to see them and he said our son's plaque looked exactly as it did when they hung it up. Andrew will be the first missionary to arrive home after the fire. I know Heavenly Father looks out for his missionaries. This past week Andrew was in an accident on a freeway that could have been much worse than it was. The only injuries he suffered was too his pride, which probably needed a little humbling anyway.

Sunday night our family went to listen to our daughter's choir concert at the high school. To hear these students sing of Christmas, the Savior, and the reason we celebrate, lifted my soul, truly a perfect way to begin the season.

Tonight, before blogging, I read Kathy Gore's poem, "Christmas Beginnings" and once again felt the sweet tug of the spirit on my heart.

May each of you feel the Love of God as you open your heart to this amazing time of year. And the may the blessings of peace, contentment and testimony fill your life.

Love to all,
Betsy

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Blur of Small Things

by Rene Allen

Today is December 3rd and I can hardly believe it. So fresh is my memory of writing my first essay for this blog on January 1st, almost a year ago, that I can only wonder how the days and months passed with such a blur. What do you do with your time, girl? It is a perpetual question.

But to Marsha who started ANWA Founders and Friends, I say thank-you. It has been a privilege to participate with such tremendous writers and women. To them, I also say thank-you. I love your ideals, your conviction, your commitment to true principles. I feel I have made friends in many ports.

As I write this evening, I think about the day’s activities. I am an early riser – this morning it was 5. I like getting up early. Thanksgiving Day, I woke up at 4 a.m. thinking about everything I had to do. The house was quiet, it was dark outside. I heard the gentle splash of raindrops on a skylight. It rained for twenty minutes and became a gift for getting up early and wondering how to make the day nice for my family.

This morning, there wasn’t any rain. I got up because the cat was throwing-up. There is a typical sound a cat makes when it is dislodging hairballs and other stuff that shouldn’t be in its stomach. I can hear it in my sleep. So I followed the cat around for an hour with a roll of paper towels tucked under my arm while the other two cats who weren’t throwing-up watched. Finally, the poor thingcurled up in a pet bed in the room where I write. By then, it was 7 and I knew we were going to the vets.

"Just do a drop-off,” said the receptionist at the vets office when I called. “We’re having a little emergency around here, today, so it’s better if you just drop your cat off. Can you do that?”

I worry about this cat, a gray and white tabby named Scrappy, because she continues to lose weight. The weight loss started when Sputnik joined the family, a white exotic shorthair show cat from my sister who wouldn’t get out of his carrier for the judges. “Too shy,” my sister said. “Do you want him?”

It was a chance to bury a hatchet. If taking the cat meant we forgot past differences, it was worth it. A white fur ball came and Scrappy decided anything that looked like he did with a flat face and all that cat hair couldn’t be a real cat. She was thinking he was some sort of alien and that she didn’t eat with aliens. She’s lost four pounds.

The drop-off turned into a stay. For two hours and $241. After x-rays, lab work, a shot of something so Scrappy would stop throwing-up and a bag of special, prescription only cat food, I left. What was wrong with the cat? Small kidneys. I took her home, fed her and she’s been fine.

The other two cats smelled vet on her and left her alone to her special formula food.


After the vets, I finished decorating the Christmas tree. That took two hours. Then, I took a nap because I got up so early. And ate lunch. And cleaned the family room. And put up empty boxes that held Christmas decorations. And talked to my mother who fell down last night trying to catch her cat. She is 86. It isn’t good to fall down when you are 86. “I can hardly move today,” she said. “That darn cat.”

Then I ran errands, came back and made supper, watched television waiting for my husband to come home from work. Now I’m writing this blog and wondering what I will remember of today, tomorrow. How do I stop all of these things I do from getting lost in the blur of passing days? Will I remember that on December 3rd, the cat threw-up at least fifteen times? That I finished decorating the tree? What will I remember?

Perhaps I will remember this time of year the way I remember parts of a symphony, how some are powerful and others gentle, like the Thanksgiving rain. I will remember that rain because the night before I prayed for rain. I will remember the vet who took care of my cat because she is supposedly retired. Her husband bought a yacht in the Caribbean and she spends half the year there. She returns to Tucson for hurricane season. I liked this vet and was sad when she left. It was great to see her today.

I won’t remember that on December 3rd, I finished decorating the tree. But I will remember this year we had a new tree because the old one had provided nesting material for one too many pack rats so we got rid of it.

I remember those things that resonate with me, with who I am and what I love. And when I remember, I am thankful. So to Marsha and all my ANWA friends, thank-you for a great year. Though the days blur, though nearly a year has passed, there is much to recall with pleasure and satisfaction.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

I Think it Snowed Last Night

by Marsha Ward

The only evidence this morning was in the cracks between boards on my deck, and residue on my windshield. However, the online weather forecast said we might get some snow here, and that it wouldn't accumulate, so I have to think it happened. After two days of rain.

I am so thankful for the rain we've had. One man in my branch said today that he registered 5 inches in his rain guage. For an area that's over four inches short of average rainfall this year, that is very happy news.

Many places have been plagued with unusual weather this year. Even mayors and governors have asked their people to pray for rain in drought-stricken areas. News anchors have reported with some incredulity that the heavens opened when that happened. Of course, they noted that it was too little, and missed the lakes that store water, but that's bad news, and bad news brings viewers, I guess.

The good news for me, is that God, Our Father, listens to and answers our prayers--even the unspoken ones. He might do this by having a friend make a casual phone call to a body and find out that a roof is leaking. Said friend might even pass along the word to people who then spend the better part of the day in the wind and rain on the recalcitrant roof, doing mysterious things with tubes of black caulk.

Wondrous are the ways of the Lord!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Valerie J. Steimle

This is a particularly difficult blog to write. I wasn’t going to write it now. I was going to wait until later in the day but I couldn’t sleep anyway so I thought I might as well get it done early. This past week things were not right with the guy I have been seeing. We had such a great time together in the last seven months and it was time to find out whether we should get married. His answer to the prayer was different from mine, surprisingly. His was a big no and he knew for the past week. But he wanted to be sure that was the right answer and was dragging his feet in telling me. That would be why we didn’t have such a great week together. So last night we met in the middle of Pascagoula, Mississippi and Loxley, Alabama and he told me. I have never had to go through that before. Back in my BYU days, I was always the one to break it off, not the one being broken off to. So now I sit at my computer writing about the woes of breaking up a relationship that I thought was going to go on a lot longer than it did.
Last year I went to one of those singles conferences and sat in a workshop which was taught by an LDS woman psychologist and she brought out the point that it is not uncommon to not marry someone that you love. I just felt that idea was so strange. How can someone love another person and then not get married to them? It just seemed so foreign to me but now I understand that idea much better. It will be difficult to listen to The Eagles, Love Will Keep Us Alive after this. We would dance to that in his living room sometimes.
I feel like becoming a hermit but he said that it wouldn’t help. He became a hermit for a long time after his divorce and I was the one who brought him out of it. It will take time to get over this one. Not like losing a husband but it is painful. Something I had to learn in life, I suppose. I wonder what my husband thinks about all of this.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I Think I Need to Move

For the past several years, I have lived in Virginia (consider myself an adopted Virginian) and Alabama. Unfortunately, in both these lovely places, the weather "turns" generally about Thanksgiving, which means I'm always sick for Thanksgiving. While everyone else is out eating and eating and eating, I'm laying in bed wondering how on earth would I survive without modern medications. I wonder if I would have been "delicate" as they called sickly people in the past or if just one of those sick Thanksgivings would have "done me in."

This past holiday was no exception. I got sick on schedule on the Thursday before and spent Thanksgiving in bed surrounded by three dogs, a concerned dad, tissues, meds and a good book. Thank goodness for old Christmas movies. I attempted to eat but usually at this point everything is tasteless. My dad asked me how many times had I been sick on this particular holiday and which was the worse one. Hmmmm!!! Can’t really answer that one. They’ve all blurred together.

Except there was that Thanksgiving in Utah. The weather had turned several weeks earlier, and I was over my usual sickness. I remember it well. An old bishop from my days at the University of Alabama had moved out there to teach at BYU and asked me and my roommate over. It was wonderful. They had nine great kids, tons of good food, and the whole family sat down together to put together a 1,500-piece puzzle. It was hands down one of the best. Germany was pretty good as well, since again the weather had turned, and I was over being sick. But you know, other than those two, I have been sick each year at Thanksgiving.

So I think next year (since I’ll probably still be in Alabama), I’ll have Thanksgiving a bit early or a bit later. Maybe I can psyche out my semi-yearly aliment (yes, I get it every year in March or April when the weather turns again), which messes up Easter, which is a whole ‘nother irritation.

Isn’t it weird that someone can “plan” on being sick???

Monday, November 26, 2007

Road Maps

by Joyce DiPastena

[Note: I first wrote this in 2003, while exchanging “writing prompts” for a time with my dear friend, Kristine (who has since moved to New Mexico). I stumbled across it again during this Thanksgiving season while my sister, Janet, was visiting from Salt Lake City. Since she’s preparing to “leave me” once again today (we’ll be dashing to the airport as soon as I post this), I hope you all don’t mind me posting this in place of my usual blog. I’ll come up with something “new” next time, I promise!]

Road maps terrify me. Whether clear, straight lines or twisty, curvy scribbles of black, red, green, or blue, they dance in a bewildering maze before my eyes. I approach road maps warily. They must be absolutely simple and related very closely to paths that I already know. Familiar territory. That’s what my timid, driving heart caves.

Road maps are frightening and confusing when I’m forced to travel them alone. But I feel safe, even adventurous, when I have someone along to follow the road map with me. A companion, a friend.

The Holy Ghost is my companion and friend. I know that I shouldn’t be afraid when He is with me, that He will protect and guide me along my way. But sometimes, how I long for a physical, touchable body sitting next to me on the journey!

Last Friday, Janet and I used a road map to find the Fairytale Brownie Company in Chandler. The map was simple. I could probably have found my destination alone. But Janet made it an adventure. She made it fun. Helping me to watch the signs, calming me if I made a wrong turn, even exclaiming and laughing at unexpected discoveries, like the close proximity to the brownie company of the offices of Unisys, her lousiest performing stock company. (Who knew they had an office right in the heart of Chandler, Arizona? I tried to get her to walk inside and demand an explanation for their ineptness, but she refused.) Friday, I wasn’t afraid to follow the road map, because Janet was sitting right there in the car beside me.

Janet made the adventure fun. But on Monday, Janet was gone again. Flown back to Salt Lake City.

That seems to be the pattern of my life. Following the road maps of life alone. It’s lonely. It’s scary. No sooner do I get a friend, a companion, than she or he is gone again. They never stay. Always, they go away again, and I am left to find my way alone.

I know that Heavenly Father and Jesus and the Holy Ghost live. I know They will help me navigate the road maps of my life. But sometimes They feel so far away…so physically far away. No arms to hug me when my heart aches. No voice to sing in the car with me and help me lift my spirits, or visit back with me when I have news to share. Letters are nice. Emails are nice. Even phone calls are nice. But all are distant, non-corporeal responses. No touch of the hand. No smile. No gentle waiting in the eyes, as I stumble from very rustiness to express myself in words that require a tongue and actual vocal chords. Sometimes, everything, everyone feels so far away, that the effort to share a thought, a feeling, is more overwhelming than just keeping it silently inside.

Mortal life is, by its nature, transitory. Loved ones come. Loved ones go. Always, in life, they seem to stay such a little time until they’re gone again.

I look forward to that day when things no longer change. To an eternity of shared mansions, neighboring mansions with those I love. But until that day comes, away they go to follow road maps of their own, leaving me behind, struggling to find the courage to explore a new adventure, the twists and turns in that road map called “my life”.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dappled Things

By Liz Adair

Last Wednesday, I sat around a fake campfire with my seminary students, and we spent the entire fifty minutes taking turns saying what we were thankful for. It’s a yearly tradition. I bring as many blankets and pillows as I can fit in my car, and the kids snuggle in, wrapping themselves in the warmth of the quilts and the spirit of the Comforter that is surely there with us. Several of the kids say that it’s their favorite seminary lesson of the whole year.

So, I’ve had thankfulness on my mind, but I’ve been struggling with how to say what I wanted to say in this Thanksgiving blog. I went to bed mulling it over, and woke with “Pied Beauty” running through my head. This poem, written by Gerard Manly Hopkins, a 19th Century Jesuit priest and poet, has always been a favorite of mine. It goes like this:

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

As I woke to, ‘praise be to God for dappled things’ (well, yes, I quoted it wrong in my memory), I thought, That’s it! I’m sooooo grateful for the swift/slow, sweet/sour, adazzle/dim parts of my life. Lehi told his son Jacob that ‘it must needs be that there was an opposition in all things’ as we live our lives. He was speaking about choosing good from evil, but I think opposition can cast the good in bold relief and cause us to be grateful.

My seminary kids were blown away when I said I was thankful for pizza, because I was eighteen before I had my first taste of that delightful dish. Here are some other things I’m grateful for:

I’m thankful for copy machines. When I was sixteen and worked in the typing pool at the Bureau of Reclamation, you had three options for copies: 1) carbon paper, and woe betide the person who made a mistake, because you had to erase all those copies, too (and you’d better put a shield in, or your erasure would smudge the sheets lying behind), 2) thermo fax, the newest in copying, a heat-sensitive film that became brittle and disintegrated before the year was out, 3) copy-eze, also a technological breakthrough, a 3-part photographic process that resulted in a wet copy that wrinkled as it dried. Cumbersome as it was, we were grateful for the copy-eze, because that meant we could copy any document instead of having to create a copy on the typewriter.

I’m thankful for forced-air furnaces. Growing up in rural New Mexico, we had small (unvented) space heaters, and though I remember with nostalgia my knees burning as I sat close and stared at the patterned glow of the ceramic backing, I remember how cold my backside was at the same time. Long live central heating!

I’m grateful for the infrastructure we have for electric power and water. My father worked construction, and several summers we lived where there were no utilities. The company hauled water in on a truck, and we carried it to our domicile (one year a tent, another, a home-made trailer house) in a galvanized bucket. My father made a food cooler out of a frame covered with burlap bags that wicked moisture out of a pan and evaporated it into the air. My job was to wash the chimneys of the kerosene lamps we used in the evening. And, of course, our bathroom was at the end of a path into the woods.

I’m grateful for Skype. With that free, downloadable program and an internet connection, I can talk to my son, who’s studying in Egypt, for hours on end without charge. As soon as he gets a webcam, I’ll be able to see him. My gratitude for this is heightened as I remember my parents’ five years in Afghanistan where it took three weeks for a letter to arrive and no phone service was available at any price.

And phones! You don’t have to be very old to remember when there were no cell phones. But I remember lots of years without a phone in our house. And then, when we got one, we had a four-party line, and when anyone on the line got a call, it rang in every house. Our ring was two shorts and a long. I remember the joy of getting a single party line, where no one could listen in on my conversation, and I didn’t have to note the ring pattern to know if it was for me or not.

There are so many more things to remember, lights and darks in the pattern of my life. The sweets that are sweeter because of the sour, the dazzles that are brighter because of the dimness. I've touched on conveniences here rather than social and family relations, health, and economic well being, but there have been couple-colors there too, and I'm grateful for the hard times as well as the good.

I love Hopkins’ penultimate line, “He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change,” because of all that it suggests to me about the nature of God.

And I do praise Him.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

More Gratitude

by Kari Diane Pike

I sat down to write something for this blog about a gazillion times over the past week and a half. I wanted it to be extra special because this is such a special day. While I could think of numerous topics (like how I promised Faith I would add to her blog about leadership...sorry Faith...), nothing seemed "just right." So I will add my list of things I for which I am grateful to those posted earlier.

It has been a very unusual Thanksgiving for me this year. It is the first Thanksgiving in 30 years I have been apart from my darling husband. I am thankful for those sacred covenants that bind us together for time and all eternity. I am grateful to be one with a worthy priesthood holder and to be going down the same road together hand in hand. He very lovingly encouraged me to come to Tucson to be with our daughter while she awaited the birth of her third child. He took five of our children, a son-in-law, and two cousins to California to spend what will probably be the last Thanksgiving he will spend with his father in this life.

My daughter's mother-in-law has been here with me in Tucson. I am very grateful for the extended family members we gain as our children grow and marry. I adore these women with whom I share (or will share) grandchildren. They have so many gifts and things to teach me. Since I didn't have sisters growing up, I am adopting these women as my sisters.

Of course, I am also thankful for all of you, my sister writers in ANWA. I love the sharing of ideas and the encouragment that I find every time I read your works in progress. I am grateful to live in such a time as this; where we can communicate so easily.

I am very grateful for the blessing of motherhood. I am especially grateful for the blessing of grandmotherhood. My heart melts the instant I see a grandchild's face light up as they run at me with open arms, yelling "Gam-ma!" Our tenth grandchild was born yesterday. I was blessed to be able to attend the birth. No matter how many times I witness this miracle, it remains exactly that, a glorious miracle. He is my grandmother's one- hundreth direct descendent. She was counting and recounting the other day...just to be sure. She is thrilled by it all. I am grateful for the great heritage I have been given.

So as I sit here trying to digest the turkey dinner we ate in the hospital cafeteria (it was actually quite good), the list goes on: a healthy mother and baby; my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ; hot, running water; air conditioning; sunrises; rain; and good friends who will actually read this list and ignore the mistakes because I am old enough that caring for two toddlers all day and night takes a toll and so I had to write this off the cuff and well, you get it.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. God be with you.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My Thanksgivings

by Anna Arnett


BLOG ON THANKSGIVINGS
Nov. 21, 2007

"I've got to go grocery shopping," I told my husband this afternoon as we drove back from home teaching.

"Why? What do you need?"

"Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I haven't shopped for a thing. I haven't even priced, let alone bought, a turkey or even looked at the grocery ads. It feels downright sacrilegious."

Charles gave me that slow grin that extended to his eyes. It said, 'I'll never understand you, but that's okay.'

This is the first Thanksgiving I haven't been in charge of almost everything. It seems strangely unreal. Since our family numbers are approaching the equal of my age, we're celebrating in four different dinner groups--all here in the valley. Charles and I will be in the smallest group.

I'm remembering our first Thanksgiving dinner as a couple. Charles had poured the foundation for our house, and we got the wild idea we'd like to dine 'at home'. The middle bedroom in Mom and Dad Arnett's house was still our living place, and I helped Mom cook the traditional feast. Then, as all the rest of the family gathered to eat, Charles and I took our portions down the road a mile or so, and ate a la fresco, with boards across a couple of saw horses for a table and upended orange crates for chairs. The hot food quickly cooled, and the cold food warmed, and we got strange looks from the few farm folk who happened to pass by, nor did we linger long after we ate, but we still had Thanksgiving at our very own home (site).

As the next Thanksgiving approached, I found a recipe for pumpkin chiffon pie in The Joy of Cooking book we got for a wedding gift. It called for whipped egg white, and when I took it from the oven (as the directions clearly stated) it looked beautiful. However, as it cooled it shrank, and kept it up until the filling seemed thinner than the crust. How appalling. I didn't want to eat it, and even Charles passed it by, saying, "I guess I'm not as hungry as I thought I was." I took it out to the pigpen, and even the pigs wouldn't eat it.

The day before Thanksgiving, Charles said, "I'll make the pie." He asked his mother what went into pumpkin pie. I had all the ingredients, and watched him dumping, stirring and tasting as he mixed, poured (I did get the privilege of making the piecrust) and baked. My feelings were definitely mixed when that pumpkin pie tasted and looked beautiful. I've never used a standard recipe for pumpkin pie since, and the results please us.

In Japan, about a decade and a half later, we heard the Thanksgiving dinner at the NCO club was outstanding, so we took our six kids there. (One of our sons told me the other day that he did remember those dinners [we ate there three times] because it was the only times we ever took the family out to eat a formal meal.) Our news source was correct. The meal was very traditional, well prepared, and exceedingly satisfying. At the door as we left, a waiter handed us each a paper bag containing an apple, an orange, and about a cup full of unshelled nuts. And the cost was negligible. We were sold.

However -- we had no leftovers! Nothing traditional to munch on. It suddenly didn't feel like Thanksgiving. I spent the late afternoon in the kitchen, but with no turkey or stuffing or giblet gravy to sample, the older ones in the family, especially Charles and I, felt somehow cheated. The next two Thanksgivings, I roasted a turkey and made pies to snack on before I left, and we still had Thanksgiving Dinner at the base.

You'd think my thanks giving is all for food. That's only part of it. I'm thankful for a great many things. Indeed, my prayers of thanksgiving get pretty lengthy long before I've hardly more than begun to enumerate all my blessings. Come to think of it, I don't believe I've ever listed them all. And new ones keep cropping up.

One more blessing. When Thanksgiving is over - Christmas is coming!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

When Upon Life's Billows

By Betsy Love

And there have certainly been a few of those yesterday. We have had billows of smoke and flame shooting heavenward as our chapel literally burned to the ground. I followed the story all morning, until I finally had to leave for work. Later that evening as I crawled into bed and picked up my journal and wrote about the day’s events, I came to the part of my journal I never forget: Things I am grateful for.

  • For a Heavenly Father who has such merciful love for all his children that he allows trying things to happen to us to teach us love, patience, tolerance, and all those things that build us and strengthen us.
  • For friends at work who commiserated with me in my sadness over losing our beautiful chapel. For one friend in particular who said, “Don’t you think that angels kept the steeple from falling over?” She’s not even a member. I am thankful for her beautiful insight.
  • For a family whose first thoughts were, “I wonder which building we’ll go to until they rebuild ours.” Is that faith or what?
  • For the safety of my children who attended the stake fireside the evening before. Isn’t it ironic or coincidental that they would hold a fireside the night it went up in flames? Too bad they hadn’t thought to bring marshmallows.
  • For the gospel of Jesus Christ which allows me to share my love of my church and my testimony with those who have so many questions now about why God would allow one of His buildings to burn.
  • For all of you, my dear friends, who read my blogs and ramblings and are always so kind and sweet with your words.

For all my blessings, of which these are only a few…I am truly thankful!


Monday, November 19, 2007

Turkey Trials

by Rene Allen

After reading Marsha’s blog, I realize there is a new anxiety to add to my growing list of dreads - you know the ones - nightmares about missing a class all semester and discovering it one week before finals; or being invited to a high stakes dinner and tripping over the rug and landing on your can in front of 500 well-heeled and coifed guests; and now, promising turkey for Thanksgiving dinner and its cast of a thousand relatives and ending up with a cold bird and raw dressing.

I’m cooking a turkey this year. It’s in the fridge now, thawing. I don’t know how turkey does in a microwave, but short of a power failure, it will be my alternate strategy. I’ll cut it up with a chain saw and push Start if my real oven, lovingly cleaned this past weekend, fails.

My parents and brother are coming from Mesa. Three of my sons, two daughters-in-law and five grandchildren will be here along with my husband who stops eating the night before Thanksgiving dinner to make room for a massive amount of mashed potatoes and dressing. He always goes last in line so he doesn’t have to feel guilty about taking so much. This, I believe, is a hang-over from ward dinners when he was bishop. My youngest son and his new wife are having a quiet Thanksgiving in Rexburg, Idaho. I think it’s just as well. Thanksgiving dinners can be hard on new wives.

My first Thanksgiving married was with my husband’s family. They are good people, but have their own way of doing things. I was assigned sweet potatoes. Well, I’m for trying new things but being newly married hadn’t yet figured out new is not for a traditional meal like Thanksgiving dinner. I put pineapple and apples in my sweet potatoes, using a recipe from an aunt on my side of the family. No marshmallows. No syrup. Big Mistake. One person, probably my husband, took one small spoonful and I took home two pans of sweet potatoes.

So this is another anxiety, that of meshing with the in-laws. One of my daughters-in-law, on her first Thanksgiving with my extended family, volunteered to make pies. She made eight, all different types and was so exhausted she fell asleep at the dinner table. When it was time to leave, my son whispered in her ear “Kelly, you need to wake up. If you don’t wake up you’ll have to make another pie.” She sleep-walked to the car, having impressed us all.

It’s amazing, with all the things that can go wrong at Thanksgiving, like a glitchy oven and uncooked turkey, that so many things go right. It is a time to settle in, eat too much, wrap arms around those you love most and celebrate our country, our freedom, our right to worship, our family, our lives. There is no right or wrong way to be thankful. There is no one to impress.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

And Now, For Something Different . . . Cold Turkey

by Marsha Ward

I’ll never forget the Thanksgiving of 2001. After almost 30 years of preparing turkey dinner with all the trimmings, I had learned a trick or two. For example, I was accustomed to cooking the dressed turkey all night in a slow oven. That year was no different. I stuffed my bird, wrestled it into the roasting pan, covered it with tented foil, and hefted it into the oven about nine p.m. I turned the oven on, then left to check my email.

Time flies when I’m on my computer, and along about midnight I decided to go to bed. First, though, I went to check the turkey. As I crossed through the family room, I wondered why I didn’t smell the roasting bird. When I opened the oven door, I found the answer.

I didn’t need the potholders I used to slide out the oven rack. Sticking my hand into the oven, I discovered there was no heat. I checked the controls. I had the function knob turned to “bake,” all right. The thermostat? It hadn’t even made it to “warm!”

Friday, November 16, 2007

Remember to Be Grateful

Valerie J. Steimle

I was so motivated to finish my editorial this week for the paper I contribute. I got the idea for my article from an email that was supposedly written by Jay Leno himself. So a week ago, I mailed an actual snail mail letter to Jay Leno, care of the Tonight Show, thanking him for writing this wonderful email on being grateful. Tuesday late afternoon, after my deadline was past and the article was already printed, I received a letter in the mailbox from the Tonight Show. What a quick reply and I was very excited thinking that maybe Jay Leno wrote me a letter back. The address written even looked like what his handwriting would be. So I opened the letter to find out that it was one of his staff writing to tell me that: “Sorry, this email was written by someone else and that through email alterations and multiple forwards the impression was given that Jay Leno wrote the whole thing. It was Craig R. Smith who wrote it and Jay Leno only used the last sentence for a joke on the show.” I was so disappointed. Even worse I had already run the article that was to come out on Thursday (yesterday). I hoped no one would call me about it and so far no one has but here is what I wrote about being grateful for food for thought on this Thanksgiving holiday:

With Thanksgiving coming next Thursday, there have been many writings on the internet and in newspapers about being thankful. One in particular was from an unexpected writer: Jay Leno. Usually a funny guy, Mr. Leno wrote a poignant piece about what we should be grateful for and I wanted to write some of his words here. This is from Jay Leno:
"The other day I was reading Newsweek magazine and came across some poll data I found rather hard to believe. It must be true, given the source, right? The Newsweek poll alleges that 67 percent of Americans are unhappy with the direction the country is headed, and 69 percent of the country is unhappy with the performance of the President. In essence, 2/3's of the citizenry just isn't happy and want a change. So being the knuckle dragger I am, I started thinking, ''What are we so unhappy about?''Is it that we have electricity and running water 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?Is our unhappiness the result of having air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter? Could it be that 95.4 percent of these unhappy folks have a job?Maybe it is the ability to walk into a grocery store at any time, and see more food in moments than Darfur has seen in the last year.Maybe it is the ability to drive from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean without having to present identification papers as we move through each state?Or possibly the hundreds of clean and safe motels we would find along the way that can provide temporary shelter? I guess having thousands of restaurants with varying cuisine from around the world is just not good enough.Or could it be that when we wreck our car, emergency workers show up and provide services to help all, and even send a helicopter to take you to the hospital.”
He asks interesting questions and he goes on to talk about how 70 percent of us have homes in this country and if there were ever a fire at our house, a group of men and women volunteer or are paid to come and put it out. Our neighborhoods are free from bombs dropping and militias raping and pillaging and where many teenagers have computers and cell phones.
We live in the greatest country in the world but yet we are so spoiled. There is nothing worse than a child who has everything and then just thinks about what he doesn’t have and demands more. Are we really that unhappy? No, I don’t think so. We are just ungrateful. We have so much freedom and so much wealth and opportunity. We are so blessed and there is so much to be thankful for, we should be the happiest people in the world.
So this Thanksgiving let’s remember our blessings and be happy. Let’s not buy into that negativism that we read about all the time. We have a lot to be thankful for in our lives. Just ask Jay Leno. He’ll tell you.

Even though it wasn’t Jay Leno that wrote those things, somebody did make a good point and we should still be grateful for what we have. Especially around this time of thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thanksgiving Eve Pie Party Tradition

by Heather Horrocks

One of the best holiday traditions I ever started (or copied, however you want to look at it) is our Thanksgiving Eve Pie Party.

I read about the concept in a magazine and was intrigued. After all, on Thanksgiving Day, we’re way too stuff with turkey dinner to eat nearly enough pie. So why not eat dessert first? Now we do.

We invite family and friends. I spend several days baking pumpkin pies (best recipe is on the Libby’s pumpkin can, using 2 T. pumpkin pie space instead of the spices, and using butter in the crust instead of shortening). I keep hearing how good my pumpkin pies are but, since I don’t like pumpkin pie, I’m not sure I believe those rumors.

If I can get my friend Marie (Callender) to sell me her pies cheap enough, I enlist her help. This year, my sister is coming for the week and I don’t want to spend days preparing for the party. I want to visit with my sister. So I found good deals on MC pies and bought 6 (two cherry, two apple, two chocolate cream). I’ll bake the pumpkin pies tomorrow and freeze them, along with the key lime pies. The only pie I’ll need to actually make on the party day is the banana cream pies.

Our rules? Pretty simple. People come, with their kids (but we let them know they have to come with their kids because the first year one couple sent their kids in and then went to a movie while we tended their kids). If they want to bring a pie, they can (whatever kind they choose), but they don’t have to (though if they’re bringing a large horde, I do ask that they bring a pie).

With grown kids, it’s nice to have an event they can come to even if they’re going to the in-laws’ home for Thanksgiving dinner. We have friends who come every year. And one little boy in our neighborhood makes his family put off leaving for Idaho until after the pie party! (This year, we’re having a mini-party for their family, so they can leave for Idaho earlier.)

We’ve had great fun doing this and I highly recommend it (or a version of it). Several friends of mine who live in another city have also started doing this and are having a great time.

Happy Turkey Day. And may I suggest that, this year, you eat dessert first.