Jan 31, 2008

Simple Gifts

by Kari Diane Pike

Every time I am given an answer to a prayer, I feel like a child on Christmas morning; full of joy and anticipation. Some of the gifts I open are direct fulfillment of wishes expressed. Yet I frequently find myself opening unexpected, and mysterious, yet marvelous gifts; gifts that I had no idea I needed or even wanted. I remember a particular gift I received as a young bride. A sister in the ward gave me a cookbook…one of those plain and simple, handmade, ward family cookbooks put together by her Relief Society. It wasn’t until years later that I truly came to appreciate the value of that gift. As my family grew, I discovered many helpful hints from experienced moms among its pages. Over the years, those pages have become tattered and stained, and the cover has fallen apart, but I love that book more than ever. The sacrifice of time to put the book together saved me hours of work and distress. When I read the names by the hints and recipes, I remember loving friends and teachers. That simple cookbook became a gift that keeps on giving.

How often do I set aside gifts sent to me by the Father, just because they seem too plain and simple? How many times do I let His gifts lie unrecognized?

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a funk. I felt cranky. My body ached. I couldn’t sleep and I just wanted to crawl under my quilt with a bag of M&M’s. I chose instead to follow through with my resolution to “just be diligent and keep moving forward.” I stepped into the shower, hoping to find relief for both my body and mind. As I let the hot water soothe my aching muscles, I asked Heavenly Father for help. An impression that I had over committed myself immediately came to my mind. I "tried on" different decisions concerning how and where I should spend my time and energy. The moment I came to the right choice, my body relaxed and the heavy burden I felt was lifted. I had no idea why that choice was right and at first I started to panic. Was I being prepared because something horrible was about to happen? Then a sweet reassurance swept over me. I didn’t need to be afraid. Fear doesn’t come from the Lord. Peace does. I was being prepared by the Lord for whatever was to come. Everything was going to be okay. What a gift! I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen.

Throughout the following week I discovered gift after gift as I followed through with my choices. Opportunities to serve and grow abounded; opportunities I would have missed had I ignored the gift in the shower. A dear friend once told me, "Challenges guard blessings," but I like to think of it this way: “Blessings come wrapped in challenges.” And even though we often find it difficult to break those strings and ribbons and tear through the wrapping, it is a joy when we finally recognize the gift.

I am humbled knowing that our Heavenly Father, who rules galaxies unnumbered, not only knows who we are, but loves and cares for us enough to send the gift of his only begotten Son so that some day we can partake of the greatest gift of all…eternal life.

Jan 30, 2008


by Anna Arnett

Early Sunday morning, Jan 20, (about 3 a.m.) my husband's heart started racing, with a pulse rate of 135. I was ready to call 911, but he pooh-poohed the idea since he didn't hurt. He even got ready and went to Sacrament meeting (we meet at 8:30) where I sneaked in a pulse count which was down to only 100. He wanted to go home after the one meeting, and I told him not until he got a priesthood blessing. He agreed. There is no power on earth, in the universe and beyond, greater than the power of the priesthood. When we got home his pulse rate had slowed to the 60's. His blood pressure had remained in the low normal range every time we checked. He still had no pain, but some pressure in his chest area.

Monday he felt great, and also Tuesday. Wednesday we went to the temple to be with a couple of boys from our ward who were getting their own endowments as newly-called missionaries. Charles loved being back, especially visiting, after the session, in the sealing office, since he'd served as a sealer for over a decade. But he was tired. He gladly accepted a wheel-chair ride to the parking lot.

Thursday, he called the VA help line, followed instructions, and I took him to the VA hospital. He's still there. The EKG's indicated he'd had a mild heart attack, and had sustained some heart damage, and they wanted to keep monitoring him, and testing his reactions to various medications. They considered a pace-maker, but didn't decide until yesterday. They'll install one this morning at 10:30 or 11:00. I'll have to scramble to get there.

I've never felt worried about him. Concerned, yes, but not worried. Nevertheless, I've found myself not willing to function efficiently. Between daily drives to the VA hospital (and wondering if I had called 911 whether he might still be at Chandler Regional, cutting at least a half-hour per day off my travel time) I've knit and crocheted, worked Sudoku puzzles, read a simple "Love Inspired" romance, pushed myself to write at least a hundred words a day (but mostly let it go at that), let unwashed dishes pile up, and almost everything pressing just wait. I haven't even turned on the TV nor watched a DVD. I was pleased when the Primary president asked me to trade with her on sharing time (I'm Grandma Friendly). I overslept, or dawdled, and missed church. I'm just not all here. I don't really feel worthless, but I seem to be acting that way. Oh, and I've really binged on chocolate. Actually, it's quite interesting to watch myself. l wonder if my system has a built-in pressure valve. Still, I do think there's hope, even for me.

I don't think I fear death or dying. I actually rejoiced more than sorrowed over the loss of our beloved President Hinckley. But loss is still loss, and sorrow is still real, and so is loneliness. I'm grateful for every day of my life, for the sorrows and trials as well as the highlights and joys, the blessings and experiences. It takes both kinds to make a full life. I wouldn't have willingly missed any part of it.

Jan 29, 2008

Written January 1, but posted really late!

by Betsy Love

Happy New Year
I’m in the middle of Texas…open ranges, sage brush, wild mistletoe and plenty of road- kill. It’s New Year’s Day, and I’d much rather sleep off last night’s celebration in the comfort of my bed. Still, the trade off missing my bed is worth the journey.
We’ve spent the last week visiting with my daughter in a little town south of Houston close to the gulf. One of the significant events of the week was going to the beach. While it’s too cold this time of year to get in the water, the day proved to be the warmest one of the trip. The children dug for clams, which constantly seemed to elude them; they waded as the waves chased their toes, and snapped photos of each other. One such picture was of my daughter who stood gazing out to sea. I framed her so that she stood to one side and the vastness of blue filled most of the screen. With the camera tilted the effect created a sense of wonder at our nothingness next to something so huge it’s hard to imagine. I’ve often stood along the shoreline and thought those same thoughts.

Each time I do I can’t help but think of my Father in Heaven who knows me, in spite of the magnificence of His earth. When we drove through Houston this morning, and then through San Antonio, which are much larger than the cities I’ve ever lived in, I once again thought about the individuals living there and again thought about how much my Heavenly Father loves me. When I looked at the various neighborhoods and houses of all sizes, I couldn’t help but be awed knowing that behind the curtains someone else is loved too.
I hope that this New Year brings each of you closer to our Lord and Savior as you think about your relationship with Him.

(I won't go into my woes about why I didn't post this on Jan. 1. Suffice it to say that my computer crashed and burned. Fortunatly I was able to pull this off the hard drive along with the rest of my precious documents.)

Jan 28, 2008

In Remembrance

by Rene Allen

Elsewhere, he will be called a leader, the president, possibly even chairman of the board. We called him our prophet. Twice a year, we sustained him. We flocked to see him in person. We loved him. Today we will find ourselves pausing now and then, aware that Gordon B. Hinckley died last night.

I am going to miss his cheerful optimism and humor. I am going to miss his solid, unwavering testimony that we as a church are about the Lord’s work and that great things are in store for us. I will miss the inspiration I felt when I saw him move to the pulpit, open his notebook and conduct sessions of general conference. I will miss him.

I can imagine a reception in heaven, “We’ve been waiting for you, Gordon,” and those who might be there.

Our beloved prophet . . . We thank thee O God for a prophet . . . and for the one who will follow.

Jan 27, 2008

I didn't know what to blog about today . . .

. . . but I got this from the Church's news site:

Beloved Church President, Gordon B. Hinckley, dies at 97

SALT LAKE CITY 27 January 2008 President Gordon B. Hinckley, who led The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through twelve years of global expansion, has died at the age of 97. President Hinckley was the 15th president in the 177-year history of the Church and had served as its president since 12 March 1995. The Church president died at his apartment in downtown Salt Lake City at 7:00 p.m. Sunday night from cause's incident to age. Member of his family were at his bedside. A successor is not expected to be formally chosen by the Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles until after President Hinckley's funeral within the next few days.

~Marsha Ward, who knew this day would come soon, but is nevertheless numb at the news

Jan 26, 2008

Why Do We Write?

Why Do We Write?

The text we are using for my creative writing class taught by Betty Webb is Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing, a novelist looks at his craft by David Morrell. Mr. Morrell is the author of Rambo, the book that the movie starring Sylvester Stalone is based on. I ordered my book from Amazon and received it in the mail yesterday. It is very inspiring to read. Over the past several years I’ve purchase several books on writing. So far this is one of the easiest and most engaging books about writing I’ve read.

The first chapter is titled “Why do you want to be a writer?” Mr. Morrell quotes Jerry Lewis: “Because I have to be. Because there’s something in me so nagging and torturing and demanding to get out that I absolutely have to make people laugh.” Mr. Morrell says The right answer for why we write is “Because you have to.”

The first couple of pages explain why we don’t do it for money or fame. We all know after some years at it - this is not the reason we write. A few writers break through and make it to the big money and become icons in the industry – but most writers do not.

Writers write. It is like breathing – it has to be done or we die. I find I write when I’m happy. I write when I’m sad. I write when I’m angry. I write when I want to remember a special occasion. I write when I want to explore my dreams – both good and bad. I write to achieve catharsis. Writing is therapeutic. I can kill or torture any character I please however I like – and it’s legal. I can create a fantasy world that is wonderful and exciting and travel there anytime my mind desires without the worry of cost, passports, or picking up a deadly disease. And so I write.

Ideas swarm around me everyday, begging to be written down and explored. A headline I glance at while in the grocery store will start me on filling in all the blanks. Watching people around me will have me creating stories to explain their behaviors. It seems that a voice is dictating phrases to me almost 24/7.

I remember waiting at a green light and seeing a truck transporting huge glass window panes. Instantly my mind heard a loud crash and saw the driver leap from his seat carrying a gun. Low rider cars converged on the scene and a battle raged in the middle of Baseline and Country Club with automatic rat-a-tat-tats and curses hurling through the air. I was so involved in the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings that the car behind me honked to get me back to the “real” world. As I hastily washed the taste of smoky grit from my mouth, I realized the glass truck was long gone. I went through the light and pulled over. I wrote down my day dream. Until that was completed, I couldn’t continue my work as a home health nurse. Weird? No. That’s what a writer does. They have imaginary experiences that totally surround and engage them, involving each and every sense, sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell + intuition – the writer’s sixth sense. The closest example I can think of is like being in an IMAX theatre that included tactile and olfactory stimuli.

Of course there are plenty of days that I don’t have any remarkable inspiration for writing. On those days, I suggest at the very least we do as President Eyring encouraged us to do – journal our gratitude. If we don’t feel any gratitude that day, write down why. But write, because we must.

Jan 25, 2008


By Rebecca Talley

The Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) at my children’s elementary school is sponsoring a Read-a-Thon. The goal for the school is 120,000 minutes in two weeks. The goal for each of the older kids is 800 minutes. Kids receive medals each day at certain minute intervals of 100, 200, 400, 600 and 800. The medals resemble dog tags and the kids wear them on chains provided by the school.

The kids are excited. My older daughter has already read 800 minutes and we still have another week. My son, who started school this year, reads with me and on his own and has logged over 200 minutes. My other daughter has read almost 500 minutes. My three nieces have read a combined 2500 minutes. All of this reading is fabulous. We have a school filled with kids that are choosing to read. They’re talking about books. They're thinking about books. Most of all, they're reading books.

Today is Character Day. Each child comes dressed as a character in a book they’ve read. It’s wonderful to hear such buzz about books and reading.

Did I mention this is also a fundraiser? Ideally, each child is supposed to secure sponsors and earn money for the school. A lot of money. The more money, the better. Earning money while reading seems like the perfect idea because it’s a win-win situation. Almost.

Winners will receive prizes. The student who earns the most money wins a mountain bike. The next runner-up wins a telescope. The other runners-up win assorted prizes donated by local merchants. Sounds good, right? Kids are reading, winning prizes, and earning money for the school.

Now, here is the discrepancy, at least to me. The students who read more than 1000 minutes receive tickets for a drawing that includes a punch-pass to the local recreation center. Not a bike or a telescope and not even a guarantee to win the prize for the student who reads the most minutes, only tickets for a drawing.

Many of the kids have concluded that money is more important than reading and that money earned is better rewarded than the actual reading. (I would also note that the same kid wins the "most money earned" each year because his parents donate a lot of money).

Is this the message we want to send to our kids, that money is more important than reading?

Some of the kids have also pointed out that they can control how much time they spend reading. They can make the choice to read instead of watch TV or play video games. Isn’t that the kind of choice we’d like to encourage?

These same kids have also mentioned that they cannot control how much someone is willing to donate. The actual fundraising is out of their hands. They can only control how much time they spend reading, they can’t force people to pay money for it.

While the idea of a Read-a-Thon is great, I believe the execution is somewhat flawed. Last year a child read well over 2000 minutes. She was awarded a pass to the recreation center (worth about$30). The boy who raised the most money (his actual reading minutes were never disclosed) won an expensive mountain bike. Wrong message.

We should be encouraging our children to read for the simple joy of reading. I understand the PTO needs to raise funds. What the PTO doesn’t understand is that if the emphasis was placed on the actual reading, and raising funds was secondary, a lot more money would be raised because parents like me would be more supportive.

The ability to read is a gift we give our children. It should never be underestimated, nor undermined by anything else, not even a school fundraiser.

Jan 22, 2008

Be Brutal

by Terri Wagner

I thought I would carry over the theme of critiquing since I have found it to be a hot topic among writer support groups. I also do it for a living. As I commented on Joyce DiPastena's entry, I prefer brutal. I suspect it's because I've had it happen so many times over the years that I have developed an extremely thick skin. And I always retain my "right" not to use the "suggestions."

Even in my current non-work project, I have a partner who is quite brutal. We have rewritten our first scene four times already, and she continues to tell me what I'm doing wrong. Once, she rejected 5 rewrites brutally I might add and then regarded the sixth try as perfect. And in looking back at the piece, she's right. The 6th try was perfect.

The way our publication is set up like most of them anyone can come along and add something or delete something from your piece, even if you are bylined. In the beginning, I was hostile, hurt, offended and often contemplated revenge (but I'm happy to say never did indulge). But over the years, a strange thing happened, I became a much better writer. I stopped seeing the pieces as "my" words and starting seeing them as "communication" words. It made a huge difference.

If I don't communicate (whatever I'm writing), I've failed. No matter how great I think my words are.

I feel compelled to add a caveat to this: When it comes to grammar rules, no one seems to agree. Use your own discretion.

Jan 21, 2008

Recent Reflections on Critiquing

by Joyce DiPastena

Some time ago, I wrote a blog on this site devoted to “walking in your characters’ shoes”. For example, when writing about a medieval woman, it’s not enough to get all the facts straight about the setting, customs, politics, etc. You also need to try to think like a medieval woman would think, so that her character rings true to the age, rather than coming across like some modern-day maiden plopped down in the 12th Century. (Unless, of course, you’re writing a time travel, but let’s stick with the medieval maiden analogy for now.)

Recently, I had an experience that gave me a similar insight into critiquing. After a critique partner of mine poured out a discouraging tale of another partner who had shredded her manuscript with negative comments that sent her into near panic, she asked for my opinion, since I was critiquing the same manuscript. I hadn’t had any of the reactions her other partner had, and as I tried to analyze the difference between our two opinions, this is one of the conclusions I came to:

While it is always important to critique for such things as grammar, good writing technique, pacing, point of view, and all the other factors that go into making any manuscript a good, solid piece of writing, it is also important—even critical, in my opinion—to keep in mind the author’s intended audience when we critique a piece. For example, if someone has written a mystery, but our general reading preference is for romance, I believe that we owe it to the author to do our best to critique it as a mystery, and not suggest that that we find it “boring”, because it doesn’t have enough romance in it. Likewise, we shouldn’t criticize a romance for being “too slow”, because we happen to personally prefer action adventures, when romances are not always intended to be highly action-oriented. (Of course, there are exceptions, but again, this is where trying to understand what the author’s intent for her manuscript is, is important.)

I’m certainly not accusing anyone on this site, or in ANWA in general, of making this particular critiquing mistake. All the critiques I’ve seen from our sisters, while honest, have also been insightful, kind, and supportive. But obviously, there are some critiquers out there who are not as sensitive (or my recent critique partner wouldn’t have been so crushed).

I once had a critique partner—not in ANWA—comment on a line where one of my heroines was waxing particularly romantic, “This line makes me gag.” This woman had a rather biting sense of humor, and being a fan of “hot romances” herself, was not particularly attuned to the kind of “sweet romances” I was trying to write at the time. I found her comment so hurtful and offensive, that I deleted the rest of her critique without reading it. (Although I never told her, and finished critiquing her manuscript in return…hopefully, a bit more gently.) My complaint isn’t that she didn’t like the line. Fair enough. But can’t we be more sensitive to one another than to type, “This makes me gag” over another writer’s words? (Unless, of course, they’re deliberately trying to make us gag, which in this case, I wasn’t.)

While this may seem a bit of a personal tangent, it actually returns me to my original theme. If someone’s trying to write a “sweet romance”, and we know that’s what they’re writing, we should try to put ourselves in their reader’s shoes and critique it, not as an reader who personally prefers more jaded heroines, but as we think a reader of “sweet romances” would judge it. Or a reader of mysteries, for a mystery piece; or adventure novels, for adventure novels; or time travel, for time travel; or (fill in your own genre here).

Of course, if an author wishes to be judged/critiqued according to her genre, then she has the responsibility to tell us what her intended genre is before she asks us to critique it. If we aren’t familiar enough with a genre to critique it as such, we can then tell the author ahead of time, so that she’ll have a context for our comments, just the same as if we are strong critiquers of grammar, but a little weak on point of view, or vice versa.

I think most members of ANWA instinctively understand this, so again, I’m not pointing fingers at any of us. (Although if I were, there’d be three fingers pointing back at me in the “we all slip up and need reminders occasionally” category.) But given this recent experience, it may be something to keep in mind when we find ourselves placed in a position to help new, less experienced critiquers learn how to critique in an honest, but still uplifting, positive manner.

Just as we need to walk in our characters’ shoes when we write, we should at least try to walk in the intended reader’s shoes when we critique. (Assuming, of course, that the reader likes to read with her shoes on.)

Jan 20, 2008

Back from Bolivia

by Liz Adair

My daughter Terry is just back from Bolivia. She went on a ten day assessing mission to see what needs are in the Santa Cruz-Montero area that her humanitarian charity SWAN (Serving Women Across Nations) can help out with. Terry served a mission there twenty years ago, and it’s interesting to me, as I see her returning, to remember how ill she was when she came home from her mission. We worried, because our local doctor had run all sorts of tests and concluded that there were no parasites that she had picked up, so we called church mission headquarters. They had us send her down to Salt Lake to a doctor who specialized in jungle diseases.

This good man spent a lot of time with Terry, and one of the conclusions he reached was that she was grieving. It physically hurt her to leave people she loved in such a tenuous existence and come back to the plenty of our very middle class existence here in the U.S.

It’s been interesting, as well, to watch this humanitarian effort evolve. It began as an extension of our family’s book, Lucy Shook’s Letters from Afghanistan. The intent was to use proceeds from the book to finance outreach, but most of the money actually comes from the family flipping burgers from a concession stand and from donations. Terry teamed up with OFDC (another shoestring humanitarian outreach where there are no salaries paid) to do micro credits in Kenya and Nepal. She has learned a lot about the ins and outs of this type of operation during these last few years.

Then, last fall, a friend of Terry’s from Bolivia contacted her. She has immigrated to the U. S. and works so she can send back money to Montero. Terry flew to Salt Lake see her, and when the friend heard about SWAN, she just knew that this was a program that needed to be set up for Bolivia.

Since then, there has been one minor miracle after another. Terry, never a shrinking violet, asked the church welfare department if there was a possibility they could teach classes to help the women understand how to utilize the microcredits. As it turns out, the church has a twelve-class program that they developed years ago that they have available for just this situation, and the first class will be taught to thirty women in Montero next month.

She was also able to interface with another organization that had already plowed the legal ground operate in the country. They gave her access to their lawyer, and thus SWAN was able to get over that hurdle without consuming money that otherwise could be used for microcredits.

As Terry visited with old friends, she could see that this is very timely. There is no bishop’s storehouse, no welfare services at all for the saints in Bolivia. Inflation is rampant. Rice has tripled in cost in the last six months. People who used to be financially comfortable now sometimes have trouble feeding their children. A $300 micro credit to buy a sewing machine, an oven for baking bread, or the means for some other cottage industry will help during this lean time.

So, as the family flips burgers at each Sedro Woolley celebration, we'll be thinking of those good people in Bolivia. What we make each holiday will fund several microcredits. Viva la hamburgesa!

Jan 19, 2008

Am I Really Improving As A Writer?

By Christine Thackeray

Years ago I went on a mission to London, England for my church. One P-day my companion and I decided to visit Kew Gardens which toted the largest collection of Roses in England. I will always remember the huge green house that looked like a crystal palace and the gorgeous garden paths that rambled on and on. At the far end of the park was a little old building called the Mary North Cottage. Curiousity pulled us inside. Mary North had been given the assignment to be the official painter for Australia when it was first colonized by the British. It was her job to paint pictures for the queen that would be sent back to England so that her highness could enjoy all the wonders of that strange place.

Walking around the entry hall, I looked at the splotchy, poorly executed works displayed there and hardly wanted to move on. Mary must have gotten the job through nepotism because it certainly wasn't through talent. In the second room there was definite improvement. A large picture of a Koala was almost not lop-sided. She was putting in more detail and her use of color and shadow were consistently getting better. When I entered the last room, it took my breath away. There was this gorgeous huge canvas with a bright parrot beside a waterfall. It was as large as me and painted with perfect detail. If I hadn't seen her progression myself, I never would have believed it was the same artist whose pathetic etches were in the front hall.

I remember thinking at the time that it was because of all her practice but the next day I went to church and watched the organist at the small English ward where we were assigned. She had been playing the organ for thirty some odd years and never made it through a single hymn without some loud and obvious error. After speaking to her, I was surprised that she was pleased with her performance, thinking no one really noticed her mistakes. But after listening to numerous conversations in the hall, I knew everybody did notice and it bothered many people.

Sometimes as writers it is easy to be like this little English organist, so focused on the feeling and spirit of our writing that we grow technically lazy. We may justify it by thinking that as soon as we become published, the editor will take care of all that. I believe that is a huge mistake for two reasons. First, with how competitive the market is, unless you create clean copy chances are you won't be published. Second, if we aren't improving, we are growing worse. I just read a blog and I can't remember who said it (if it was you, tell me) that talked about one writer who tried to use her favorite authors to guide her. She talked about trying to create a certain emotion and remembering reading a similar scene in another book which she reread, trying to dissect why she liked it so much. It reminded me of the art students in the Louvre who are expected to recreate great masterpieces so that they may someday create their own.

As a child, one of my mother's favorite mantras was "practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect." I believe it. So for the LDStorymakers Writing Conference I signed up for writing camp. I also have a cheat sheet of my most common technical mistakes (like footnote formatting) beside my computer. I'm impressed that ANWA this month is also encouraging editing. I like to edit with a thesaurus so that I expand my vocabulary because I struggle with orignal word choice (as you may have noticed.) I hope that as I try to improve as a writer I'll be more like Mary North whose continued effort brought her to a whole new level of expertise and that someday when I look back, I can see serious improvement.

Jan 18, 2008

Juggling Act

By Kristine John

It is a fact that I must juggle.
I juggle my time, my energy, my patience, and my sanity.
I juggle hugs and kisses, talks and screams, homework and Dr. appointments.
I juggle all of this, and so much more.

At times, I feel that I'm reaching a new level in the juggling act.
It's been approaching that point for some time now...but unfortunately, it just feels like I'm being thrust onto a larger stage before I've perfected my technique.
Unfortunately, it's not balls or other inanimate objects I am dealing with.
I think it would be much easier if that is what I was given to juggle with.

Instead, it's the lives and schedules, the health and well-being, the appointments and meetings that 9 of us must deal with.
Some weeks are a little more sane than others.
Other weeks we approach with every night full, some nights looming over us with more than one obligation in line.
My husband and I discuss who will cover which area, or in essence, who will catch what ball before it hits the ground and either rolls away or sits unnoticed for a time.

I was often told that I needed to enjoy the time when my family was young.
As a mother with 5 small children ages 7 and under, I found this advice hard to believe, and even harder to implement.
My most recurrent thought was that if only I could be given 10 minutes alone...I'd regain just a little sanity and be able to be not only more effective as a person...but also as a wife and mother.
There were quite a few balls to juggle, but I didn't have to reach too far to catch them, and it was rare that I actually felt that I had dropped the ball in fulfilling the obligations that my family set upon me.

Now that I've got 7 children, the oldest has turned 12, entered the Young Mens program, and officially started taking part in the after-school clubs that are offered to middle-schoolers.
I'm starting to see my arms aren't going to be able to reach as far or as effectively as they once did.
I've started relying on my son to juggle his own schedule and feel the consequences of dropping the ball on his own.
I simply cannot be there for him all of the time and cushion the blows that come when we make mistakes in communicating.
It hurts to see him struggle somewhat, but he knows that I love him...and that I don't want it to hurt him to learn responsibility.
It is however, a process that he must go through.

In the midst of this juggling act, I see, that the next few years will include many lessons on numerous different levels that in which I will need to focus on teaching 14 hands (which are smaller than my own) to juggle their own responsibilities.
Thank goodness I have an experienced partner who can help, not only with catching the balls that are thrown, but also with the instructing that must occur within the lives of our future jugglers.
Thank goodness for him, and for the Master, who holds the complete plan in His hands and helps us understand the importance of each ball we throw.

This juggling act, after all, with divine help, is one each of us can learn to perfect.

Jan 17, 2008

When Life Gives You Lemons

posted by Kari Diane Pike...written for the most part by Kenny Pike

As I searched for the words I wanted to share with you today, I recalled something our oldest son posted on his blog in December. Kenny has a unique perspective that never fails to set my mind in motion. Sometimes I agree with him, sometimes I don’t, but I always learn from this grown child of ours. Actually, I feel rather pleased that I depend on the dictionary a lot less than I used to when trying to understand his thinking! Kenny is a second-year law student at BYU and the father of three remarkable children. (The four-year-old and the 2 1/2 year old both read quite well. I'm betting the six-month old might know his ABC's but he's not talking!) His wife, Aprilynne, recently earned a four book contract with Harper Collins for her young adult fantasy Autumn Wings. (First book comes out in 2009.)

Now that the guests have gone home, the decorations packed, and reality, with all it's perceived setbacks has set in, I revisited Kenny’s blog. Since he says it better than I ever could, I got permission to quote him.

“Most people know that I am not exactly ‘Mister Sunshine.’ I'm very good at finding flaws, and feel-good stories of hollow optimism prevailing over a dark and dreary world to my ears sound a lot like fingernails down a chalkboard. I am particularly irritated when my cogent criticisms are met with replies quoting Gordon B. Hinckley (the President of the LDS church):

"Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve."

I see the point of the quote, by the way, and it's a good one--mere negativity will never move you in a positive direction. But it turns out that pure optimism is likewise a fool's errand. If you lack the capacity to perceive flaws (or indulge in the fantasy that they are not there), you will inevitably misstep. The capacity to see and acknowledge pitfalls is the capacity to avoid them. I guess there is a sense in which skeptics do not create, but improve; doubters do not achieve, but make lasting achievement possible. The caveat, of course, is that one must keep moving forward. If you are afraid of the pitfalls, your ability to see them might paralyze you into inaction, at which point you are no further along than the optimist who blithely stumbled into the nearest pit.

Yesterday, my wife and I were talking about her recent success. She noted that the book would never have been written if I hadn't committed to giving her four (4) hours a day over the summer to work on her writing. Now, seeing as how she's finished two or three other books just fine without the convenience of my daycare services, I don't know how true this is--but then, this is the book that sold. But that naturally sets the stage for the story of how an ostensibly busy law student was able to give his wife four hours a day.

You may recall that, after my first semester of law school, my grades were much lower than I'd hoped. This had an immediate and very disappointing effect: I was unable to secure a high-paying internship. Then, I decided that I could handle working gratis if it was at a decent place, but still my resumé was lacking. I did eventually get two great research assistantships, including one doing philosophical research. But there was still some sense that I was not making the most of my 1L summer.

My wife and I decided to split our days. Four hours each morning, she would hide in the office and write. Then we would switch and I would work on my legal research or my Law Review casenote. By the time our third child was born in July, my wife had finished the first major draft of her book.

So last night, when Aprilynne pointed out that the book would never have been written if I hadn't given her the time to write it, she also pointed out that, had I gotten a really great internship or even an externship, she may not have finished the book. Sometimes blessings come in (terrible!) disguises, and apparently, this was one such case. It took almost a full year to play out, but there you have it: the setback we saw when my first semester grades hit was in truth an opportunity. My second semester grades were much better, too, so the setback was additionally temporary.

Almost enough to make an optimist out of a person, eh? d^_~b

Actually, the whole point is that we made the most of what we had, even though (frankly) what we had was largely a disappointment. Disappointment made me revise my approach and improve my grades. Doubt about the future led us to evaluate our disturbingly limited options closely in order to extract the most from our meager resources. The simple reality is that I was not especially optimistic last summer, but frustrations and setbacks do not stop time. We avoided those pitfalls we could, and in the end, the whole "when-life-gives-you-lemons-make-lemonade" panned out.

But here's the trick. If you're going to make lemonade, you must first acknowledge that what you have in front of you is indeed a great big pile of lemons. d^_^b And then, you have to actually put some work into the juicing.”

I think I’ll go make myself some lemonade. There’s a pile of lemons on my desk and I’m know there’s a book in there somewhere!

Jan 16, 2008

Charity, the Pure Love of Christ

Charity, aka Pure Love

by Anna Arnett

Sunday we had about as outstanding a Sacrament Meeting as I have ever attended. Perhaps it was the meeting, maybe it was my own attitude, but I think the whole congregation was more than usually impressed. The youth speakers did very well, and the soloist touched our hearts, not only with her beautiful voice and range, but her andante tempo and thought projection. That, in itself, would have been worthwhile.

Then a young bride talked of love—charity, the pure love of Christ. She told it so beautifully, I asked for—and got—her computer-copy. She told of Moses having his arms held up by Joshua and Hur. May I quote her on her next one?

“Our second love story takes place on a quiet winter evening on Temple Square. The ground was covered with snow and the air was frozen so we hadn’t had very many visitors that day. As the day drew to a close, my companion and I were assigned to the ramp and rotunda area and I was enjoying the peace of the room where the Christus statue is located. About half hour before the visitors center was supposed to close, four teenagers slowly made their way up the ramp. . . . The came forward reverently and seated themselves on the viewing benches in front of the statue. After being seated for a moment, one of the girls stood up and approached the Christus. As she reached the base of it, she knelt down and gazed up at Christ as his arms extended down to her.

“My breath caught as I watched her, for I had seen thousands of people approach the Christus statue during my time on Temple Square. Some had come with quiet reverence, some had some with excited expectation, and some had come with unconcerned disregard, but no one had ever come as this girl did. Never had I seen anyone approach the Christus with so much love and humility.

“I went and knelt down beside her because I had to know – what made her kneel down? What made her perform such a beautiful act of love and reverence? What made her understand how to approach the representation of the god that she so obviously loved? One by one, her friends came to join us, and we talked of Christ—the God of the outstretched arms. We discussed how ‘he has commanded none that they should go away, but has commanded all that they might come and feel for themselves.’ . . . . . She and her friends shared their testimonies with me and each other . . . .And in those quiet, twenty minutes of time, five lives were changed because a teenage girl led her friends in love to kneel at the Savior’s feet and learn of him.”

The next day these girls returned to the front desk and left her a gift. Each had written her feelings, and brought her a copy, which she shared with us.

I’ve quoted only from one page of her four and a half page ms.

The next speaker impressed us equally well, especially with his suggestion that we might benefit as he did from a special challenge. If we remember that every living human being is a spiritual son or daughter of God, and that we are commanded to love them as we love ourselves, it ought to be easy to greet everybody we pass with maybe an audible “hello” or a smile and look into each face with the conscious thought, I love you. He told of some real transformations, but the biggest change comes within each of our hearts as we remember this love.

I tried it on my way to Primary. It didn’t seem to make a bit of difference. I already knew and loved the people I met in the hall. On the way back when the next ward filled the halls it was a different story. I smiled at everybody I met, and mentally loved them. Not one of them even looked at me, but passed bt as if I hadn’t been pouring out my heart to them. I saw no flicker of change, or even interest.

But, oh, the change in me! I walked on out to the car feeling wonderful. And the feeling is still there.

I love you.

Jan 14, 2008

I Want It All

by Rene Allen

A few years ago, I took a short story class at Pima Community College and then I took it again. Since I was working on a memoir, the fit was skewed in favor of fiction writing, but knowing how to tell a good story doesn’t hurt a memoir writer. The memoir stalled out, however, as I took on the challenge of the short story.

Now, understand, I was a fiction newbie. My first story had an appalling problem with point of view. It bounced around like a Globetrotter basketball and I even gave the dead a voice. (A “dead” point of view is always a problem. But Alice Sebold wrote an entire book in the voice of a dead person, The Lovely Bones, and made it look easy.) In fact, at that time, point of view was a new idea to me, one I can guarantee got not one nod during four years of medical school and a bunch of post-graduate work, though I did learn that generally, the dead don’t talk.

There were a few other deficiencies. Start with structure. The instructor said structure and I thought skeleton – Ezekiel’s head bone and back bone and thigh bone. I thought molecular compounds and ionic bonds – NaCl, MgSO4. . . “No, no, no,” said the teacher, quickly echoed by half the class. “Beginning, middle and end, the dénouement, the climax and sweetly short resolution.”

And then there were the rules. “You have to grab the reader with your first paragraph. Make it vivid. Make it mysterious. Jump in and pull the reader with you.” Here’s another I particularly liked, “The ending has to be strong enough to stop the story.” That one came from fellow student. Also important was to create a character about whom the reader would care so much he or she would finish the story. I had a problem with this one since I had a problem finding sympathetic characters in contemporary short stories from which to learn.

My idea of a good short story was “The Devil and Daniel Webster” by Stephen Vincent Benet. Poor old Jabez Stone! Who wouldn’t want a better life?

All of this brings me to an observation. It’s been almost a decade since I took the short story class twice and though I received A’s, I found the classes frustrating because there was more emphasis on technique than content. The heart of a story is what it’s about. The heart of any writing is what the writing is about.

Here I raise that old hoary question, the one about writers’ license to write about anything. Does everything have to be uplifting? Must it always be about characters who have character?

I have found that for myself, I prefer stories with moral endings and strong, Atticus Finch-like characters. I like to feel informed when I read and that I can trust the writer to be factual and accurate.

As I read contemporary literature including short stories, I yearn for that memorable, eccentric, unique character who stands out because he is so well written, and of equally fascinating human nature. A goal I have is to be a good writer – to turn a phrase and leave an indelible image, to say what I want to say tersely but eloquently. But I also want content, I want what I write to say something and influence others. There is power in the written word. Think of your own experiences as a child, your escape and adventure in reading.

I can tell when I am writing for technique more than content because my writing becomes superficial. I am unhappy with it. Whenever that happens, I remind myself to get involved. “This isn’t about you, kid,” I tell myself. “Get involved. What is the human part of this story?”

It’s been a few years since my last writing class. Frankly, I don’t know if my writing has improved, but I appreciated learning the terminology of writing and what constitutes good writing. But given my druthers, I’d pick the story with meat in it any day.

Jan 13, 2008

Publicity Photos

by Marsha Ward

On March 15th, I'm participating in the High Desert Book Fair in southern Arizona, Sierra Vista, to be exact. Earlier this week, as I was filling out my application for a book table for the signing, I noticed that I was supposed to provide an author photo and an image of one book cover.

No problem with the book cover image. I have that. The problem is with the author photo. I have some old ones, of the print-type. Very old ones. Very, very old ones. I don't think they are representative of my present visage.

I have some reasonably recent digital photos, but I've undergone a haircut since they were taken. What to do? I needed to take some self-portraits.

Well, I love my little house, but it's cramped for space with me and all my books and papers and, well, stuff. There is not a good background surface in all the house.

I got to thinking. Sunday was coming. The church building has some wonderful background surfaces. Aha!

I made sure my camera was in my purse this morning. After all the meetings, I found a quiet spot in a back hall near the restrooms and started to take pictures. A woman came along and volunteered to do it for me, so I let her snap a shot. When she left, I continued. It takes a lot of shots to make me look great!

A bunch of young men came into view in the aftermath of their classroom tidying tasks. The rolling garbage can is always good for a ride or two for the smallest of them. While they played around, I kept snapping pictures. I'm sure they thought I was nuts.

I was anxious to let them know that I wasn't, so I told them I needed a publicity photo. Several of them know I'm an author, so that worked out well.

Now I have a pose that I like, and I'll send it off to the publicity chairwoman tomorrow, along with the book cover image.

Thank goodness for digital cameras and flat backgrounds!

Jan 12, 2008

Turning a New Leaf

by Margaret Larsen Turley

I've been an ANWA member for several years, with a couple years of hiatus due to health issues. Thank heavens those seem to be mostly resolved and I am finally back to work for over a year and a half now.

I'm lucky enough to have a job where I work from home. I am a registered nurse and work for a company that provides telenursing to several clients (insurance companies and employers) as one of their benefits. I love talking to people all over the United States about their healthcare questions starting from birth/conception planning - on to death. As many of you already know, the books I've written and published are about my nursing experiences out in the field as a home health nurse and in the various hospital settings I've worked in. With my current job I get to roll out of bed, so to speak, as is, and flick on the computer, don a headset, and sit in the comfort of my own home office. I love it.

In the past few months I've been well and my energy levels have increased. That's essential for being able to write. I would try and try to write when I was in constant pain, but the inspiration wouldn't get through the fog in my brain caused by the pain, the drugs I used to control the pain, and the fatigue the pain caused. Now that the pain is much more under control, it is like I have a new lease on life. Once again I have dreams I can remember to jot down for future reference. I've written several poems. I've revised a manuscript and submitted it for publishing. I've signed up for the writer's conference at Arizona State University to be held in February, have prepared a manuscript for the agent pitch I signed up for, and look forward to listening to Orson Scott Card - one of my favorite authors. Of course I look forward to the March 1st ANWA conference, and hope to see you all there. I will definitely be attending Kerry Blair's class. She is my best friend ever and the one who invited me to ANWA.

One of my goals for 2008 is to actually have one of my manuscripts accepted for publication by a national publishing house. I would also like to find an agent that is willing and able to handle all the genres I write in. I can't be happy just sticking to one - never have read only one - so I read and write in many.

So at the beginning of this year I'm taking a step in a new direction - Blogging. Hopefully it will help me become a better writer, one who is consistent in making time to write on a regular basis. One thing I've had challenges with in the past is being scattered. I seem to always have several "irons in the fire," so to speak. But I keep telling myself that is okay - because while writing on one item I'll get inspiration for the other and visa versa. Sometimes totally new ideas come for something entirely different. I wish there were some kind of device that could record all those creative thoughts that flash in and out of my brain so fast. Having notebooks everywhere doesn't seem to be enough.

Margaret Larsen Turley / writing as Rachel Andersen
A Nurse's World, by Rachel Andersen
Volumes I & II, captivating short stories based on true life home health nursing experiences
Volume III: Things I Didn't Learn in Nursing School
To order go to iUniverse.com

Jan 11, 2008

Writing Oil

By Rebecca Talley

As a youth I remember being baffled by the story of the Ten Virgins. I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t just share their oil. I thought they were being a bit selfish and trying to prove a point about being prepared at the expense of the others.

As I grew in age and in the gospel, I realized the significance of that story. The oil was symbolic for preparation. The five virgins who had the “oil” had actually spent time preparing and were ready for the bridegroom, while the other five simply weren’t prepared. Individual preparation cannot be bestowed on someone else. The knowledge and experience that I gain in this life cannot be handed to someone else nor can I expect to ride the coattails of others who have put forth more effort than I have.

So it is with writing. Many beginning writers want to see publication immediately without putting forth the time and effort it takes to write well enough for publication. I was guilty of this myself. I figured that all I needed was a desire to write and publishers would flock to me. Wrong!

I soon realized that doing well in English class in high school did not qualify me as a writer. I had to not only learn how to write effectively, but I also had to gain knowledge about the publication process. No one could bonk me on the head with a “knowledge stick” and suddenly give me all that information. I had to learn it on my own by trial and error, by my own experience. No amount of desire on my part could substitute for the good old fashioned “school of hard knocks.”

I wrote stories and submitted them. I collected rejection slip after rejection slip. I started taking correspondence courses and even enrolled in a creative writing class at a local college. I read books on writing and underlined the passages that stood out to me. I then practiced what I’d studied. Once the internet took off, I found online communities and email lists that all helped me to gain knowledge. I joined a critique group and I continued to write as much as I could. Every rejection slip has made me re-evaluate the piece and see what I could improve. It’s also made me study the market more effectively and try to understand how to match my writing more specifically with the market.

The parable of the Ten Virgins now makes even more sense to me. Just as they could not share their “oil,” more experienced writers could not “give” me what they had learned themselves about writing. I needed to do that on my own. I still have more to learn, probably more than I’ll ever be able to, but the time I’ve spent collecting my writing oil has helped me to be more successful with my submissions and, hopefully, will continue to help me as I navigate these wild and crazy publishing waters.

Jan 10, 2008

Pinching Your Pennies

by Heather Horrocks

Has everyone recovered from Christmas and New Year’s celebrations yet? Whew. And only about 350 more days until the next Christmas. (Don’t strike me!)

Actually, I want to share a great website I used during December and now for after Christmas sales and I’ve picked up a bunch of stuff for the 2008 holidays for 75% off. It’s calling (appropriately enough) PinchingYourPennies.com. There are a couple of others (MyBargainBuddy.com is one of them, if I’m remembering correctly) but this is the one I’ve used the most.

If you click on their website and then go down to the bottom/middle of the web page and click on Online Deals, a whole world of savings is opened up to you. And I like that. I have nine children, four, children-in-law, nine grandchildren, seven siblings, and many, many friends to shop for, and I do love a good bargain.

So, even though I’m always tired of shopping by January, this year I was determined to buy ahead at great prices, and I’ve got my 2008 shopping well under way. But I’ve spent my January money, so I’m sitting back for now and waiting for February.

I’m working, this year, at taking the stress out of my life. In fact, I’m making choices of what I’ll do and not do, or when I’ll do it, based on this. For example, if I get my writing done during the normal work/school hours (9 to 3/5), I have little stress; if I don’t get it done and then have to try to get back to it with my family home, it becomes stressful. If I watch the sales all year, once or twice a week, then I can buy many gifts ahead of time and for a great price; if I wait for December, it becomes incredibly stressful. If I sit down and push-push-push and actually get my scenes done for the day, I’m happy; if I piddle around on email or the internet or on games and my writing doesn’t get done, I’m stressed.

And then I have to ask myself questions like, “Why would you create a scenario that makes you crazy?” I haven’t come up with a good answer yet. Sometimes I think writing fast scares me because surely what I’m writing so fast can’t possibly be good ... yet my critique partner (whose judgment I trust) says it is good (well, 14 out of 15 or so scenes, anyway : ). So I have to continuously push down that little whiny voice saying, ‘It can’t be good if it’s fast’ and just push-push-push. Because the writing is a biggie for me – if I get it done regularly, I’m happy. If I don’t, I start getting cranky and unhappy.

And this year my goal is to be happy and productive. I’m going to write fast – no matter how much I fear it will not be good if I do. Worst case? I’ll end up with four completed no-good books. : ) Best case? I’ll end up with four completed books this year ... and they might actually be good enough to sell.

Hope you create a happy world for yourself this year.

Jan 9, 2008

I'm Ready! ... i think

by Faith St. Clair

I paused last night when I read aloud the date – 2008! Wow! 2008 seems so futuristic, yet here we are, right smack on the path of it! As I look back on 2007 I realize how much I accomplished in one short year. Yes, there were many things I lacked and failed at, but I’d rather focus on what went right. I realize how many wonderful joys, opportunities, friendships, knowledge and trials that await us on a daily basis and I can’t wait to get started on another year of ALL of it – whether that be one of confusion (had plenty of that last year) or one of moving forward (I’ve been revving my engines for a year now) or one of accomplishment (I’m ready to stamp things “done”). I’m hoping for joys that mitigate my sorrows and sorrows that polarize my joys. I’m hoping for new discoveries, renewed friendships, breakthrough relationships, expanded visions and a growing testimony. I’m ready for trials and hope I have the faith and inspiration to grow and learn from them – although I’ve heard it said to be careful what you wish for. All in all, however, I’m ready for 2008! (I think)

We lost some friends this week in a horrible bus accident. My daughter’s basketball teammate was killed along with her Aunt and Grandmother. Another teammate’s brother didn’t survive the crash and her Mother has a broken back and two broken legs. Another friend, a cheerleader, also didn’t survive – so many young journeys have ended, families pained, lives changed. I pray for their year to bring faith enough to allow joy and new life to enter their hearts. I pray for all of us that we may be a light and support and effective in buoying those having to endure such tragedy and if by chance it happens to us…I pray we will have the faith to have peace and the courage to rise again.

Helaman 5:12 -“And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.”

A toast to 2008… “Here’s to not falling, but rising!”

Jan 8, 2008

Team Writing

by Terri Wagner

It's too epic; it's too long; it doesn't make sense; what is the point of this scene; that's not what I had in mind; why are you writing that; that character doesn't do that; ok that's better, but..........I keep hearing that in a virtual sense these days. An LDS sister and I have taken the plunge and decided to write a Young Adult fantasy novel. It's an experience in tolerance and patience with each other. And frankly a very good thing that we are miles apart: I'm on the Gulf Coast, she's in Washington state.

I had no idea writing together could be so hard. After all, for years, I've written for a trade publication and put up with people changing my articles sometimes on a whim. I figured she couldn't dish out anything I couldn't handle. Wrong!!!!

I met a fantasy writer once through my defunct book club that writes with an LDS partner (she's not). And I asked her how did that work. Did one write, the other edit; did both write, both edit; what was it like working with someone LDS. She replied that they both wrote different scenes (subplots) and then edited each other. And that working with LDS authors was confining at times because of the moral issues. I've since read a series she did alone, and yes the cursing and sexual overtones were added.

So armed with all this knowledge, I proposed the idea to my friend. We decided on YA fantasy because it's a hot market. And with 9 kids, she reads a lot of these type books. I read epic fantasy novels.

That was only the number one problem: I think in epics, she thinks in YA. I'm writing, she's editing; amazing how touchy I can be over something I've written, I don't want to change. We managed to write one scene that we realize has no point to it and one scene I'm rather proud of. We have our 6-book storyline laid out, our major characters listed, our IM services humming along, and our friendship has survived two scenes.

I wonder how long that will last!!! I'll keep you posted. Anyone else out there written with partners? How was your experience?

Jan 7, 2008

The Ants and I

by Joyce DiPastena

The ants and I have been through a lot together through the years. Not the kind that infests you house or yard. The kind that go “marching out in the big parade” (to the tune of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again”).

I calculate that for nearly 20 years now, I have been going to the Primary school once a week to play the piano for a 30-45 minute classroom “singing time”. I started with a third grade class. Every year, on the very first day, Mrs. Esquivel would start by teaching her students to sing, “The ants go marching one by one, hurrah! hurrah!...” And the children couldn’t get enough of it. We sang it constantly, month in and month out, for the full nine months of the school year.

At first, it felt just like any other song. I played it, the children sang. But none of the other songs had ten identical verses (piano-wise), and after a few years, I admit, I began to get a little bored. The music had been quickly memorized, so at first, I would merely watch my fingers to see what exactly they do when I play the piano. When I grew tired of that, I began to pull a little trick. I would start out very slowly on the first verse, then gradually pick up speed verse by verse, until those last ten little ants were marching away at a furious pace by the time they shouted, “The End!”. If Mrs. Esquivel noticed my change in speed, she never said anything to me about it. That livened up the game for me considerably…for a while.

But gradually, my attention began to shift. I entered a “writing phase” where I was actively working on a new book. By now, I knew the song so thoroughly that not only did I not need to look at the music; I could now stare hazily into space and actively plot a new scene while my fingers “did their own thing”. The greatest hazard to this phase, of course, was loosing track of what verse the children were on and risking embarrassment by playing some extra notes after those ten last ants had joined the “big parade”. Fortunately, I don’t recall that happening more than once or twice!

When Mrs. Esquivel switched from teaching third grade to first, she took me with her, and we continued the ants year round. Several years ago, Mrs. Esquivel finally retired, but I was not left musically bereft…the other first grade teachers eagerly adopted me to have music in their classes!

With this change came a new season for the ants. The children no longer sing about them year round. Now, the ants are considered a “spring song”, so they only go marching from January through May. Unfortunately, I have entered a new season, as well. It’s called “middle age”, and it sometimes comes with a great surge of sleepiness immediately after lunch, which for the last few years has been the “new time” for our singing period. Now, instead of turning the song into a race, or using it for “plotting time”, I sometimes find myself “resting my eyes” through the ten verses instead, and to be honest, I have on occasion come alarmingly close to falling asleep while I play! Never in the wildest dreams of my youth did I ever think I’d see a day where I could sleep and play the piano at the same time!

Actually, that theory has yet to be proven. So far, I’ve managed to snap myself awake before I actually pass out during the song. I do wonder, though, if I ever nodded off, would my fingers know to keep playing? Or would I abruptly tumble off the piano bench, giving the students a day of school singing they’d never forget?

Today, as school resumes after the holiday recess, I once again have a rendezvous with the ants. What will this spring season hold for us? Racing? Or napping?

Maybe the safest thing to do is to start plotting a new book…

Jan 6, 2008

The North Side of the Cemetery

By Liz Adair

I went burial plot shopping last Thursday. I had just been to funeral, but that’s not what put it in my mind. I’ve been thinking about it for some time. I’m sixty-six. My mother died at seventy-three, my dad at seventy-four. I’ve done the math, and the reality is that I need to get some prep work done.

I’ve got three things on my prep list. First is logistical. That’s what put me following a fellow in a four-wheeler down a narrow cemetery road to a block of available spaces. Looking at the older part of the cemetery, I said I wanted to be near some trees, so he obliged, leading me to a newer section that had some saplings that were guyed against the sharp east wind that made me wish I had worn my red knit cap. The unlandscaped addition to the cemetery extended to a section of lower middle class homes, not a great view. But the saplings would grow, I figured, and more trees would be planted. I would be there long enough for the new section to grow as beautiful as the old. I hunched my shoulders against the chill as I jotted down the plot numbers and got the instructions for purchase from the caretaker. Satisfied with progress there, I went home and had a hot cup of spearmint tea.

Next on my prep list is my legacy. I was actually relieved when my publisher rejected the manuscript I sent to them for publication this spring. Had they accepted it, I would have been expected to write another, and that’s a huge bite out of my discretionary time, as I’m still working almost full time. I’m now free to dedicate that time to family history. I have a trunkful and to spare of letters that I want to transcribe and publish for the family. Most of them are letters I have written over a fifty year span (I went away to college when I was still sixteen). My mother saved every one, and I inherited them when she died. My idea is to transcribe them, edit out all the whining, publish with pictures that go with each time period, and leave this to my family. I’ve taken the ANWA 100-words-a-day-for-100-days challenge, and am using it to kick-start the process. (I’ve written about it in the family history blog that Cecily Markland and I have begun at familywriters.blogspot.com.)

Last on my list is divesture. It is my observation that you don’t own things. Rather, things own you, and the more I divest myself of things, the lighter and freer I feel. I don’t want to leave my children with a houseful of junk to contend with.

I think I can accomplish the letter transcription project this year, if I expend the same time on it that I would a novel. If I can do that and get the logistical stuff nailed down, then the rest of my life I can work on divesture as I spin yarns for publication. Makes me smile to think of it, and I wish myself a long, productive life. But if my life doesn’t exceed my mother’s, then that’s all right too. I’ll be ready—after this year, Lord. After this year.

Jan 5, 2008

Quilting with Words

by Christine Thackeray

I love Kristen's blog yesterday. I can entirely relate to it. Many of us feel compelled to write, and I'm not sure why. I do believe it is innate- a gift given before birth and inseparable from our soul. My first memory of really relishing the joy of writing was in the third grade. On the first day of school our teacher gave us each a journal in which we could write our deepest thoughts. I went home thrilled at the prospect of sharing some unique new vision with the world, something that no one else had seen before. Sitting at the kitchen table after school, I watched my mother with new eyes and began to write, describing her in extremely unflattering detail. I realized that without any emotional involvement she seemed plain, overweight and crude, but once she faced me and smiled or words poured from her mouth, her outer shell disappeared and I saw intellegence, beauty and the incredible strengths and talents she possessed. My pencil seemed to dance across the paper (I was only eight) and I thought my new insight was brilliant. Proud of myself, I closed the small spiral binder and ran outside to play with my siblings.

Later when I came back into the house sweaty from chasing my little brother around the swingsets, my mother stood before me with her hands on her hips and I felt a lump in my throat- she had read my journal. At first I thought she was angry but then I saw the truth, she was hurt. It hadn't even occurred to me that I had that power- to hurt her feelings through my writing- but I did, even at that tender age.

I wish I could say that was the last time I ever hurt someone with my writing. It has never been intentional and my audience has always been minute so I don't think libel has ever been an issue (although I did write a pretty biting parody once that may have offended.) But as a mother my most difficult struggle has been finding a place for my writing. There have been many days when I have put my writing before the dishes or laundry or even a homework assignment, encouraging my child with a shouted odd phrase here or there while tapping away at my keyboard for just one more minute which turns out to be more like a half an hour or more. It is so challenging when you have this idea begging to be brought to life on the page and real life gets in the way!

Recently, things have gotten worse or better, depending on how you look at it. My first book just sold and I have a contract on co-authoring a series that is taking hours of research. With my second son ready to leave on a mission I felt the money would be a gift and mentally "upped' the priority of my writing to the status of a part-time job. But in doing so, a part of me felt itchy and unsettled. It was harder to write fluently and I was frustrated yet wasn't quite sure why.

So last week I went to a wedding. My husband had already left to pull up the car and I was making my final good-byes when the father of the bride introduced me to his mother who I had never met. I told her of my writing projects and she told me that she had recently begun painting. She mentioned a quote from Gibran's The Prophet, which I later looked up. The fictional prophet says this to mothers:

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;

This great woman that I met at the wedding (and adore even though I only spoke to her for minutes) went on to say that as mothers we only have our children for a short time. We each need hobbies so that we can wait effectively and happily for the moments they need us, but the key is that we remember it is only a hobby. Our first priority is our families- our children and our marriages. I left humbled and happier.

Since that day, just last week, I've faced my writing with new eyes. Certainly, I hope the ideas I express through my writing will lift people's minds to new heights and I still hold the dream that my writing will in a small way shift the "conversation of humanity." But everyday I also remind myself that it is just a hobby- I am merely quilting with words.

Jan 4, 2008

And So, I Write

By Kristine John

I am a writer.
It is something I have known, deep within myself, for my entire life.
The gift I have been given, as a writer, came with me to this life, from the pre-existence.
That reality reverberates within my heart each time I contemplate the truth of that statement.
For me, the question that I desire to answer is not "Will I write?", instead, the answer I seek is "WHAT will I write?".
My days are filled with searching, seeking the words that put my feelings, my thoughts, my impressions, into the world in a way that others can understand and relate to.
Amid the routines (and the surprises) that caring for a large family bring to my life, I see words that jump out at me, sentences that replay themselves in my mind, and phrases that warm my heart.
And so I write.
I write sporadically, in various places.
Sometimes a scribbled note in a margin of a book, or on a loose paper is enough to suffice, to quell the desire to create, for a time.
Other times, the words spill out, flowing easily from my mind, coming out just so, and reflecting the thoughts of my mind perfectly.
And sometimes, I sit, waiting for the words to come forth.
Struggling to get the thoughts to flow and piece themselves together in some order, some semblance of order that will make sense to myself, and perhaps, eventually, to others.
And sometimes, the words don't come.
Yet still, I write.
unsure of the direction I should go,
following the impression, no, more than that, following the certainty, the assuredness I have within...
the certainty that despite my weaknesses and my insecurities,
I am a writer.
and Tomorrow.
Seeking my voice, desirous to know what it is exactly I need to do with this God-given talent and knowledge.
Hoping that the journey and the detours it will present will reveal answers to my mind and to my soul and help me find the voice, the story that needs to be told.

I am a writer.
And so, I write.

*As a mother to 7 children (ages 12 years to 5 months) I find my time to write limited. I love the fact that ANWA gives each of us the opportunity to embrace the writer within, and discover the words that long to come forth from each of us.*

Jan 3, 2008

Out of the Mouths of Babes

By Kari Diane Pike

During the Thanksgiving holiday, I spent an entire week with my three-year-old grandson, Welsy, and his little brother Travis. A new baby brother was expected soon and I looked forward to experiencing once again the amazing adventures, menacing monsters, and tender truths that make up a young child’s world.

The first night of my visit, I sat on the couch to read a story with both boys snuggled in my lap. Their hair, still curly and damp from their nightly bath, smelled of lavender and the warmth of their little bodies wrapped around my heart. Each boy held one side of the book in a chubby fist, eager to help turn the pages. Since a new baby was coming, I had purchased the book, Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch. It has been a family favorite for years. The story is about a mother and the love she has for her baby boy as he grows to adulthood. Every night, when she knows he is really asleep (yes, even after he becomes a grown man and lives across town), she sneaks into his room and rocks him back and forth and sings him this song:

“I’ll love you forever,

I’ll like you for always,

As long as I’m living,

My baby you’ll be.”

I made up a tune for the words to sing to my own children, changing the ending to:

“Forever, and ever, my [baby- or say the name of the child] you’ll be.”

The boys loved the story and I read it to them three or four times before they were tucked tightly in their beds.

Later that night, I awoke to the sound of Wesly screaming in fright. Knowing he regularly experiences night terrors, I rushed up the stairs to try to comfort him. I found Wesly standing in the middle of his room holding one index finger in the air as he cried out,

“G-g-gamma!” he sobbed, hiccupping between syllables. “I f-found a b-boogie!”

I gently wiped his finger and his nose and rocked him back and forth and sang our song to him again.

Early the next morning, baby brother Nathan made his debut. I don’t know how to describe the joy that filled the hospital room when these little boys came to meet their new brother. Wesly and Travis shouted in excitement the moment they saw Mom.

“Hi Mom!”

Then Wesly spotted Dad sitting in the corner, holding a blanketed bundle. Mom asked,

“Wesly, who is Daddy holding?”

Wesly made that noise of wonder that happens when you suck in all the air in the room. He ran across the room to his dad exclaiming,

“Oh, my baby brother! He came out! Can I hold him?”

After Wesly and Travis took a peek at Nathan, I helped them climb onto the bed next to Mom. Dad gently placed Nathan in Wesly’s lap and showed him how to support the baby’s head. Nathan squirmed a bit and started to fuss. Wesly placed his face next to Nathan’s and made a shushing noise.

“S’okay, baby. S’okay.”

Then he patted Nathan’s tummy and began to sing in his three-year-old voice,

“I love you forever,

I like you for always,

Forever and ever,

My baby brother…you came out!”

Alma 32:23 says, “And now, he imparteth his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also. Now this is not all; little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned.”

To that, I must say, Amen and Amen.

Jan 2, 2008

Broken Resolutions, Repentance, Fear, Faith

By Anna Laurene Arnett
(I know most of you don't know my middle name, but it's still mine. My maiden name is even more unique--Liljenquist, with the 'j' pronounced as a 'y'.)

This is only the second day of a new year, and I’ve already broken my No. 1 resolution. I should have followed Rene’s lead and set only one goal—to put the Kingdom of God first. Instead, I’ve been beset by a determination to bring more order into my life, and to keep the commandments found in D & C 88:124, especially the part that says, ‘retire to thy bed early’. I kept that pretty well during my younger years, but since I became an octogenarian, I’ve failed miserably. Oh, I retire early if you consider one or two or three o’clock in the morning as early. Maybe half a dozen or so times I’ve actually not gone to bed all night, which is utter stupidity. I’ve often gone for weeks averaging four or five hours sleep per night. How dumb can one get?

So, taking a cue from Benjamin Franklin, I determined this year to work on one fault at a time until doing it right becomes habitual. My first concern is go to bed by around ten every night, and get up by six.

Before even getting this goal down in writing, on New Years Eve I found myself at two in the morning trying to catch up on my email. Even so, I still awoke at six, saying, ‘tonight, I’ll retire on time’. And I almost did. By ten I donned my nightgown, and headed for bed. Before dropping to my knees, I remembered I had not reported my writing and editing time for the day, and opened the e-mail. I had 27 unread messages! I simply had to read them first. Forgetting all about time, I even checked a couple or three of the personal blogsites I’d missed. After finally posting my report, I remembered I’d planned to read daily in scriptures other than the BofM, so read in Matthew and the Ensign. I retired two hours late! Worse still, I slept until nine this morning!

Is there any hope for me? Because I’d re-read Elder Quentin L. Cook’s conference talk on living by faith instead of fear, I decided not to give up. I remember as a child quoting a jingle, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Besides, what’s so special about New Years Day? Isn’t every day of our life new to us? Isn’t every breath we take in essence a new beginning? So go ahead, Anna. Post this. Yes, it’s already past noon, but there’s always another chance to be early, or at least on time.

So I say to all (but especially to me) never give up on worthwhile projects. Fear not, but learn from both failure and success. Hang in there, keep writing, keep smiling, and have a prolific, profitable, peaceful, productive, proficient, persistent, and almost perfectly Happy New Year.

Jan 1, 2008

Welcome to 2008

Hello, Gentle Readers. We've enjoyed your association so much during the last year. Now a new one is upon us, and a few changes have been made in our list of contributors.

We're saying goodbye to Donna Hatch and Valerie Steimle. They've been great bloggers, and have shared insightful posts with us all. We thank them for their service.

Now we have four new members of our blogging team: Kristine John, Christine Thackeray, Rebecca Talley, and Margaret Turley. This brings our team up to fourteen, and yes, we'll be blogging seven days a week.

I'm looking forward to a wonderful New Year, and I know I can speak for the team in saying we hope yours will be awesome!

Marsha Ward
ANWA Founder