Feb 27, 2007

Writer's Block and other things that blow our way

By Betsy Love

Have you ever made the conscientious choice to go for a power walk when a wind advisory has been issued? Now, mind you, I love the snow, I love the sunshine, I love the rain, but let me tell you when it comes to wind, I hate it! Let me repeat that, in case you didn’t get it the first time, I hate the wind! Since I’ve issued that statement let me explain my insanity.

I’ve sat here at my computer day after lonely, pitiful day, feeling ever so sorry for myself. (Can’t you just hear the violins playing softly in the background and then swelling to a piteous, mournful melody?) When I went to the valley to see the family last weekend I stepped on the scales and jumped off immediately. The stupid thing had to be off. I couldn’t have possibly gained that much weight in only a few months living by myself. I checked it again, making sure that the dial wasn’t off. I had no idea dark chocolate could do that to me. I vowed then and there that I was not going to buy new clothes to fit my expanding frame. My resolution is to lose weight, get in shape and fit back into my darling swimsuit by the time I move back to the valley. Which brings me to walking in gale forces.

Before I even began my walk the front door blew in on me and I had trouble getting it latched. This walk will go much faster, I thought to myself, if I listen to an audio book. When I managed to wrestle the car door open and retrieve the CD, there were no batteries. I didn’t let that stop me. I began my brisk jaunt with my head high and a smile on my face. That is, until I turned the corner and hit the wind full force in my face.

Who needs wrist and ankle weights when just walking into the wind puts enough resistance to make you feel like you’ve got Thor, the pain inflicting personal trainer at your side. Only half an hour, I told myself. Yet every time I checked my cell phone I’d only progressed five minutes at the most. My internal whining set off and I began telling myself things like, “I never liked that swimsuit in the first place,” and “tents make great dresses.” It wasn’t until I rounded another corner and passed the cemetery that I realized that I wasn’t ready to pick out a grave site, which was where I was headed if I didn’t take better care of myself. I passed the trailer my friend had recently moved out of. (It should have been condemned years ago.) The front door stood wide open and I’m sure the wind whistled through every crack in the floor, doors cupboards and falling ceiling tile. Shuddering I was glad that my friend had found a much more suitable home. I guess I needed small reminders that my situation could be a lot worse.

I willed myself not to look at my cell phone to check the time until I made it to the end of the road. By now fifteen whole minutes had passed and once again I was walking against the wind. My legs now ached. Those cute, Hanes sneakers look adorable with a jumper, but they are murder on the balls of your feet when going the distance. I stopped stretched my legs, looked at my feet and thought how good a nice soaking would feel.

When I rounded the second to last corner I finally stopped complaining and heard something. It took me nearly three-fourths my walk for me to get a clue that what was happening around me was a gift. Each tree had its own tune, no whispering here. Some of the trees whose spindly barren branches, reaching endlessly heavenward, cried out like the roar of a jet. At first I looked to see what huge plane was flying overhead. It was the wail of the wind playing its deep base roar through the branches. Everyone knows what happens when the wind whispers in the pines. Imagine what that sound is like when it blows so hard you think trees might go hoarse. Imagine that pitch even higher as it whips through the telephone lines and you wonder if one is going to snap and come hurling down at you.

Then I felt the wind as it yanked at my hair and flung it stinging across my cheeks. Pieces of dust and tiny pebbles flipped against my exposed skin and I had to squint and watch only the ground in front of me. Though it was only fifty degrees my fingertips felt pinched from the coldness of the air. My nose began to feel numb. My pant legs pushed against my skin and I thought of how cold the fabric felt.

I tried to smell the wind. I laugh at myself now, because wind that strong could blow off the spray of a skunk as soon as the creature released it, had I been unfortunate enough to find one. What about tasting the wind? Could I stick my tongue out and get a sample? I have to tell you that wind tastes like sand and debris and leaves and grit. I’m still chomping on the remnants between my teeth.

Today I was given a gift, the opportunity to use my writer’s talents to think about writing and how I need to use more of my senses. Tonight I’m using my money to get me a decent pair of running shoes, because come heck, high water or tornados, I’m going for a walk every night to see what I can discover about my writing.

Feb 26, 2007

"Short and very Sweet"

by Rene Allen

Today for my blog, I would like to share a favorite poem by Galway Kinnell (Selected Poems, Houghton miffin, 1982), which describes with delectable imagery some of my feelings about writing. For me, there is an added bonus because this poem pulls me directly back through time to my grandmother's house, to blackberry brambles and purple stained fingers, and dumplings at the end of the day. I hope you enjoy it.

Blackberry Eating
I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.

Feb 25, 2007

Cecily Markland Shares News and New Lessons!

Thanks to someone else’s misfortune, I have the express opportunity to blog today. You see, today was actually Marsha Ward’s turn, but when she announced that a scratch on her cornea would keep her from being at the computer much this week, I jumped at the opportunity to fill in for her. And, because I did, I have a chance to share wonderful news!
My ninth grandchild was born yesterday just after noon. A beautiful baby girl, she has already found her way into my heart and established her place in our family. (Isn’t it funny how it only takes seconds to have that happen, leaving you shaking your head in wonder that you seem to “know” them so quickly?)
Yet, even as I rave and brag, I’m reminded that this opening and my chance to spread the word came my way because of Marsha’s mishap. So, while I am blessed to share, Marsha is missing out today.
While it’s not an extremely powerful example (and while Marsha will definitely return to blog another day!), I couldn’t help but be reminded of similar…and, also, of much grander…times when I may have won, may have triumphed, may have taken the spotlight, only because someone else stepped down, lent a hand, or otherwise helped me get there through some sacrifice or offering on their part.
Isn’t it true that, most often, our blessings come at someone else’s willingness to forfeit their time or their money or otherwise sacrifice in service to us? Isn’t it true that we are best taught, most wonderfully motivated and most impactfully loved by those who truly expect nothing in return?
In recent year, the business world has given rise to a buzz phrase, as companies are encouraged to seek for “win-win situations.”
If you were to extrapolate that out, think what would happen if, for example, you were never given a gift if the giver wasn’t first guaranteed that he or she would be “paid back” in kind. Consider what the world would be like if no one ever extended a helping hand or donated their resources without keeping a ledger of what was owed back to them. Unfortunately, that popular business practice seems to have permeated society and has even infiltrated our homes and taken root in too many hearts. Too often, like others, I am focused on what I am going to “get” rather than what I can “give.”
Now, I’m not saying that one who gives and shares “loses.” Far from it. Yet, too often, before I do the giving, before I invest the time and effort, I want a guarantee that I will win, that my book will sell, or that I will get an immediate reward for my efforts.
I want a “win-win” life. At least until I really think about it. After all, I wouldn’t trade the lessons I’ve learned in those times when I didn’t emerge a winner. I wouldn’t exchange the inexplicable joy that comes from serving anonymously. Nor would I give up the amazing change of heart that comes from loving unconditionally.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anywhere near perfect at any of those things yet. Perhaps that’s why I’m extra grateful for small sacrifices and service in my behalf, for the many ways others around me demonstrate what I hope to become…and, especially today, for new grandbabies to give me lots of practice in giving and loving.

Feb 23, 2007

Learning to Play the Pen . . . Or . . . Eating an Elephant (or Writing a Novel) one 15-minute bite at a time!

by Heather Horrocks

I wrote this several years ago for anyone who has a dream to write. I've gone back through and tweaked it and I hope you enjoy.

If you’re reading this, chances are high you want to write. Why? To become famous? To bank the big bucks? To be recognized for excellence in writing? To have your dream validated (I am a writer)? Behind these myriad reasons to write hide the stories within us that will no longer be contained, but insist on being written and shared. Writing these stories is what I call learning to play the instrument of writing. That instrument is, of course, The Pen.

If you’ve played a musical instrument before, you know you have to learn the basics, and then practice, practice, practice. The Pen is no different. We cannot pick up The Pen and be great the first time we try to make music. Why do we think we can? Because we’ve been listening to others play for years? Why do we think we can bypass years of practice? No one at Carnegie Hall is going to invite us to play the Pen after two weeks of practice. Really.

As a child, I was forced to practice the piano by my cruel and unfeeling parents. I did so every day (well, almost). Grudgingly. Haltingly. Pathetically. Until the day when I made the amazing discovery that I could play songs. In the instant I began to make music, practice turned from drudgery to joy. Now I’m glad my parents insisted I learn and I am asked to play for all sorts of occasions.

So here you sit. You pick up the Pen and say, “Hmm, interesting instrument. I think I’ll learn to play.” You learn the basics, things like show-don’t-tell, strong active-not-passive verbs, definite scenes and sequels, and how to invite your characters to introduce themselves to you. These are the scales on the Pen. Are you familiar with them? Have you learned the scales? Practiced them, day after day, page after page, year after year? (And the years spent thinking about playing but not actually practicing don’t count.)

If you need to, learn the basics from a Pen-Master. Find other Pen-Players and associate with them, for Pen-Playing is a lonely, demoralizing task. You might need help keeping up your spirits when your soul aches to play Mozart, but your Penmanship still struggles with Chop Sticks.

Yet if you are a writer, you must keep going. Why? Because you love the sound of the Pen. You love the emotion a well-played Pen can evoke, the hearts it can touch, the insights it can provide, the lives it can change. Truly the Pen is mightier than the sword, but only a well-played Pen in the hands of a true Pen-Master.

If you love the Pen, don’t be afraid--pick it up! Reach for your dreams! Do it! Lift your Pen and learn to play. Thundering chords. Crescendos. Soft haunting melodies. Light-hearted sounds of laughter. Become a Master of the Pen and your writer’s soul will rejoice.

Forget your excuses for why you can’t “find” the time to play the Pen. “It would be so selfish.” “I have a family.” “I have a job.” “I need my sleep.” Blah, blah, yadda, yadda. Pen-masters are creative, so create time to play. Create it from nothing if you have to. No one else will do it for you. In fact, others might try to keep you from it. Make whatever compromises you need to make--and keep practicing the Pen. All you need is a spare fifteen minutes a day!

And then, one magical day, you will lift your Pen to practice your scales yet again and, instead, find yourself playing the song in your heart--Mozart in place of Chop Sticks. Soaring runs, intricate fingerings, delicate pauses. You find you can play anything you desire. Others will gasp in amazement as you touch their hearts and souls and clap wildly after your performance. All of those moments of practice will be forgotten as you play with beauty and grace, power and precision, heart and soul. This is the day for which you spent all those hours preparing. So you could make lyrical, haunting, beautiful music that will never be forgotten.

One of my favorites quotes is this: “Destiny is a matter of choice, not of chance.” Choose wisely. If you spend just 15 minutes a day writing, five days a week, you will create musical miracles. Practice, Pen-Apprentices, practice. And, when you’re ready, I’ll come to Carnegie Hall to hear you play your Pen and marvel at the virtuosity of the Pen-Master you have become.

© 1998 Heather Horrocks You have permission to reproduce and forward this piece of writing as long as this copyright notice is attached, the text is not changed, and it is used for personal use only. Heather writes three types of novels ... Laugh yourself to death with the cozy mysteries of Heather Cassidy ... Fall in love with the romantic comedies of Heather Pyper ... Enlighten your life with the inspirational books by Heather Horrocks. Visit http://www.heatherhorrocks.com/ to see more.

Feb 22, 2007

Please Don't Eat the Superglue

by Valerie J. Steimle

After the unexpected passing of my husband, my children wanted a dog. We could never have a dog while my dear husband was here because of his allergies to dog hair so now that their Dad was not with us; they really wanted their chance at raising a puppy.

Week after week went by hearing them ask for a dog. I would always tell them that we had to wait for the dog to find us. Several dogs did find us in the past. Strays would wander into our yard and we would take care of them for a couple of days and then take them to the pound. We just couldn’t keep them. But this time I knew that the next dog we found would find a home with us.

Three months later, after no stray came by, a friend of mine told me about her dog having puppies. I kept that thought to myself until two months after that, I ran into her again. Two puppies were left. Two adorable black lab/golden retriever dogs were left from the original eight and were I still interested in taking one? We went for a look and they were adorable. My daughter, going back to school wanted one and we would take the other. So there I was carting back a car load of happy children (six) and two puppies we named Maximus and Jackson.

At that point, life changed for us drastically. Not only were they not potty trained, they ate everything in sight. My shoes were no longer safe on the floor. The kitchen trash can had to be put up on a stool. We had to have round the clock watch on what they did and made sure they were taken out every hour. It was a long month but we made it through and they started to tell us when they needed to go out.

After that, the children seemed to lose interest. They said they would help (they always say that) and promised to clean up their messes. But of course puppies don’t always stay puppies and their welcome was worn out and no one wanted to take care of them anymore. I threatened to give them away and they didn’t seem to mind. “Okay Mom” was their answer so I called around to see who would take them. I couldn’t find anyone. Besides I couldn’t give them away, as a mother, I needed to follow through on my children learning to be responsible for more than a month. What was surprising was that the dogs were actually loyal to me. They knew I was the boss and would lie at my feet to sleep. How could I get rid of such loving dogs? They didn’t even bark much. So I had to crack the whip and make my children take turns taking care of them.

One day, while I was looking for something in my teenage sons’ room, Maximus came up behind me with something sticking out of his mouth. My son, Eliot had left a tube of superglue on the floor and Max found it. I pulled it out of his mouth and inspected the damage. There were puncture marks in the tube and glue all over his mouth. Max kept licking his chops as if he had peanut butter on his tongue only it wasn’t peanut butter. The superglue had dried and made a sandpaper surface on the top of his tongue. His lips weren’t sealed together but they had a layer of superglue that would not come off. The poor dog. I felt sorry for him but all we could do was let it wear off on its own.

Then one day my older daughter let them out to go and they ran off. She could not find them anywhere and called their names over and over again. They finally came back but were full of mud. She had no idea where they were but had to give them baths before they could come back in.

It has been almost a year now and they are wonderful dogs. My daughter ended staying at home with us instead of going away to school so we have both dogs at home. The younger children have learned to take responsibility for the care of their pets and Maximus and Jackson love us as if we were a part of their pack. I’m glad we kept them even though they have ruined several pairs of shoes. There is something to say about having a dog around. My children learned responsibility and we have two loyal friends.

Feb 21, 2007

Greatness Among Us

by Faith St. Clair

After a long two-mile sweat on the treadmill, I headed for the gym showers and ran into Stephenie Meyer (author of Twilight and New Moon). We chatted for a couple of minutes and then parted ways – me to the showers, her to the treadmill. I walked away thinking, there’s a famous author running alongside ordinary people and they don’t even know it! I then wondered what other people are in our midst in whom we have no notion of their greatness.

I looked around and noticed Hal, the 85-year old war veteran who comes to the gym every day, makes his way up the stairs and walks the treadmill for five miles at an incline. He has beat advanced stages of prostrate cancer with all-natural foods and dedicated exercise. He is a hero to me in more ways than one. I think he’s pretty great.

I then see Bill. He probably ranks among the “obese” (don’t we all) and struggles with gout in his legs. Without fail, however, he gets out of bed, goes to the gym despite excruciating pain in every step, does water aerobics and heads up the laughter and conversations of the group. I wouldn’t have the fortitude. I think he is great.

Carol lost her young and only daughter to an accident last year. She just lost her job and wonders where to go next in life. Yet she is the first to offer a cheery “Good morning!” She makes me feel great – she is great.

Mr. Nevin lost his wife eight years ago. After 47 years of marriage, he is not lost, he finds joy - joy in those around him. He plans outings with friends, he works in his yard, he enters in walking-for-a-cause events and when he does find himself alone, he reads incessantly and shares with everyone he meets, what he has learned. His love of life and people are great.

Sheila is great. She managed to get off four kids to school this morning with made lunches, a full breakfast, clean teeth and brushed hair – all accompanied by nothing more than a calming count to ten and a whisper, “I love you; have a great day.” That’s awesome!

Tattooed Carl strenuously exercises in order to abate the nicotine fits that haunt him as he quits smoking. I am amazed! I can’t even quit sugar! He is great.

Terri, despite her life-long weight issues and limits of self-esteem, can’t say two words without making me laugh. Her humor and positive outlooks elevate me. She is great!

Sue has watched her son move in and out and through again with trouble, but she looks for ways to help him on a daily basis. Her love is unconditional. She doesn’t enable him, but rather looks for ways to lift him by providing light in his life. Her love and patience are great.

Linda can’t work anymore due to numerous neurological disorders, yet daily she is in service of others. Not only her own family, but those she has adopted – which is just about every body she has met. She sews for Christmas year-round, and at every Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day, 4th of July, Groundhog Day, Tuesday, Isn’t-it-a-beautiful-day Day……there is a package on my doorstep for either me or my girls. Her kindnesses are great.

Elizabeth has been in bed for 20 years with every disease and medical uncertainty that is known and guessed among mankind. But she calls me when she finds something she thinks I’ll like or need in a catalog and she’ll order it for me. She’ll encourage me to put one foot in front of another on days where it seems I can’t (figuratively) and even though she knows she can’t (literally). She is great.

I think about the Jeannette Walls (author of her true-life childhood story, “The Glass Castle”) that are walking amongst us - those who have struggled with the unimaginable in their lives and have blossomed despite an overload of too much fertilizer thrust upon them. They are beyond great and I know they walk along side of me.

I think about Katherine Hannigan’s character, Ida B, and wonder if there is an angry nine-year-old in our path who we’d like to slap with the love of Jesus in our heart, but who, unbeknown to us, is just trying to suppress her grief of having a dying mother. Her defense mechanisms match her great love for her mother. She is great.

I don’t really know all of the people I’ve mentioned above. Some names I know, some circumstances I know, but some are just imagined. What I do know, however, is that there truly are great people all around us. We meet people we like, people we think we wouldn’t want to associate with, people older than us, people that offend us, or people that are disadvantaged, but all in all, they are ordinary great people with great stories, great triumphs and great souls. I like walking amongst the great people of this world!

Feb 20, 2007

Throw Me Something Mister, Please

by Terri Wagner

It's night time or non. Cold or warm, warm this year. My heart and my spirits lift when I hear the roar of the crowd ahead of me. I don't mind being at the end of the parade route because that's where most of the stuff gets thrown. Mardi Gras in L.A. (Lower Alabama): it's a magical time. I love the crowds because everyone is in a good mood.

Ok, some are in too good a mood and they annoy me. But the children are hysterical to watch. In my neck of the woods (unlike the raunchier parade associated with New Orleans), children get center stage. They line the first rows of the parade route and it is to them the moon pies and beads get thrown. Their eyes light up and they hang the beads around their necks and start eating the moon pies right away.

The floats are amazing, depending on the crew's theme for the year. I especially love the dragons. And there are always dragons and lots of pirates. One year I took Chewbacca, my black lab who has since gone to the great dog playground in heaven, and got lots of stuff. Seems children and dogs are a favorite to throw to. Just to show you what a great dog he was, we were sitting on a small grassy knoll about 20 feet from the floats. Someone threw a moon pie right at him, landed right next to him. Good throw. And some older woman (a little too wild and happy) actually snatched it from him. He didn't even growl. Guess I had a great dog, uh? I just looked at her and said "Thank your lucky stars, he's not a Rotweiller, ha."

I can't explain Mardi Gras except that it's fun. Today is Fat Tuesday, the last of the celebrations, and the parades will run through the night. If you ever have the chance to go, go. It's fun. I particularly like the chocolate moon pies slightly nuked after I get home, giggle.

Of course the technical writer would simply say, it's Mardi Gras, a time to party.

Feb 18, 2007


By Liz Adair

This is my son Clay's second year at BYU. He transferred there as a junior, after attending the local community college. It was his second choice, but the University of Washington had a moratorium on transfer students, so off he went to BYU. Though I was pulling for UW, I'm glad that Clay went to BYU, and this is the reason why:

Clay has a new set of roommates this year, and it's been an interesting experience for him. Clay really likes the young man he shares a room with. He's bright, articulate, and funny. Though far from home and with a difficult family situation, yet he remains devout. He and Clay have established such a tight bond that he invited Clay to fast with him a couple of months ago.

His hame is Hani, and he's Muslim. His difficult family situation is that he is from Gaza, and even if he could afford the ticket, he couldn't go home to see them because of the near impossibility of getting through the checkpoints into Gaza. His family are all educated or skilled artisans, but few are working, and of the ones still working, few of those are being paid because of the political and economic situation, which becomes increasingly dire.

Hani attends BYU on a scholarship from BYU. He has been there six years. He is in charge of the Arabic house and is the native speaking resident in an apartment where only Arabic is to be spoken. (This really limits conversation at the beginning of the year.) That is how Clay came to be his roomie, and how Clay was invited to fast with Hani during the last week of Ramadan.

Hani came to see us during the Christmas holiday. He rode the bus becasue, as a carrier of a Palestinian passport, flying can be a scary experience. He called us Brother and Sister Adair, and it was interesting to see that he studies the LDS religion in the same way that Clay is studying Islam: from the outside looking in. That's okay. It made for some great discussions.

I would invite you to visit Hani's blog at http://hanistan.blogspot.com

Hani's current posting is about his last trip home to see his family and what he went through just to arrive at his front door in Gaza. Read further, and you'll find lots of interesting, illuminating information. You'll also see into the heart of this wonderful young man.

I also would invite you to join with the Adairs in adding Gaza and Hani's family to your nightly prayers as you pray for the people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur and other places where innocent people are in difficult situations. There is a glimmer of hope in Gaza for the beginnings of a process that could lead to a better situation. Let's all join together to pray that that glimmer will become a bright and shining light.

Feb 17, 2007

Jigsaw Puzzles

by Anna Arnett

For ‘stocking-stuffers’ this past Christmas, my daughter Kat gave me a couple of 500-word jigsaw puzzles. A warm glow enwrapped me, with memories galore.

I thought of my brother Don and me timing each other with a stopwatch to see how quickly we could assemble the cutout map of the United States. He could do it in almost half the time it took me, but he graciously chronicled my progress. I was probably seven or eight at the time, while he was ten or eleven.

I remember snowy winter evenings on the farm when we’d set up another table in our small kitchen and bring out the only two jigsaw puzzles we had—both cut alike, but so different. One pictured Indians riding bareback at full speed, dust rising from hooves, arrows notched in fully drawn bows aimed at stampeding buffalo. The other showed a beautiful St. Bernard with a small wooden keg suspended beneath his chin, almost smiling in anticipation of his errand of mercy ‘midst the snow in the mighty Alps. We raced to see which team could fit the pieces together first—Mom and Don, or Dad and I. We drew straws to decide teams. Two long straws, two short.
In Japan I was surprised at the cost of a puzzle in the BX, but bought it anyway. The blossoming orchard pictured on the box was too enticing. I discovered it was wooden, not cardboard, and when finished, I could pick it up from any corner, and it would hang together, light visible around every single piece, but still in place. That delighted me.

Almost every Christmas season we’ve had a jigsaw puzzle spread out on the dining table, and I’ve lost countless hours of sleep, refusing to retire until I found just a few more pieces that fit. It took nearly three weeks for us to put together a large nativity scene—with muted colors and no straight edge or corners. When we finally finished, we glued and framed it.

What are the necessary ingredients to jigsaw puzzles? I’d say, clean cuts, good fit, and packaged in a box with the finished picture on the box top. “Pass the box,” constitutes a goodly share of the conversation around a puzzle table, used almost as much as ‘he said’ in a story. My husband claims it’s impossible to put a puzzle together without a picture.

They say nothing is impossible; it just takes longer. Usually though, we like things done immediately, if not sooner. So we like pictures. Think about it. Do any knitters, crocheters, or seamstresses read the instructions first, when choosing a pattern? No, we first look at the picture, then read the instructions. What do builders use? Blueprints. Upon which principles do we build our lives? Billboards with glowing pictures of macho fun? Fluffy clouds which our imaginations can transform into pseudo reality? Fairy tales? Well, sometimes they’re fun, but I’ve learned that lasting joy comes only through following the teachings found in the best ‘box top’ of all—the scriptures. Here we find day-by-day, piece-by-piece, line upon line, the parts that eventually make up a glorious ‘whole.’

I submit that writing is also a puzzle. If I don’t know all the words I want to use, a dictionary is almost always within reach. I even have a ‘reverse dictionary’ that will oft en give me the word to fit the meaning. My computer can usually spell better than I, and if grammar rules are disobeyed, green, squiggly lines appear beneath. Even before computers, I’ve had all the writing ingredients for ages—literally. But it takes a lot more than that to write even moderately well. What it needs is a picture—some kind of an objective, or goal. Some idea of character, problems, solutions, more problems, learning, achieving. You know. An outline!

Or, I can just keep on rambling.

Love, Anna

Feb 16, 2007

You know you’ve been a mother too long when you . . .

by Donna Hatch

  • automatically cut the meat for your dinner companion– even if it’s your husband’s boss
  • don't mind eating the leftover crust from your children’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – even if it’s been on the floor
  • have the entire lineup for Nick Jr. and Public television memorized
  • think the new guy in Blue’s Clues is hot
  • look forward to time alone so you can take a nap
  • think the idea of a nice outing is going to the grocery store without children
  • measure road trips by how many movies can be watched before you get there
  • hesitate when offered the chance to go on a vacation without your children for longer than overnight
  • collection of Disney videos is larger than all other movies or music CD’s combined
  • get excited about and keep track of your children’s bodily functions
  • can’t think of anything to say when someone says ‘tell me about yourself’ except how many children you have
  • carry pictures instead of money
  • accept all invitations for kitchen gadget parties just to get out of the house
  • catch yourself swaying back and forth when you stand, even if your arms are empty
  • have children who understand how to work your computer better than you do
  • can’t imagine life without them!

Feb 15, 2007

What Can I Say?

By Kari Diane Pike

I have to admire our fourteen year old daughter. She obviously knew the consequences for what she was about to tell us. She could easily have held back until after the upcoming three-day weekend, but she told us anyway. The minute my husband and I walked in the door last night, she bravely handed us a piece of paper and announced,

“Progress reports came out today. I got an ‘N’ in behavior from my math teacher.”

I think it is important to understand that, in the 23 years we have had children in school, this has happened only one other time. Our children know that getting in trouble at school means getting into more trouble when they get home. However, because the rest of our daughter’s progress report was “perfect…all A’s (including this math class) and outstanding or at least satisfactory behavior in every other class, I felt prompted to listen to her perception of why she received an “N.” She admitted to talking a lot in class and how she knows it frustrates that particular teacher. But as she described the teacher’s reactions to her and other students in the class, it became apparent to me that the teacher has her own behavior problems. We made it clear to our daughter that her behavior grade was unacceptable despite how other people behaved. We discussed the need to exercise better self-control and what she can do to avoid making the same mistake. A gentle reprimand seemed to be the best approach.

This morning, while I braided her hair, our daughter seemed unusually quiet. Eventually, she sighed heavily and said,

“I really don’t like holding my tongue!”

I’m glad she had her back to me so she couldn’t see me smile. I almost choked trying not to laugh. Opinions flow freely at our family dinner table and I’m well aware we have fostered her natural strong will. How many times had I thought about how good it would feel to say exactly what I was thinking? I remembered how I once admired an elderly sister in our ward who could say whatever she thought and get away with it. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Then the parent part of me took over, reminded me of our conversation the night before, and told me to seize the moment and give lecture number 1001. Instead, I chose to validate our daughter’s feelings and be completely honest with her.

“Yeah, sometimes it really stinks when you see someone doing something really s-t-u-p-i-d and you want to tell them how you feel.”

“It’s really hard, Mom.”

“It is hard. But you always have a choice. And you always have consequences to those choices. Think about the consequences of speaking your mind and weigh them against the amount of satisfaction you get by saying them. Is it really worth it in the end? What is your goal? What do you want to create for yourself?”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

I finished her braids, gave her a hug, and from my spot on the stairs, watched our daughter gather her books and lunch and head towards the door to catch the bus. She stopped, turned to look at me, and smiled her dimpled, mouth-full-of braces smile.

“Thanks, Mom. I love you.”

Those are words I hope she always feels like saying.

Feb 13, 2007

Lover's Journey

By Debbie Reeves

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Since this is a special day for sweethearts, I thought I’d share another writing technique with you that I happily stumbled upon on Deborah Hale’s Website.

A special writing technique called, The Hero’s Journey, created by Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler. You can find more information by searching on the Internet “Hero’s Journey.”

Deborah Hale has adapted the technique to romance writing, although the technique can be used in any genre. You’ll find on her Website three great romance movies, Runaway Bride, Return to Me, and While You Were Sleeping using this technique to map out the various elements.

Her elements, or journey steps, are:

1. The Ordinary World
2. The Call to Adventure
3. The Refusal of The Call
4. Meeting With The Mentor
5. Crossing the First Threshold
6. Test, Enemies and Allies
7. Approach to the Inmost Cave
8. The Supreme Ordeal
9. Seizing the Sword
10. The Road Back
11. Resurrection
12. Return with The Elixir

By using this technique, you can map out your story. I used the worksheet from Deborah’s Website to map out my book, Under a Lakota Moon. It was very interesting.

I hope you all will go check this great writing technique out. Because of the demand to learn this technique, lessons plans have been created so teachers can teach it all around the world.

Here are the two books on the subject:

The Writer’s Journey By Joseph Campbell
The Hero With a Thousand Faces By Christopher Vogler

P.S. Sorry, I posted a bit too early for the post to be on Feb 14th, but it is for the 14th. LOL~

A True Love Story

by Betsy Love

It’s the day before Valentine’s day and I lost the card I was going to mail to my true love. I bought it weeks ago and put it away for safe keeping. My intention was to have my daughter leave it on her father’s pillow tomorrow morning. I’m sure he’s not expecting anything, especially with us living 160 miles apart. Living apart is what we have to do for four more months. But that’s a story for another time. Last year we had the same kind of a Valentine, but I had the kids with me while he commuted. Valentine’s Day came and went, and I cried and missed him terribly. This year I was going to be prepared. I would have the card ready and waiting. Yet when I went to sign it and leave it with my daughter, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I drove back to my place in Show Low after my busy weekend (I couldn’t even stop and get something for him because we never left each other’s sight the entire weekend. I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it until Monday afternoon. After my late afternoon doctor’s appointment, which just happened to be across the street from Walmart, I ran in and quickly picked out a card. I didn’t have time to linger over the selections, trying to find just the right sentiment, so I grabbed one on friendship. He is my best friend, by the way. It seemed to fit, and while it wasn’t mushy and gushy and overflowing with dripping adoration, it worked, because we are always thanking each other for being best friends. When I got to the checkout stand I realized I had left my stamps at work and needed to purchase those as well. I raced to the car, hoping I could beat the pick-up at the post office. Too late! By the time I reached the post office it was well past the last pick-up time. So I sat in the drive through, hoping no one would pull in behind me, to drop off a letter. I signed a hasty “I love you” and “Thanks for being my best friend” on the bottom of the card, scrawled the address on the envelope and plunked it in the box. It would be late. Tomorrow is Valentine’s day and the best I can do for tomorrow is an email and a phone call. His Valentine card would be late.

In spite of my poor lack of planning I love Valentine’s day. It makes me think back to another one, which is definitely the most memorable one in my life. It occurred twenty four years ago tomorrow with the birth of our third child. My doctor informed me on the Thursday before Valentine’s Day, that I wouldn’t last the night, let alone make it until Monday; he was sure I would go into labor by morning. I told him, that I was holding out for a Valentine’s baby. He laughed and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” I was a week over due and had already been having mild contractions. Valentine’s was a long four days away. I was determined! I went about my business that day, cleaned house, worked on a quilt, and thought about how much I didn’t want a baby on the 13th. Sure enough on February 13th, Sunday morning I woke up with contractions and I thought, I’m not going to get my Valentine’s baby after all. But the contractions came and went all day long. By ten o’clock, they had petered out all together and I hoped, maybe the doctor would induce me the next day, and then I would have my Valentine’s baby for sure. The minute the clock struck 12:01 I started with heavier contractions than I’d had all day. Our little Valentine was born at 1:35AM. Isn’t it amazing how a girl with the last name of Love would meet and fall in love with a boy with the same last name and then have a baby on Valentine’s Day? That’s my “True Love Story”.

Feb 12, 2007

"Ladies, Salute!"

by Rene Allen

A month ago, I was putting some serious time into my memoir when the phone rang. It was my photographer son and he was excited. "Mom, I just got a job to shoot 650 gymnasts and it's in two weeks. What am I going to do?"

The problem was the lead time. Two weeks? 650 girls from all over the country? Okay, the boy needed help. His dad and I would do the computers. The event was to be held over a weekend. The idea was to have one computer for each session and gym. There were two gyms in the building that was the size of a football field, and six sessions. Because there was only one session Friday night, we figured we could double up on that one.

My husband is an electrical engineer with an above average propensity for frugality. He put his heart into this project and came home with 10 refurbished Hewlett Packard computers at $55.00 each. The next day, he hit Deseret Industries for 10 monitors at $5.00 each, which was also the last day we saw the top of the kitchen table.

There is an assumption that electrical engineers are all computer whizzes but that isn't necessarily true; also that they are audio-visual wizards, which isn't true, either. My husband had never uploaded a camera card in his life. So he got together with a couple of his engineer friends who were camera geeks and they came up with a plan in which my husband was the chief camera card uploader and file organizer. With the pressure of 80-90 gymnasts competing at the same time and three photographers feeding us pictures, it was like throwing a kid who just learned to dog paddle into the English Channel and telling him to find France.

Friday night was a disaster. We didn't make one sale. Parents didn't get to see pictures of their gymnasts. Of course, all of the photographs would eventually be put on line, but the goal was to have them ready that night. In a gloom of failure, wondering if we should even bother coming back, we left the facility at midnight and regrouped at Applebees to discuss what we should do.

There is life after disaster and it helped to have something to eat. We reviewed the bottlenecks, looked at what was ahead -Saturday had three sessions, both gyms and five photographers- and what we had to do to pull it off. I would help upload pictures. We would burn CDs as soon as there were a hundred pictures on the memory cards instead of waiting for them to be full when they took up to a half hour to upload. One person would do nothing but put the pictures on the Hewlett Packard computers and work with parents. We left at 1 AM with a commitment to be back by 6.

Since a rooster outside the bedroom where I slept started crowing at 4, we were back by 5:30. When the first girl catapulted over the vault at 8:20, we were ready. And it worked. The cards came and we uploaded and burned CDs. My husband made the first sale. Eventually, there were over 6,000 pictures.

We were so functional there was time to watch the events. Girls jumped, twisted and flew in the floor exercises, balanced on the beam, swung on the uneven bars. During team warm-ups, there were as many legs in the air as on the ground. The energy was electric.

Then they came to see themselves on our computers, little girls with their hair pulled into tight buns and sparkling with glitter. They saw their own legs stretched into splits as they leapt four feet above the ground, their faces solemn and focused.

In a nearby corner, the announcer, his voice hugely amplified, pulled the gymnasts together for awards. Up on the podium went the winners, seven in each category, medals strung around their necks and swinging. After declaring the first place winner, the announcer in a rousing voice would say, "Ladies, salute!" The girls would give brilliant smiles, vigorously raise their arms and stretch their fingers skyward, gymnast style, in victory.

Time after time, the words rang through the building. "Ladies, salute!" Salute because you are here. Salute because you bounced back from injury. Salute because you practice 16 hours a week and do all those other things little girls do, too. Salute because you are winners!

As the meet ended, we packed up our computers and monitors, our boxes of cords and cables. There was work yet to do, but here at least, in this giant gymnasium, we were done. Sadly, there was no winners' podium for photographers, but I told ours what a great job they had done. Then, watching a crew take down the equipment, I visited with the president of the organization that hosted the event. "Sometimes, you just have to jump in and do one," he said, a veteran of seven years. "And then, those treasured, wonderful words, "You'll definitely be hearing from us again."

Friday night, we nearly quit.

Life doesn't have many winners' podiums or medals. There are too few cheering crowds. We are taught to enjoy our victories privately and be humble. But when I got home, I stood in front of my bedroom mirror. Now, I'm not nearly as much to look at as I was thirty years ago, but, hey, in my mind I saw the podium and heard the announcer, and with gusto, raised my arms and struck a victory pose.

"Ladies, salute!"

Feb 11, 2007

Perfect in Salt, Perfect in Soda

by Marsha Ward

Today I'd like to share a short essay I wrote several years ago, because I'm feeling so buoyed up after Sunday Services.

During one period of my parents' married life, my father was seriously ill, and our family existed on a small pension and my mother's wages as a laundry presser. This was a difficult time for Momma, because she wanted to feed her family of seven children in the healthiest possible way. She also wanted to keep the commandment to put away a year's supply of food storage against worse times. At the same time, she struggled to teach us the principle of perfection found in 2 Nephi 25:23, that we are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, "after all we can do."

At one point, Momma read a newspaper article about a company's offer to compute a family's nutritional needs and provide healthy menu suggestions, working from the income of that family and the number of family members. She sent in the required information. Back came the answer: "It is not possible to feed a family of your size nutritionally on the income you have available."

After she recovered from the shock and despair this message brought, Momma redoubled her offorts to provide healthy meals with her limited means. She studied nutrition and Southwestern cooking and invented new ways of using old standbys: noodles, cheese, tortillas, pinto beans, inexpensive organ meats, and vegetables. She baked bread using tomato juice. She pioneered skillet dinners. She also found a way to make efforts in the area of food storage.

Unable to buy the larger-cost items such as wheat, milk, and honey, Momma calculated what amounts of salt and baking soda would be needed for a year's supply for our family. Then, meticulously saving a few pennies from each paycheck, she bought salt and baking soda, one box at a time. She put away these elements of a year's supply by small steps, and also showed her family how to achieve such perfection as we mortals can attain alone: she was perfect in salt, perfect in soda.

Copyright 1996 Marsha Ward

Feb 9, 2007

ACK! I've Been Tagged!

by Heather Horrocks

Sorry I missed my last day of blogging . . . I’ve been switching my email and didn’t get the reminders and, therefore, didn’t remember to blog. (Bless you for setting up the reminders!) And I hope this is my day, because I don’t remember getting a reminder about it -- but Marsha said, yes, it was my day. So if I blog onto someone else’s toes, please accept my abject apology in advance!

Marsha also told that Terry Deighton tagged me to reveal five little-known facts about myself. I would tag others; however, I’ve been out of the loop between my old unreliable networld and my new hopefully reliable msn, so I haven’t been able to read the tagging as it’s gone on each day, so I could easily duplicate. So I’ll just tag everyone else : ) . . . Okay, maybe that’s too extreme.

Hmm . . . Five little-known facts about me . . .

I think most of you probably know I was raised overseas. And my husband and I, between us, have nine kids (what?!?). But I’ll look for more obscure info. Taking a trip now, back on memory lane . . .

1. When things were heating up between Israel and the rest of the Middle Eastern world (no, I’m not talking about now, but decades ago, right before the Six-Day War), my family lived in Kuwait, long before anyone in the U.S. knew where that was. My parents had checked with the American Embassy to see if it was safe for my mother and children to travel to the U.S. and they assured us it was. So we took off in Kuwait and landed at the Egypt airport--which happened to be blacked out. (Not a good sign.) The plane took off just minutes before the airport was bombed. When we arrived at our hotel in Rome, there was an urgent telegram from my father, who wanted to make sure we had survived the bombing.

2. I’m a little shy, too, though it might not come across always, so I don’t always go introduce myself to new people at church (well, I’m too busy rushing from playing the organ in Sacrament Meeting to the Primary room to play the piano there and then, after the block, rushing to the chapel to play the piano for the choir, so I don’t get much talking to anybody time in church : ) but I like to see who needs help that I could do something for. For example, a few years ago a young woman in her 30s with three little children (and another one on the way) had her husband go for nine months of training in prosthetics in California. He was living with her parents there and she was alone here, working to pay all the bills until he could get done and support their family and she could stay home with her family. My husband and I told her that for the entire nine months (since she had no family here), she was invited to Sunday dinner every week. So we had her family over for dinner each Sunday and she became a dear friend. They’ve moved on to California now. And I feel good every time I think about what my family did for her family. And, as I am facing something now with one of my children that is quite ugly (sigh), I’ve realized it’s time to reach out to someone else and take my focus off myself for awhile.

3. I don’t like icky crawling things. My father used to have to stomp on the cockroaches when we lived in South America. We didn’t have cockroaches in the Middle East (either it was so horribly hot that it fried their little brains or else they had some top-notch exterminators), but we had them in South America, even on our nice 11th floor apartment we had. Spiders are icky, too, but I still prefer them over insects that you can crunch--and they still keep moving. ICK! ‘Nuff said. Why did I bring them up? We also had some really cool pets while we lived in South America -- monkeys, parrots, and a little deer that regularly got stolen and then, so very coincidentally, resold to my father every few weeks (I’m so glad he bought it back each time!).

4. I play the piano to relax and because I love it. I played for a cantata that I also wrote the narrative to and the lyrics to four or five of the songs (‘Joseph and Emma in Harmony’) and we performed it in the Provo Tabernacle. Not many people know that fact : ) I even got roses afterward, which was really cool. And I acted out of faith, because I was really scared that I couldn’t handle playing at that level, but yet there was a feeling of peace because I felt like I could do it (and I did, thank goodness).

5. I fried an egg on the sidewalk in Kuwait to see if that saying was true (it is, at least in Kuwait where it’s 130 or 140 in the shade : ). I was a pre-teen at the time and I didn’t eat the egg (just in case any of you are wondering : ).

So there you have it. Five until-now-unknown facts about me. Hope you’ve enjoyed them. And now I’m going to send this while it’s still my day (at least I hope it’s my day!). I will get more organized! I will, I will, I will! (That’s probably a well-known fact about me, that I need to get more organized.)


Feb 8, 2007

Brother Cheever's Valentine

by Liz Adair

To understand about Brother Cheever's Valentine, you have to understand how the Gospel came to my family. It came in this way:

My Uncle Curtis Smith was a cowboy. Hard working and a skilled horseman, he had made his own way in the world from the age of fourteen. Everyone loved him. At community events, he could dance, and he could fiddle, and when the inevitable fight broke out in the wee hours of the morning, he was handy with his fists as well.

Curtis left cowboying after he married, and in 1940 he was working in Tucumcari, New Mexico, on an irrigation project. It was there that he met the Mormon missionaries, listened to what they had to say, and accepted it. In fact, he used to cross the vacant lot between his house and my mother's early every morning before work, and as they sat having coffee, he would say, "Lucy, be a Mormon!"

Curtis' baptismal day was set, and he had given up coffee on the very day that he was struck by a car as he was riding his motorcycle. Mortally injured, he lay in a coma for several days while the family gathered. All the Smiths were Episcopalians. Everyone (including me) had been baptized as an infant as the circuit-riding Episcopal priest came around to the tiny towns along the Rio Grande. Everyone, that is except Curtis. At his bedside, My Aunt Elizabeth insisted that the priest come and baptize Curtis before he died. My mother, however, knew that this was not Curtis' choice and, even though she feared for his soul, she stood her ground. My uncle died unbaptized.

The missionaries spent some time with my mother, but they were pulled out of the area, and during the next seven years, Curtis troubled her dreams. One day, in another town, the missionaries knocked on her door, and when she told them about her brother, they explained to her about temple work and helped her get the work done for him. In the meantime, they taught her, and she and my older brother were baptized in Albuquerque. That was in 1948.

Fast forward forty years. (Don't worry, we're coming to the Valentine.) This was during my Business Mogul decade, when I had a small wholesale bakery. I was working about fifty hours a week and suffering from sleep deprivation. Family Home Evening was hard, because Mondays I was up baking at 2 am. I finally decided that if FHE was going to happen, the load had to be shared.

I gave a lesson on delegation and explained the steps, impressing the need to communicate clearly what task was delegated and also the importance of following up. "You don't have to do it all yourself," I reminded the children. "You just have to make sure it's done." Everyone was assigned a Monday, and we began to have some great Family Home Evenings.

One week Clay, age 9, decided to have an 'Old Fashioned Night.' Dad was to do old fashioned songs, Ruth was to do old fashioned refreshments, and I was to tell an old fashioned story with pictures.

The Friday before Clay's FHE we were working in the bakery together, and he checked to see if I was ready with my story. "Not yet," I said sweetly, "but I will be."

Clay checked again on Sunday. I said no, I wasn't ready yet, but I would be when the time came. On Monday afternoon, this brave child tried following up, as he had been taught. We were cleaning up--my least favorite chore--I had been up since two, and I was no longer speaking sweetly when I told Clay I wasn't ready. Yet.

Immediately, I felt bad about my attitude and asked him to go get my mother's picture trunk. Together we sat on the floor and looked through it. I picked up a studio photograph of an earnest young man with his hair parted in the middle and wearing a suit. It was signed, Elder George A. Cheever, Payson, Utah.

It came to me in a flash. I would tell the story of my mother's conversion and use this picture.

As I made dinner, I thought about how I'd tell the story, and all of a sudden, I realized that it would be great to have that story from the missionary's point of view. I picked up the phone and asked for directory assistance in Payson. Sure enough, there was a George Cheever listed. I rang the number, and an older-voiced lady answered. "Is this the George Cheever that was on a mission in New Mexico in the 1940's?" I asked. It was. I asked to speak to him, and when he came to the phone, I said, "Brother Cheever, you don't know me, but you baptized my mother in Albuquerque in 1948."

There was a long pause, and then he said, "I wasn't in Albuquerque in 1948. I was in Tucumcari in 1940." It took me a moment to realize that this was an elder who had taught my Uncle Curtis.

As Brother Cheever and I talked that day and in succeeding days, I found that he had arrived in Tucumcari just days before Curtis was killed. Time enough, though, for Curtis to take him for a ride on his motorcycle. They hit a hundred miles an hour on the flat, and Brother Cheever swore he'd never get on another one.

The last time I talked to him, I said, "Brother Cheever, just think of all the people you've touched because of your mission. My brother went on a mission to Germany; my daughter went to Bolivia, and my son went to Hong Kong. I've got two children who have yet to serve. People all over the world are being taught the gospel because of the seeds you sowed all those years ago."

There was silence on the line, and when Brother Cheever spoke, his voice trembled. "Thank you for telling me that," he said. "I'm seventy years old. We worked so hard, and no one would listen."

Naturally, the night I first spoke to Brother Cheever, we had a spirit-filled, barn-burner of an FHE. But over the years, as I've thought about this, I realize that there was a lot more to this than a Family Home Evening lesson. I think the Lord sent Brother Cheever a valentine, a 'tender mercy' as Elder Bidenaur says. I feel humbled and blessed to have been a participant in the delivery of that valentine, but it never would have happened without the diligence of a nine-year old boy trying to do what he had been taught.

A Writer's Life For Me

by Valerie J. Steimle

I have never considered myself a very good writer. I never liked reading as a child and slept through English classes in junior high. It was just not my thing. But when I was 12 years old, I attended a church youth group workshop on journal writing. I wrote in my journal all the time. Little did I realize it would be the beginning of my writing career.

After college, I married my sweetheart and we started a family. I continued to write in journals and by then I had finished four of them. I didn’t think much of my writing until I was pregnant with my fifth child. The school district where we were living had decided to implement year-round school and there were a large number of parents that were opposed to it. With pen in hand I started to write petitions and a speech I was to present to the Board of Education. I put a lot of emotion and passion into it and discovered that it was very therapeutic. I knew writing in my journal would help me to feel better at times but this was different. Other people would be reading what I wrote and my feeling for writing changed. With the power of the pen, I had the chance to change people’s minds about what was going on in the school district. I could rally the parents together for our cause and possibly change the school district’s mind about year-round school. That experience gave me a sense of empowerment and I wanted to keep writing.

I started writing more. I wrote what I knew about best, which was the family. I wrote page after page of family stories, antidotes and wisdom I had learned over the years. Now that I had all this writing, what was I to do with it? After Caleb was born I felt a strong prompting to keep writing. We moved across country from California to Alabama and I still felt the need. I then decided to divide up my writing by subject matter and submit the writings as articles in a column for the local paper. The editor liked what I wrote and asked me to add more researched information, and my first column, "Where the Heart Is," was born. I only had 10 pieces published when a new publisher bought out the local paper and my editor quit. Unfortunately, the new editor did not like what I had to say and decided against publishing my column. This was a frustrating setback and I had to start all over again.

Did I give up? No. Did I keep on writing? Yes. I continued writing my column in hopes of finding a market. I got to article number sixty, and after submitting my articles to every market and small paper on the East coast, I decided to ditch the column idea and publish the whole sixty essays in a book myself. If the book was as successful as the feedback from my column, I would be very happy. I knew people liked reading about families and how important they were, and I also felt strongly that I should share what I had to say. I found the best time for me to write was at night when everyone was asleep. I could concentrate on what I needed to say and it was quiet.

Then a friend of mine told me about a writer’s group she belonged to on the internet. It was an all women’s group whose members also belonged to my church. We all had the same ideals and beliefs and we all supported each other with our writings. This is the American Night Writers Association, the writer's group whose founder started this blog. I could submit something for critique and they gave honest, helpful opinions on how I could improve what I wrote. I also did the same for them. The culmination of belonging to this group came when I was able to attend a retreat up in the mountains of Arizona for a weekend. Twenty-five of the one hundred members showed up with laptops and writings to share, and boy, did we share! It was the best time I ever had with a group of women writers. We listened to workshops and critiqued each others' writings without hurting feelings, and I left there with the motivation to finish all of my writing projects. Belonging to a writer’s group is so helpful in keeping to your long term goal of getting published. Being motivated by a real live person as opposed to reading about being successful can give you the big push you really need; especially when you are blocked or discouraged.

I continue to write all the time and it has been seventeen years since I started writing that petition. There are challenges (like raising nine children) that take up my time but I persevere. Persistence is a great tool for writers and the payback is well worth the effort. I now have 2 nonfiction books published with many articles syndicated all over the internet. I write for two ezines regularly and have had numerous press releases published in local newspapers. I wrote 9 children’s picture book stories and I’m pursuing an agent for publication. I love writing and I love the publishing world and I can honestly say that it has all gone back to that journal writing I started so long ago.

Feb 7, 2007

A Discourse on Writing

by Faith St. Clair

Why do Writers write? Some say it’s a way to make yourself immortal. Some write to influence others; to make a difference. Anne Lamont says to write as a gift, others say they write to purify/liberate themselves. Does it give us, as Writers, power over our pain? Perhaps it solidifies the knowledge we gain from our experiences. Still, some Writers claim that writing is what they were born to do – so…they write. Whatever compels a Writer to write, one thing remains consistent, Writers feel the need to write like most folks feel the need to breathe. And despite how good or poor or correct or brilliant ones words are, they are placed on paper in an effort to give oxygen to the sometimes stifling world around us.

I’ve written an Ars Poetica (a poem about the art of writing). Here’s my take…

Act I…

My corset suffocates me
My shallow breaths come faster and
The brown paper lunch bag is missing
From the wing I watch the curtain fly
Up with authority announcing royalty
My entrance – like a General yet
My legs stride with a toddler wobble
“I’ll see thee hanged on Sunday first!”

Shakespeare sits front row center
His legs cross as do his arms
His right ruffled cuff hides his heart
The other hand strokes his matted beard
Starting at his jaw and drawing forward
Till he stretches out one last
Wiry whisker between thumb and forefinger nails
His motion constant, Act I, Act II, Act III…
Stroke, grab, begin again

I smell his poetic wax melting
His dusty leather libraries full of pantaloons and semicolons
His purple velvet breast puffs
Of regality and his robe judges my interpretation

He sees the puddle of sweat in my bodice
Juice squeezed, steaming between my breasts
Laces ready to surrender from strain
Formal skirts weight me with clumsiness
I glide the steps but my pearled slippers cannot navigate
I miss the last step
Petticoats sprawl of the floor
I’m trapped beneath the wet laundry on the stage

Act I climaxes but do I?
My line…nowhere
To be found
Time to exit and I forget where
Did I come from? Why?
Am I here? Where am I? Going?

The audience answers
Guffaws avalanche
The old master scourges me
With a drop of his head

Yet I re-enter projecting
The story leaping to be told
Putting the knave in stocks
Writing his pumpkin trunks to death

I’m scared wordless….for two reasons…..

First, I’m scared to death my work will never measure up to the quality which would bestow upon me the proper title of “writer”.

Secondly, I think of great writers like Poe, Plath, Dickinson, Paine, Blake, Shelley, Wilde, Wollstonecraft, Beckett, Byron, Hemingway (to name a few), and just a hair past all their brilliance lies destruction, adultery, mental illness, depression, homosexuality, alcoholism, broken marriages, suicidal tendencies, etc., etc., etc.

I refrain from writing too vigorously; I don’t want to be that brilliant if it means that it is coupled with madness. I think I’d rather put my pen down.

But somehow, even amidst those trepidations, I continue to write, subjecting myself to the judgment and scourges of the worldly critics while at the same time holding at bay the associated neuroses because, as Aristotle reminds us, “excellence is not an act, but a habit” and…I need to breathe.

Feb 6, 2007

Why Writing?

by Terri Wagner

The former post is a great segue into my post for the day. Why do you write? This question comes up often in my other writers' club. Since that club is made up of people who are writing mostly--frankly--for themselves, the answer is always: something I want to do, something to change the world, to define myself, to follow my passion, etc.

I just want to make money. I'm not out to change the world or answer some great passionate need. I guess it tracks back to when you decided to write. I was in high school and a friend of my boyfriend's wanted to be a journalist. So she asked me (she thought I was good in English) to critique something she had written for a journalism class. I did. And thought, "Hey I can write better than that." That simple, and yes--looking back--terribly arrogant. I didn't pursue this vocation in college; I had another more important interest, teaching history. To me teaching was a noble cause, writing was for fun and for money. Imagine my surprise when lo these many years later, I ended up writing. Since I was only in it for the money, I have no big beef with publishers or agents or readers. I just try to give them what they want so they'll want more.

I took a course at William and Mary from a guy who wrote technical brochures for a living. (Yes, the ones you fuss at when you try to follow the easy-to-assemble instructions on a put-together project). He was hysterical because he maintained that everyone really secretly writes for the money and the ego trip. He threw up the fact that he made a wonderful living doing the gritty stuff.

My question to all of you is this: Does writing for the money, glory, interest make you more publishable because you are willing to write to the market OR is it the passion that really counts in the end? I'm curious as to what you think.

Feb 5, 2007

Cecily Markland's Advice to Writers Young and Old

I had a wonderful experience today as a high school student asked me for help in completing an assignment. He was given the assignment to interview someone who was in a profession he would perhaps like to pursue. He is a budding writer and his mother is my good friend. So, I had the privilege of sharing some of my thoughts about writing with him. It was an excellent reminder for me and thought it may be for others. After all, aren’t we all students, seeking to improve our craft? Since “mh” and I “conversed” via Instant Messaging, I decided to share some of his questions and my responses on this blog.

mh: have you thought that this selection of an occupation has made you a good living?
cecily_markland: Yes and no...
cecily_markland: There really is such a thing as a starving artist...
cecily_markland: Yet, on the other hand, there is good money to be made in writing. You just have to be smart and watch for opportunities.
cecily_markland: And...they ABOUND. EVERY company needs a writer.
cecily_markland: Sorry, I get a little carried away...
mh: haha no its good
mh: which part has been the best for you magazines, newspaper or editor
cecily_markland: I worked for the Gilbert Independent for a while and enjoyed that work a lot.
cecily_markland: I covered the education beat and I usually had to write four or five stories a week.
mh: wow
mh: do you like all the dead lines? always having to be done by a certain time?
cecily_markland: One thing that has been really good for me is to see how writing is both really creative, but it also is like a puzzle of sorts. The trick is to learn the rules and how things fit and work together and then see how you can make it look new and innovative. For example, take straight newspaper writing and the challenge of writing a lead with who, what, when, where and why. Try doing that 300+ times and still making it sound fresh and creative and interesting, over and over.
mh: haha
cecily_markland: Yes...deadlines can be tough...but, they can also be good as they teach you how to be disciplined and how to work through writers' blocks and things like that.
cecily_markland: Today, for example, I had to write a press release that I just couldn't make come together...after a while, I knew I had to quit thinking and researching and start writing. As soon as I started putting "pen to paper" so to speak, things started coming together. It's an interesting process, that sometimes requires a lot of "blood, sweat and tears" ...and some chocolate chip cookies to boot!
mh: hahaha
mh: do you feel like you still have room to grow or have you hit the top already?
cecily_markland: NO...not at all...in fact I was just telling someone today that being a writer is not at all like an accountant or a truck driver...
cecily_markland: Every story, every article is different and new.
cecily_markland: I feel like I'm ALWAYS having to re-prove myself and my abilities.
mh: hmm
cecily_markland: In a way that's really good, because it keeps you sharp and wanting to learn more...in other ways it's a little unnerving.
cecily_markland: At the same time, I DO have somewhat of a reputation, so I'm able to command a little more of what I'm worth.
mh: haha very nice
mh: what made you choose this career path exactly?
cecily_markland: In a way, it sort of chose me.
cecily_markland: I remember in 4th grade going to parent-teacher conference with my mom. The teacher praised my work and my "talent" and I realized then I had a way to get attention, I guess.
cecily_markland: Then, in high school, I had two great English teachers who encouraged kids to think outside the box a little. They encouraged my writing...
cecily_markland: Still, even after studying journalism and writing in college, it wasn't until I really NEEDED a marketable skill that I realized what I truly had to offer.
cecily_markland: It still is pretty cool to have someone call me and tell me thay have a writing project they need help with.
cecily_markland: For the past year, I haven't been on salary with any company. It's all been freelance writing.
cecily_markland: There is a lot of opportunity out there for freelancing.
mh: well hwo do i get started?
cecily_markland: A lot of it is for specific companies...for their newsletters or their marketing pieces, etc.
cecily_markland: What are you most interested in writing?
mh: well, you have heard my poetry, but i would like to try articles also
cecily_markland: Yes, your poetry is really good...and shows your creative side and also your command of the language.
cecily_markland: Unfortunately, poetry can often fall into the "starving artist” category...
mh: yes thats why i would like to try articles
cecily_markland: Still, it's a great way to practice your word-picture abilities...
cecily_markland: ...and, there are ways to sell a poem or two here or there...
mh: i dont think im that good
cecily_markland: I guess the thing that I've learned is that I sell more writing when I'm helping someone else sell their stuff...
cecily_markland: The marketing writing, public relations stuff I've done is by far better pay than creative writing or even journalism.
cecily_markland: Have you had any journalism classes or anything like that?
mh: well sorta but not really... i have written many essays and have done quite well on them..
mh: maybe i should take a class or two
cecily_markland: Just having a desire to write is the best place to start.
cecily_markland: Having some basic skills and a willingness to hone those skills is next. Then, getting some experience. Just like any job, they like to see experience...but, it's not as much a catch-22 as it is in many areas...
cecily_markland: The Internet is an amazing resource right now for finding places where you can have articles published.
cecily_markland: I also am a member of a Yahoo group and they send out freelance job opportunities every day!
mh: oh wow
cecily_markland: Another way to find sites that want content is just to google something you're interested in. For example, if you google "Parenting Articles," all kinds of sites come up, some even with guidelines telling you how to submit your stuff.
mh: hmm
cecily_markland: Another way to "break in" is to submit something to your school paper or to a small paper like the Groves Report, etc.
cecily_markland: It's nice to start amassing "clips" that you can use to show someone what you've done.
mh: wow thank you so much for all this very helpful information!
cecily_markland: The best thing to do...if you want to be a writer...is to write.
cecily_markland: I know that sounds crazy...but it's true.
mh: haha yeah just write till someone likes it
cecily_markland: Ha ha...but, that exactly what you have to do!
cecily_markland: If you were a baseball pitcher, you'd pitch until you could get it over the plate and someone would take your pitch.
mh: very true
cecily_markland: Same with writing...keep writing until you get it over the plate and someone takes it!
mh: haha thanks for the insight
cecily_markland: Writing can be very personal...and sometimes it's hard to share because it is so much a part of you.
cecily_markland: I've learned to let go of that attachment a little and to realize that I will only get better by allowing someone to give me constructive criticism.
mh: yeah criticism is always needed
cecily_markland: The big switch for me came when I realized that rather than just putting words out there, what I REALLY wanted to do was to communicate. So, if someone else could tell me where I was missing the boat (or the plate) with what I was writing...or how I wasn't communicating with them, then I could learn to do that better.
cecily_markland: CONSTRUCTIVE criticism is needed...
cecily_markland: Some people don't know a rhyme from a hole in the ground, but they think they can critique poetry.
cecily_markland: I've gotten a lot from being in a writers' group too.
mh: yeah...well im gonna look for opportunities here and try and write some and maybe just maybe come ask for some criticism on a few from you
cecily_markland: Here's one last the thing: I have really come to understand that writing is not only emotional, but it's also a very spiritual thing. You can't read too far into the scriptures without seeing that writing has ALWAYS been important.
cecily_markland: In fact, I did a little exercise once and read in the Book of Mormon all the passages about writing and really tried to study WHY people were told to keep records.
mh: hmm thats interesting
cecily_markland: Anyway, I feel that people like you who have a talent for writing also have somewhat of a stewardship and responsibility to use that talent to bring light and beauty to the world.
mh: haha thank you
cecily_markland: I don't mean that you have to write on gold plates or only write things you'd read in church...but, it really is an amazing gift and when you treat it as such...
cecily_markland: you'll be magnified...
cecily_markland: I would be more than happy to read anything ... if you can take the red pencil that is! And, if you want to borrow any books, need any direction, etc. I'm happy to share.
mh: haha ok thank you and i cant tell you how much i appreciate this! thanks again
mh: im gonna start writing and will send some your way for the red pencil
cecily_markland: Great. Now, if you could just tell me what I should blog about tonight!
mh: helping a young aspiring writer how to start out!

So, there you have it: That’s what I would suggest to young, aspiring writers as well as to old, reaching writers like me. Write and keep writing until you can get it over the plate consistently. You’ll be magnified. I promise!

Feb 3, 2007

Tag, I'm it

by Anna Arnett

I love tag. I wrote this right after Liz tagged me, but decided it turned out way too long to just post it as a tag. Yes, I know I get wordy and off track. Anyway, I waited to post it as my regular BLOG--see how easy? Five BLOGS done! It hasn't worked. Somehow, I wanted to write other things, and now this is no longer exciting for me. So, guess what? I'm posting my tag along with my regular BLOG. Now, before I forget again how to do it. Does anybody mind if I don't proof-read it again?

What could be more appealing to a female egotist than to be tagged with a penalty to write five things about herself? What a thrill it would be if I were one.

They say everyone is unique, but what would anybody like to know about me?
My triumph as a judge?
How I loyally wrote a letter a day for nine months to a man I liked, even though I never got even one letter in reply?
The time I watched the sunrise from atop Mount Fuji?
The picture I snapped of gypsies pickpocketing in Italy?
The one time I gave away everything I owned that I couldn’t carry with me?
There, I’ve done it. Very technical writing. Woops, the question marks are still there.

When I was about twelve, I joined the first 4-H Club ever organized in the farming community where I grew up. We called ourselves the “Sunnydell Sunbeams” and almost every girl over ten joined. There were seven of us. Mary Buckland became our leader, and as she learned more of the program, she pushed harder, encouraging us to enroll for every project, and enter absolutely every contest we could crowd in. She had us practicing demonstrations to present at the county fair, and drilled us on judging procedures. The aggregate score of the three top contenders in each club constituted that club’s team.

When at Madison County’s 4-H Club fair our team won first place for judging homemaking skills, Mrs. Buckland was thrilled. I barely made the team, because I was not considered a good judge of bread. My mother, naturally the best bread maker ever, pleased my dad with a tad more sugar, and I judged accordingly.

A couple of weeks later, at the Eastern Idaho State Fair in Blackfoot, I was relieved to see they had no bread to judge—just four jars of peaches, and of green beans, four hand-hemmed dishcloths, tablecloths, and four dresses. We had to grade them A, B, C, and D, and for one category give reasons for our choice. Simple.

The demonstration I participated in on making quick-bread biscuits was a real fiasco. We used water because we forgot to bring the milk, and the dough became almost soupy. I was humiliated.

So, when we gathered for the disbursing of awards, I had no real hope. We watched other clubs walk off with honors, but finally things brightened up.

“The winners of the homemaking judging contest are from Madison County.” I was excited. That was my county, but who? The voice droned on. “From the Sunnydell Sunbeams.” Then it dawned on me that we were the only team representing Madison County, so it had to be us. “Betty Buckland, Lorna Hacking and Laurene Liljenquist.”

The announcer paused, and amidst loud applause, we made our way up on the stand. “And the winner of the individual medal for judging, scoring 495 out of a possible 500 points is Laurene Liljenquist.” (Do you recognize my name? Anna is my first name, but I didn’t use it the first thirty-six years of my life.)

I was flabbergasted, yet still curious. I’d only been given 95 points for my reasons. “What better reasons could I have given?” I asked my county agents.

They laughed. “We’ve never heard of them giving that high a score before,” one answered, as proud as if he had won the medal himself.

After graduating high school in 1942, I passed the (very easy) civil service test for clerk stenographers with high scores, and went back east to live with my brother in Cincinnati and, later that year, in Indianapolis.

After Pearl Harbor, eligible men were even more scarce than Hershey bars, so when a couple of Air Cadets from some sixty miles away showed up at Sunday School, I was definitely interested. I could go on for chapters about this, but suffice it to say I spent the afternoon with the two of them. Lt. Chuck Arnett asked if I’d answer if he wrote me, and I agreed. When a letter came Tuesday, I posted an answer that night. The next week they were back for a Saturday dance, and I saw them again after Sunday School. I hadn’t really been serious when I said I’d go to their graduation the end of August, but one of them believed me. So I went. After all, his mother couldn’t come. Besides, what better way to celebrate my nineteenth birthday than to pin on someone’s wings?

We wrote regularly from that first meeting on through B-24 bomber transition training, and he called me just after he got his orders to go overseas in April. I’d transferred to Washington, D.C. by this time. In June, the day I got his second letter from England, there was a letter from his mother as well. I opened it first, and wept quite uncontrollably. Lt. Arnett was ‘missing in action.’

Some time in August his mother wrote that he was a PW in Germany, and gave me an address and instructions. There was no restriction on how many letters could be sent to a prisoner of war, but only one package a month. They, however, could write only three postcards and two letters per month.

So for the next nine months, I wrote (typed or printed) seven letters a week on the prescribed form. At Christmas time I received his first five-line card, hand printed in June, 1943 .

All that letter-writing on my part paid off—even if he only got to read a few of them. On about the first of June, 1945, my liberated friend called me at Utah State Agricultural College, and five days later proposed marriage. Ten days after I had flunked all my finals, we were married in the Arizona temple.

I’m writing too much, so I’ll make this short. Our seventh child was ‘made in Japan’ and when he was about a year old our church group planned to climb Mount Fuji. We stood on a packed train for an hour or so, then rode a bus to the timberline where the trail really started. Twelve stations dotted the trail, and at each one we had our hiking stick branded with some squiggly lines of Kanji that identified the station. The idea was to climb until nearly sundown, and spend the night at the eleventh station, then in the pre-dawn make our way by flashlight to the top, in time for sunrise.

At the tenth station, David turned pasty white and was nauseated. A Japanese man told us David had attitude sickness and couldn’t go any higher without oxygen, which was not available. Charles took three kids on up the trail with him, leaving Karen, our youngest daughter, with David and me. I asked why he didn’t stay with David and let me go on up, but he quietly ignored my plea. Next morning, after sleeping in our clothes on a tatami-matted floor, David felt fine and wanted to climb higher. We’d hardly ascended ten feet before he turned white again. So, we stayed, and waited for the rest to return.

Marolyn, our oldest, had stayed home with the baby, so the next Friday, she and I went with another couple. The first part of the trip was even more enjoyable to me than the first had been. We spent the few hours of that night at Station Eleven, and proceeded by flashlight on up the winding trail. Above and below us tiny lights snaked up, like candles in paper bags marking a sidewalk. We climbed slowly and others often passed us in the dark. Some Japanese men were carrying big packs on their backs. I knew that all the station supplies had to be back-packed in, so thought little about it, until one man passed with a big bass drum. A whole marching band eventually passed us!

We hurried to the top, hoping to beat the sunrise. Quite a large group assembled, mostly facing east, where a slim line on the horizon promised daylight. The band tuned up. Their leader stood in front of the orderly lines. I wondered what music this JAZDAF group would play. When the first rays of light appeared, the conductor lifted his baton. The Japanese band joyfully played . . . John Phillip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever”!

The sky lightened. My family and friends had told of the wonderful sight from the top, and I strained my neck to look. The sun rose, brightly illuminating . . . the top of a solid cloud cover. Well, you can’t win them all.

For many years after we married, I’d mentioned to my husband how much I would like to go to Europe. He always smiled and said, “Stick with me,” and I’d reply, “I’m stuck with you.” It became our standing joke. Finally, in 1994, we went! On May 19, we stood with Charles’ navigator and radio operator, their wives and some of our children at the spot in Holland where Charles had crash-landed the B-24 they called the Boomerang, after having three engines damaged by fighter planes over Germany. The woman who lived in the farmhouse, where the German soldiers had taken the crew and summoned a doctor to treat the gash in the navigator’s head, was still living there! And the doctor who came still lived in the village! We were treated royally. But that’s another story. (I get distracted so easily.)

A week or two later, after our two sons and their wives flew home, Charles and I still roamed Europe. In the huge square in front of the Cathedral at Milan, Italy, beautiful white pigeons outnumbered people by at least ten to one. Somebody shoved a handful of dry corn into my hand, and I was immediately covered with birds. “Take my picture,” I squealed at Charles. He did. Then I took the camera to get some good shots of the Cathedral.

Suddenly, three young girls, looking to be about eight, ten, and twelve years old, swarmed all over Charles. One pushed a magazine almost into his face and they all chattered animatedly, though unintelligible to us. Charles looked surprised, but pleased. I stepped back and raised the camera. When it flashed, the girls turned to me in surprise, if not horror, and ran quickly away. I laughed, until I looked at Charles’ breast.

“Did you unbutton the shirt pocket?” I asked, and his hand went immediately to investigate.

“Those little rascals,” he said, “They picked my pocket!”

“What did they get?”

“A handful of lyre, probably not worth more than thirty-five dollars, which doesn’t matter, but they got our Eurail passes. Without them, we’re in trouble.” I nodded. You could only buy those in the States.

We could still see the girls across the square, circled in conference together, looking our way. The youngest gypsy left the others and ran back to us, handing the passes to Charles, while making motions to indicate she had found them on the ground. Uh huh. While I was thanking her, Charles was pointing his finger. “You naughty girl,” he said. “You picked my pocket.”

She ran back to the others, and they stood, still deliberating. Then one girl brought back the lyre, and they disappeared.

It had to be because my camera caught them in action, and we could take it to the police. Maybe we should have, but we didn’t. I could hardly wait to get the film developed after we got home. It was not there! There was the picture before and the one after. I had not held the button down long enough to get past the red-eye flash and take the picture.

If only the gypsy girls had known. It’s reminds me of one of our favorite quotes from Josh Billings, whoever he is. It goes like this: “It ain’t what a man don’t know that makes him a fool. It’s what he knows that ain’t so.”

In the fall of 1987, we were preparing to leave Arizona for an eighteen month temple mission in Sydney, Australia. We leased our house with an option to buy, and wondered what to do with all our possessions. None of it was priceless, and most of it not even what you would call ‘good’. Then we got an awful idea. To quote Dr. Seuss, “a wonderful, awful idea.” We’d simply give it away. The amazing part is that we did.

“Come choose what you want,” we told the kids.

Marolyn said she didn’t want to come. “It would seem like you were dying, and we were dividing things up,” she said with a moan. But she came, and changed her mind. “This is fun,” she said, this time laughing.

“The things you take are yours,” I told them, “but when we come back, I reserve the right to recall privileges.”

When the kids took everything they wanted (and I admit a few of my several hundreds of books gave me a few parting pangs) we filled a couple of barrels with things that seemed important to keep (though we disposed of them after we got back) and hefted them into Wayne’s attic, along with the file cabinet I still haven’t cleaned out. We packed our allotted bags tightly, and put everything else out for a carport giveaway to friends, then on to Deseret Industries.

The most surprising thing, even to us, was the wonderful feeling of freedom that overwhelmed us. I’ve never felt so unhampered. Never been happier. I have no idea whether it would work for anybody else, or even again for us, but I treasure that experience.

I’ve since collected more, and can’t seem to throw anything away. Even junk mail sometimes makes its way into a pile along with things that need to be filed, and when the pile gets too deep, I toss it in a box, planning to sort it later. I have a whole closet full of yarn and craft kits, and my books are often two-deep on the shelves of huge bookcases that crowd my room. I keep hoping that some day I’ll read them all, or knit, crochet, or craft them.

The day surely must be nearing when my kids will divide again, and history will repeat itself, for we’re told, ‘you can’t take it with you.’ But then, who wants to? Not I. I’m looking forward to that day—a dozen or two years hence—when I’ll not only give away all I own, but leave all aches and pains behind. Now, that will be freedom.

I’ll tag Lorna Hale, Linda Hansen, Delsa Andersen, Janette Rallison, and Camille Arnett.

Marsha's note: Ladies, if you don't have your own blog, please send your blog message, and your list of taggees, to me.

A Cat and I

by Anna Arnett

The other morning, as I lay half awake, debating whether to go back to sleep or get up, I felt a soft pressure as the household cat walked slowly and deliberately across my body. This was the first time she had chosen to give me a wake-up call. She’s not even my cat, really.

Ten or so years ago, after my granddaughter’s beloved pussy died, Amy was offered a stray cat nobody would claim. Her fur was dark multi-colored, I guess the kind you’d call calico, and I thought no creature could be uglier. She was underfed, with missing chunks of hair on her ears, and her dismal fur so scarce and scraggly it seemed almost wiry. Her greatest attraction, for me, was her almost complete lack of voice. She could meow, but so softly I could not hear her from a distance of ten feet. And, I may add, my hearing was much better ten years ago.

But Amy loved her. She fed her, petted her, slept with her, talked and sang to her. She named her Kiki (or Keekee). And Kiki responded to Amy. Before long she was a ‘fat cat’ with sleek, luxurious fur, and a joy to watch. I might even call her beautiful.

However, a year or so ago two cute little puppies usurped Kiki’s place in Amy’s heart. Kiki did not like their yapping, and withdrew into a world of her own, where she was fed, but ignored. She gravitated to my suite, either coming upstairs or sitting on the deck, looking in through the French doors, while waiting patiently for Charles or me to come let her in. I often tried to hold her on my lap, but she could only tolerate that for a few seconds. She did like to explore our rooms and sleep on our couch.

But just the other morning, she really won my affection. In my drowsiness, I felt her soft nose skimming my face, light as a whisper. I lay on my right side, snuggled beneath a down comforter, my right arm bent upward with my sprained wrist resting on a pillow. Kiki nosed my arm, then proceeded to lick softly, delicately. Her tongue felt small and gentle, with a slightly raspy center. She proceeded licking up to the wrist, paying particular attention to the swollen part. I lay still, in awe of her loving care.

Kiki paused now and then, but went straight back to work. She thoroughly licked my palm, and all my fingers. Then, with her paw laid gently, confidently, on my palm, she proceeded to clean her own fur, with occasional licks at me. I marveled at the softness of the paw’s pads, realizing how carefully her claws were sheathed. I reached my left hand to stroke her, and she licked the tips of those fingers.

I was touched. Never have I felt more cared for by an animal—or felt myself more full of love for God and all His creations. For me, it was a therapeutic moment. It may never happen again, but I feel enriched—a better woman because one old housecat chose to lick
my hand.