Apr 29, 2008

Classy Vs. Trashy

by Terri Wagner

Vanity Fair, Miley Cyrus, Annie Leibovitz, MySpace photos, oversexed, apologies, Disney, exploitation, parental responsibility, societal responsibility…classy vs. trashy. Have you noticed how it all comes down to that?

I never cease to be amazed how black and white things really are when viewed through the lens of the gospel. What seems gray becomes crystal clear. I often think of the Liahona and the very clear directions it gave for Lehi and his family. When I compare the gospel to my previous beliefs, I always come back to this one startling truth: there is more, so much more. Most Old Testament believers if presented with the concept of a Liahona would accept it. But just having the Liahona wasn’t enough; Lehi and his family were required to be obedient and faithful for it to work; hence, the “more” part.

I was listening to Dallas morning radio show as I was driving in today. They were discussing Miley Cyrus. The only woman on the show took the low road by saying all 15-year-old girls go through this stage, it’s normal, blah blah blah. And frankly yes I agree I was after all a 15 year old once.

The big name on the show took the high road. He was the dad of a former 15 year old and felt strongly that 15 year olds should not exploited, that this is what happened to Miley and where the heck were her parents and what was this “artist” thinking.

Others on the show took the middle road by exclaiming: it’s art; it’s not good for 15 year olds but what are you going to do; it’s all about the money; her parents are caught up in the Hollywood version of morals so to them it wasn’t a big deal; Disney will never let her go, she’s worth too much to them; blah blah blah.

Not one, mind you, not one said this is wrong on every level. This is classy vs. trashy. This is not the message we want to send our kids. Even the dad backed down a bit in the face of the overwhelming chorus of acceptability.

Elder Oaks told us in the recent conference, we must stand as witnesses of God in all places and in all things. Let’s use a Liahona in writing. Keep it classy and leave the trashy to all the others. What say you?

Apr 28, 2008

Books From Our Youth

by Joyce DiPastena

It isn’t often I write book reviews, other than the Amazon.com type, but I wrote a book review last week. The idea simply wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote it down. If you want to read the entire review, you can do so on my medieval research blog (click on my link under “Team Members’ Blogs” to the right). But I would like to share just the introduction and conclusion of my review here, and then pose a question to you all:

“I first read this novel (Walk With Peril) some 30+ years ago in junior high school, most likely because my sister was reading it. She’d checked it out from our local library. Judging from how much I had forgotten, much of it must have been over my head at the time, but I was struck enough with the characters that I remember going back to the library, checking it out for myself, and reading it a least a couple more times between junior high and when I graduated from high school.

“Oddly enough, I never paid any attention to the title or author. I just remembered that it had a light blue/gray binding (without a dust jacket) and I always knew which shelf to look on at the library to find it. Sadly, my carelessness meant that when I reflected on the book many years later, long after it no longer sat on that library shelf, I had no way of tracking it down to ever read it again.

“Then, this past March while visiting my sister in Salt Lake City, the subject of this long lost, but never quite forgotten, book surprisingly sprang up in a conversation between us. My sister remembered it, too, and while she had also forgotten the title, she at least remembered that the author’s name started with a J, '…something like Jackson or Johnson', she said.

“Oh, for the wonderful and blessed miracle of modern technology! I immediately jumped on her computer and Googled, ‘novels about Henry V by Jackson’, or something like that. And what should pop up almost immediately but the title: Walk With Peril. 'That’s it!' my sister exclaimed. We read a brief blurb together to confirm it was the same book, whipped over to Amazon.com, and I promptly ordered two used copies, one for me and one for her. Because, of course, the book had since gone long out of print.

“I just finished reading this splendid book again. I was afraid I might be disappointed, that the book might be somehow ‘less’ than I remembered from my youth. Instead, it was much, much more….

“This book read almost new to me. I was shocked by how little I actually remembered. But two very, very brief scenes had continued to hover in my memory all these years, and influenced my writing in ways known only to myself and to Heaven. (No, I promise I didn’t plagiarize!) The scenes—actually, they were more like mere moments in the book—had somehow melded in my mind as one, but on my recent re-reading, I discovered they were, indeed, two separate moments within two separate scenes. I’ll not tell you what they were, for what touched me may well not touch you, and each reader should have the joy of discovering favorite, influential scenes and moments of his or her own.”

And therein lies my question. Do you have a book from your youth with a character, scene, or moment that subsequently influenced in any way, subtle or large, your writing as an adult? If so, please share your stories with us here. I, for one, would love to hear them!

Apr 27, 2008

Casting a Long Shadow

By Liz Adair

As a writer, I have this really high-class problem: I enjoy my day job as much as I enjoy writing. My day job has a flexible schedule, and it pays better, which gives it precedence when I’m trying to decide which tasks will get done tomorrow. Those day job ‘tomorrow tasks’ have been piling up higher and higher lately, so that writing has been getting short shrift.

Some of you are aware that Cecily Markland has formed a publishing company called Inglestone Press and will publish my next novel this fall. It’s not targeted to the LDS market, though Latter-day Saints will certainly read it with a different perspective and understanding than the general public. It’s a historical novel—and when did half a decade before I was born become historical?—set in New Mexico and Arizona cattle country during the depression. It’s a story of passion, love, conflict and redemption, and, no, it doesn’t have a title yet. The working title is The Honest in Heart, but though it’s a very good title for the book, it doesn’t have much of a Velcro effect for snagging interest.

With the book coming out soon, I decided I finally had to have my own web site rather than depend on the Liz Adair page on the Deseret Book site. My son-in-law Rich agreed to build it and be my webmaster, and so it was hung. I pretty much forgot about it, because the day job was taking all my time and energy and besides, I had no faith that anyone would bother to look there.

However, yesterday Rich asked me to look at something on the web site. I navigated around a bit and found a comment by an ANWA sister named Karen. As she posted it for anyone to see (though she may have had the same expectations as me about the paucity of visitors), I’m taking the liberty of repeating it. Here’s what she said:

Liz- I always read your insightful comments on the ANWA sites, but since I rarely contribute (ME: too lazy, too tired, too preoccupied, too boring, etc.) you probably don't know me. BUT, I just had to write and tell you I found your family history blog and your family blog (Evan's World). I appreciate you not letting facts get in the way of a good story. I have many wonderful stories of my mom's conversion and things she experienced but had never considered using them in my fiction! I just keep them recorded for my siblings and children. I think Mom woud love to see her experiences (albeit from 'the other side') read by others! Thanks for the idea and your wonderful writing!
Karen _____ - ANWA Shadow
Monday, March 31, 2008 - 03:15 AM


First, I want to tell Karen that she doesn’t know what that comment did for me. I was at a very low point, wondering if I could cover all the bases I had to cover, and it gave me renewed determination to post, post, post on my personal blog and on my family history blog.

My personal blog can be found by going to www.lizadair.net and clicking on blog. There’s only one posting right now, but I’ve made a vow to blog at least twice a week. I’ll ramble about general things, but I’ll also announce the new book title—maybe even ask you to comment on possible titles—and post the book cover when it’s done. (By the way, in one of those strange cyber-irregularities, neither Rich nor I named my personal blog page Evan’s World. Rich has removed it twice, but it has persisted. I think it’s gone now. That’s what Karen was referring to.) (Or maybe it’s a sign that I should change my protagonist’s name to Evan and name the book Evan’s World?)

My (and Cecily Markland’s) family history blog is at www.familywriters.blogspot.com . This is a subject that is dear to my heart, and Karen’s validation of my efforts there has made such a difference in my commitment to make something good of that site.

Karen calls herself an ANWA shadow. I hope she understands how long a shadow she has cast.

Apr 25, 2008

Romance

by Kristine John
(This was something I entered recently in a "romantic moments" contest)

In the early days of our marriage, it seemed that no matter what my new husband and I did, as long as we did it together, it was memorable and romantic.
One day that stands out as being particularly romantic is our first wedding anniversary.
As our first anniversary approached, we were a little nervous about how to make it special without spending a lot of money.
I had just finished student teaching, and my husband was still in college, making our finances fall well within the “starving student” range.
To celebrate our first anniversary, my husband took the day off of work in order for us to spend the day together.
This was a sacrifice in and of itself because he was paid by the hour and had no paid time off. From sunrise to sunset on our anniversary, we spent the day making memories and recording them for our future posterity.

We started the day by driving to a nearby lake and watching the sun as it rose over the bluff and reflected on the water.
After eating our picnic breakfast together, we spent the day driving to a handful of important and meaningful spots in the town in which we lived.
After spending a few minutes at each spot, we each took the time to write down why this spot was significant in our lives.
This was followed by a walk, hand in hand through the downtown area.
We were ended the day watching the sunset color the sky beautiful hues of pink and purple. Sunset was followed by an Italian meal, which we had both helped prepare.
It was a day of true romance.
Romance which did not depend on the dollars spent, but on the time we gave to each other.

Apr 24, 2008

The Fifth Blade

By Kari Diane Pike

Waking up before the alarm goes off usually creates a conflict of emotion in me. I regret losing those last few precious moments of sleep, yet at the same time I cherish the opportunity to breathe in the quiet and have an uninterrupted personal interview with my Father in Heaven. A few days ago, I enjoyed just such a beginning to my day. The early morning light slipped around the window shade and tapped me on the shoulder. I rolled over to look at the clock. I still had fifteen more minutes to sleep! I closed my eyes and let all the muscles of my body melt into the mattress. I took a slow, deep breath through my nose and released it in a long, lazy yawn. My fully alert mind struggled to convince my tired body to get out of the bed.

I opened my eyes and looked at the space above me. The whites and shadows of the fan over the bed blended into the background of the ceiling. Without the aid of my glasses or contacts, I couldn’t pick up many details, but something didn’t seem right. I squinted my eyes and studied the fan. I could make out the outlines of the glass light shades. There were three of them. I could see the edges of the fan blades. There were four of those. Wait. I thought the fan had five blades. I know the fan has five blades! Where is the fifth blade? I counted again: One – two – three – four – and a big empty spot where the fifth blade should be. How strange! I closed my right eye and looked at the fan with my left. Still no fifth blade! I closed my left eye and looked at the fan with my right eye alone. No fifth blade appeared to my view. I moved my head around into different positions, concerned that perhaps I was experiencing problems with my retina or a possible stroke or something. I could not see that fifth blade. I finally reached over to the nightstand and grabbed my glasses. Aha! With the aid of my glasses I could just barely make out the faint line of one edge of the missing fan blade. By this time, all my twisting and tossing woke up my husband. He got out of bed and turned on a light in the bathroom. As light filled the room, the fifth blade magically came into full focus!

Later that morning, I read in Words of Mormon 1:7 – “And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore he worketh in me to do according to his will.”

I pondered on my experience all day. On my own, I just could not see the entire picture. I needed help. My glasses served as a great tool. They helped me focus and see a bit more clearly, but I couldn’t see everything with clarity until the light turned on. I thought about my life in general and the many times I have searched for answers and a clearer picture of the future. I hesitated to make what I perceived as crucial decisions because I wanted to know what the outcome would be before I acted.

We have many tools available to help us focus on our goals. The scriptures are one of my favorite tools. They give me words to calm my troubled heart and an outline after which to pattern my life. We don’t need to be afraid to move forward because we can’t see the beginning from the end. We don’t always have to know all the details. We can’t see that fifth blade, but we know it is there. And just as the fifth blade didn't come into clear focus until the light turned on, complete spiritual clarity does not come without the Light! The scriptures on their own can become just stories to us. We need the workings of the Holy Spirit to bear testimony to us of the truthfulness of who the Savior is and what He did for us. By exercising faith that “the Lord knoweth all things” and trusting in the power of the Atonement – we will receive just the right amount of light we need to accomplish the things we were sent here to do.

Hospice Volunteering, etc.

by Anna Arnett

Good Grief! It's pushing midnight. I'm drifting off to sleep, and suddenly remembered that I hadn't actually written that blog I woke up thinking about this morning. What happened to my day? Well, if I could recall it all, I'd tell you. It just went, while I sat right here, sorting papers, working a sudoku puzzle, and daydreaming, I guess. I think my interest in my email crowded out my blog thoughts. At any rate, I lazily felt I had no other appointments or important tasks that simply had to be done. I was going to post by nine, but. . . well, I still want to tell you what happened yesterday. (Or is it really day-before-yesterday already now? At this rate I'll really get to be an old lady.)

Tuesday started out calmly. It's nice to have a few unfocused days like that. I had nothing on my calendar, but I remembered I was getting a perm from my grand-daughter at about 4 :00. Then at about 2:00 my daughter Karlene reminded me I'd promised to go shopping at Costco with her, which I did, right after the missionaries called to confirm that I'd volunteered to feed them this evening. There would be three of them, and they'd be here at about 5:30. That would run it awfully close, but I knew it would work out one way or another. As I picked up my keys to drive to Costco, the phone rang again. My hospice coordinator called, as promised, to remind me of the dinner for volunteers she was hosting at the office at 6:00. I told her I couldn't make it that early, but might get there by seven. She seemed pleased that I'd still make the effort.

The amazing part was that it all worked out. Suzanne gave me the perm at my place rather than hers; instead of the meal I'd purchased ingredients for, my daughter Kat augmented what she had planned with only minimal help from me; I greeted the missionaries with perm rods in my hair, covered tightly with a plastic 'bag'; we visited while the perm set, and after scripture and another prayer, I left for the volunteer 'banquet' with my perm-smelling-hair damp, straggly and kinky. It's not my most flattering style, but so what?

I've volunteered almost weekly for nearly five years at an assisted living place within a mile of my home. That's why I got interested in hospice training. I tried for a couple of years to get set up for the training, but it never quite worked out. Then last fall, it did. My husband asked me why in the world I would want to take that training, and I told him it was so that I'd know how to treat him. Actually, I learned a lot about hospice as a business, and what their rules and limitations were, but as for how to visit, I learned much more than they could teach me just attending Relief Society for over six decades, and practicing compassion. Sorry, Charles, if i came u with no real improvement, but at least I was trying.

Last Friday, I had a first visit with a sweet Italian lady who is a couple of years younger than I. She had no single health condition that would put her on hospice, but a combination of numerous problems, at least half of which I have, as well. She spends most of her day draping her ample body in a wheelchair. She's alert, inelligent, and loves to talk. In the couple of hours I sat with her, I'd be surprised if I got more than ten minutes worth of speech slipped into the slight pauses. But that's what I came for -- to listen. Even with my hearing aids, I missed understanding about a quarter of what she said, but since I really didn't need to know, I just nodded, made a few noncommital sounds, smiled, and usually kept focused.

She was wonderful. Her large, brown eyes glowed as she told me of her grandfather who came from Sicily and settled in Louisiana, near Shreveport. She expressed love for her father who built up a large plantation, where she grew up, an only child. Most wonderful was her devout Catholic faith, and her continual confirmation that, though she had many trials, and was often swindled, she held no grudges, but trusted completely in the Savior and the Blessed Mother.

Every now and then she paused to say, "I've done all the talking. I want to know about you."

"All right," I'd say, "What would you like to know?"

"Something like where you're from. Was it a happy place like my home? I remember when . . . ." and she was off for another half an hour of explaining, or rambling. I'd have been tempted to take notes if I'd been able to understand enough of what she told me. As it was I merely continued to nod, and slip in a few words now and again.

Easy to look at, with warm brown hair hanging loosely about her face, and an engaging smile, I enjoyed myself as she chatted on and on, gesturing gracefully, and watching my reactions.

When I rose to leave, she thanked me for coming. "I probably shouldn't say this," she murmured as she leaned closer, "but I like you better than any of the visitors I've had. You understand me."

I giggled all the way home, feeling warm, cozy, and fulfilled.

Apr 22, 2008

It's My Party

By Betsy Love

A fellow coworker came up to me and wished me happy birthday with the following comment, "You don't look a day over 49." Funny thing is I am now officially one day over 49. Um that would be 50. I wish I had 50 pieces of dark chocolate. 50 hours of down time. 50 minutes of someone playing with my hair. 50 days of paid vacation. 50 grandchildren (eventually). 50 million dollars (don't we all). 50 friends (ok...I have lots more than that). 50 kisses (I get some of those every day). 50 nights of no dinner fixing. 50 pounds lost (ok half that). 50 publishers fighting over my novel.

50 is nifty. I'm glad I've arrived. I hope the next 50 are even better than the first 50.

So here's 50 cheers for 50

Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray
Hooray

Apr 21, 2008

Melody without Music

By Sarah Albrecht

Rene Allen was unable to do her blog for today, so she asked me to sub for her. I am both excited and a bit nervous for the chance since this is my first time to post. As I thought about what to write, I kept returning to family, a bit like getting lost and wandering and then finding myself back at the beginning. Like most people, for me family is the beginning I inevitably circle back to.

I am a mother of four children, ages fourteen, eleven, nine and four. When my husband and I were expecting our oldest child, a daughter, we considered several names for her, some silly, some serious. One of the names was Melody, a name I loved because of the comfort and pleasure I had always found in playing and listening to music, but we decided to wait until the baby’s birth to make sure the name fit the child.

At some point during the last trimester, the baby stopped growing; the doctor suspected an undersized placenta and induced her early. We worried whether she had gotten enough oxygen and nourishment to be healthy, so when she was born--tiny but without complications-- we rejoiced and chose Melody for her name because her cries were music to our ears. Secretly I also hoped that the name would become self-fulfilling, that Melody would love music, especially playing the piano, as I did.

She didn’t. As Melody’s childhood progressed, we noticed that learning or trying most new things seemed tremendously stressful for her. To avoid the stress, she resisted new things. I waited until she was eight to have her start lessons, hoping she would have the maturity to try, but she hated it from the beginning. We stopped lessons within two years, about the time her stress levels over life in general seemed to peak and she was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, a genetic anxiety disorder unrelated to the concerns we had at her birth.

For me, that was a knotted-stomach time with struggles at home, struggles at school, and little music. However, we worked through understanding, accepting, and managing Melody’s diagnosis, and eventually I noticed her developing in ways I hadn’t anticipated. She had an incredibly empathetic understanding of others’ feelings and motivations. She would seek out and include the underdog. She had no reservations around special-needs children and would go out of her way to find and love them at school. She had her own music, her own melody that brought comfort and pleasure to her and everyone she met.

My daughter will never play the piano, but she has taught me to listen for life’s melodies without music, borne like prayers without wind to carry them, to the ears of those who will hear.

Apr 20, 2008

The Music in My Head

by Marsha Ward

For some reason, I've been waking up lately with a song going through my head.

You know, the sort of annoying thing that stays with you throughout the day?

Yes. That kind of thing. Well, I noticed it right away when the song was "Bringing in the Sheaves." I know this is a hymn sung by various Christian denominations, but I never really learned it, as it's not commonly used in LDS services. I thought maybe it was because I recently had seen the film, 3 Amigos, which features the song in one of the final scenes.

The next day, the same song floated through my head with the rising sun.

And the next day.

And the next.

I tried to think if it had any significance in my life. Was I going to be called on a mission? Did I need to upgrade my food storage?

The next day the song changed. Now it was "We Thank Thee, O God, For a Prophet." In light of the recent change in LDS Church leadership due to the death of President Gordon B. Hinckley, I figured that was appropriate.

The song changed again. Yesterday. "The Star Spangled Banner."

Let's see. What is the nearest patriotic holiday? Flag Day is in June, but that's a couple of months away. Then there's the Fourth of July after that. But
Francis Scott Key's poem, "Defence of Fort McHenry," was written in September, during the War of 1812.

Aha! Someone sent me an email claiming that Barack Obama doesn't like our current national anthem and would change it--if he had his druthers--to something less . . . patriotic, like, "I Want to Teach the World to Sing." Yikes!

I did find out the fact is that was a creation of a humorous columnist, so I got hoaxed. The mere thought of changing out a song
dear to the heart of the majority of Americans (even though it's difficult to sing) must have sent my brain into spasms.

At any rate, I want to let you all know how much I revere this beautiful anthem. Whether it's sung in a ballpark or stadium, at a picnic, at a display of fireworks, or in a church service, the majesty of its music and profound words touches my heart and brings out deep emotion. It is my fondest hope that we, as Americans, will do our part so that ever and ever, until the Lord shall come, "the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"

Apr 19, 2008

Elephants



I’ve been thinking about elephants this week. One story that came to mind was about the Blind Men and the Elephant. For those who don’t know this story I’ll give a brief summary. There are several versions. I’ve seen a poem about it and heard the tale used as illustration in personality test settings, a parable in religious meetings, and in motivational seminars. After my summary I will share my thoughts about inspiration for writing that come from meditating about this allegory.

There is a group of blind men who decide they want to “see” an elephant. They each explore the elephant using their hands – sense of touch. The first fell against the elephant’s side. It was solid and sturdy – so he decided that an elephant was like a wall. The second discovered and stroked the tusk; it was round, smooth and sharp and so he supposed that an elephant was like a spear. The third grabbed the wriggling trunk and announced that an elephant was like a snake. The fourth felt around the leg and compared it to a tree. The fifth one caressed the ear and pronounced it was like a fan. The sixth groped the tail and said it was a rope.


Everyday experiences can be our “elephant”. Each one of us internalize and interpret the same event differently. We use all six senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell and intuition (spiritual sense, environmental & cultural lessons, and personal history). When writing non-fiction as well as writing fiction it is important to explore each of the senses to discover the information we can use for our text.

For instance Kerry Blair's blog last week brought things to my attention about cancer that I had never considered. I am a nurse and have administered chemo to young, old, and persons of different cultural background and religious beliefs. My focus has always been their physical well being. I try to incorporate a holistic approach but I am more likely to be looking at vital signs, weight loss or weight gain, lab reports and doctor’s orders, side effects and tolerance there-of. Kerry’s blog brought out a new way of observing cancer – up close and very personal. You can find the full post at: http://www.sixldswriters.blogspot.com/

I’m pasting in the last part:
I do recognize that ignoring cancer is like overlooking an elephant in the room. But in my case, it is a very large room and a relatively small elephant. In fact, I think it looks like this one – about eight inches high and six inches wide. Since it’s made of solid brass, it is a little heavy to carry around all the time, but one does what one must. Here’s the thing I wish more people understood: If I hold this thing up to my nose it is all I can see. Its width and breadth obscure the room and make everything seem as dark and cold as it is itself. Anyone would be afraid to be alone with a beast of that magnitude. But when I manage to push it out to arm’s length, the perspective changes. It’s the same elephant, and we’re still together in the same room, but now there is light, and around its greatly-diminished dimensions I can clearly see all the places I have yet to go.
You’d think, knowing this, I could keep that elephant where it belongs. But the thing I really hate about chemo is the lack of strength I sometimes have to keep the elephant at arm’s length. Then, more than I need barf bags and pretzels and sympathetic shoulders, I need friends who still see me behind the elephant. Living and laughing and growing and serving despite cancer and chemo is the only way to keep the pachyderm in perspective.
Now we have looked at an elephant in an entirely different angle.

Let’s look at a different kind of “elephant.” How about snow? For some the word bring up thoughts of the Christmas and New Year’s season. For others it bring back unpleasant memories of treacherous travel that includes accidents and injury. “Snow days” when school is closed because of inclement conditions brings about several reactions. For school age children it can mean sledding, making snow people, snowball fights, building snow-forts – or a boring day shut inside with now one to play with. For an elderly shut-in it can mean not having necessities like food and utilities. For parents it presents the crisis or child care that hasn’t been scheduled and or the possibility of exacerbation of illness. It can be fun and challenging to look at each situation with a new pair of glasses so to speak.

Hopefully this will give you some ideas you can use.

Apr 17, 2008

Enduring to the End

By Rebecca Talley

Enduring to the end is a common theme in the scriptures where we are admonished to faithfully live our lives. If we've endured well, we'll receive our reward.

During this time of year, enduring to the end takes on a different meaning to me. I continue to admonish myself to endure until the end . . . of school. Yes, it has become the time of year when my kids spend more time on field trips than in the classroom, rehearsals culminate in plays, and projects are due.

Each morning I ask myself, "Can I make lunches one more day?" "Will I actually beat the bus to the end of my driveway?" "Can I sign one more permission slip?" This is otherwise known as my end of the school year funk.

It's always surprising how many field trips my children participate in, how many videos they watch in class, and how many non-academic activities happen at the end of the year all pushed into a few weeks. Perhaps, the teachers feel as I do and wonder if they can just simply endure to the end.

Since the end of the school year isn't far off (5 weeks from today, but who's counting?), then neither is my reward: summer break. I love summer break. I love that my kids have time to ride their bikes, ride the horse, take a hike, watch the stars, jump on the trampoline, write stories, read books, draw pictures, go to the public library, and do the things they don't have time to do during the school year. I love that summer allows me time to breathe and enjoy simple pleasures like watching my kids splash each other in the kiddie pool. Most of all, I love that I don't have a school schedule dictating my life.

I can do it. I can endure to the end of the school year. I know I can, I know I can, I know I can. Summer, here I come!

Apr 16, 2008

Florida Streams

by Faith St. Clair

Jumping as high as the roof on the trampoline and doing flips, first on my knees, then as high as the roof, terrazzo floors with a blue patchwork carpet of 1’x2’ carpet samples, jalousie windows that you crank open and painstakingly clean twice a year, cracking coconuts open on the sidewalks and eating them, snatching an orange from the neighbors tree as an afternoon snack on the way home from the bus stop, going to the beach every day and cleaning the tar off of your feet with Crisco before loading into the car, sand in my bed from the daycare kids taking a nap there, skim boarding on the large puddles the thunderstorms left, thunderstorms, running in the rain, BB guns used for felling lizards in order to dissect them or to threaten the barefoot-long haired-shirtless-potbellied teenager with crooked teeth that if he didn’t leave your lawn you would shoot him, then having him stare you down and you shooting him in the leg and getting grounded, climbing tall pine trees and swaying in the wind, sleepovers in the sailboat parked in my friend’s back yard, forts on stilts that we weren’t supposed to go into because we were girls and we were too young, sneaking into the fort and having it smell like smoke, running out the back door and hopping the fence to go play with the neighbors and not returning until dusk when Mom “yoooo-hooo”-ed out the back door as a signal for you to come home, 260 Iowa Ave, Melrose Park, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, the country club Mom worked in the laundry mat at midnight hours for so she could pay the club fee for us kids to have a place to swim in the summer, laying out in the sun, falling asleep in the sun and getting blisters on your chest, swim competitions, playing spider web in the pool, swimming length to length with one breath, diving, a summer afternoon of Gone With the Wind for the first time at the country club, playing police officer, gathering 1.75 in change to walk to the Ground Round restaurant at the corner for a huge burger, great steak fries and bottomless popcorn and peanuts whose shells you could throw all over the floor, homemade stilts, unicycle riding, pogo sticks, paper trees that smelled like mashed potatoes, roller skating down at the strip mall on the slick concrete, mini biking in the backyard and running into and up the chain link fence, having my right ankle run over four times by my Mom (it was unintentional), closing my eyes and kissing my boyfriend, David, and counting to ten because we didn’t know when we were supposed to stop and open our eyes (we were eight), AWANA, Grace Brethren Church, Mormon missionaries, cabin meetings, street football playing quarterback, begging my Mom who was on the phone to let me eat the steak that was in the fridge - only to find out it was liver!, eating the top of my sister’s wedding cake (reserved for her first anniversary) because nobody told me about that secret tradition, getting hepatitis, getting hit in the head with a baseball bat because the swinger was practicing right next to the base I was running to, playing pickle, playing little league baseball with the boys, playing violin, my brother playing The Eagles, Rene our St. Bernard, Fluffy, our white cat, Grandma coming over for dinner and us serving pizza and she being mortified that she was expected to eat with her hands!, Ft. Lauderdale Children’s Theatre.

I must be getting older because I’m starting to get nostalgic with childhood memories and wishing I got to spend more time with my family – I miss them.

Apr 15, 2008

To Work or Not to Work: That is the Question

Valerie J. Steimle

Terri Wagner has gone off on a business trip and has asked me to be a guest blogger this morning. I haven’t posted on here in over four months and was glad to do it.

My life has made another change since I last wrote. I no longer homeschool my children and I work fulltime during the day. This works out well because I am home at the same time as my children are home even though I have to send them to public school.

Last year sometime, there was a writer’s contest for women to write about working at home. I was very excited to start my essay and be done with it way before the deadline of December 31st. But as it moved closer and closer to that day, I realized I was no longer going to be at home working my normal hours during the day as I was joining the ranks of the 8 to 5 crowd. My essay would have been invalid although I did think to make comparisons on both life styles as a valuable tool for the essay but suffice it to say I decided against the whole thing and thought to put down my ideas here:

Working at home vs. Working at the Office
Working at home has its advantages and disadvantages and I think most of us know what those are.
Advantages:
1. Having flexible time to do as we please.
2. Being in an environment, where we are comfortable.
3. Not having to travel to a place to work.
4. Not having to dress up to go to work.

Disadvantages:
1. Distractions away from work getting done.
2. Having to be disciplined enough to motivate ourselves to do our work.
3. Getting "cabin fever" after a while of not getting out at all.

I have been in both work situations. Thinking about doing the forty-hour time is so exhausting. It takes such a big chunk out of the day and there is no time to do anything else. If only there were some kind of compromise. For example if we would only have to work 20 hours a day in an office making the same amount of income, then there would be enough time to keep our house clean and laundry done without having to stay up late to accomplish all of these tasks. I never get enough sleep. Or just having enough income from another source so we wouldn’t have to work outside the home for our income would be nice too but not very likely for me.

No, this "work for our living" thing needs to be dealt with in a practical, manageable manner and our plan of domestic accomplishments will just have to fit in somehow to our week’s schedule so we won’t be tempted to get checked into the loony bin. All this working does sound good on paper but how realistic is this lifestyle? This dilemma will always come up because not everyone has the ideal situation. We just have to work at it and hope for the best. I wonder what state Terri’s place will be in when she gets home?

Apr 14, 2008

A Key Rediscovered

by Joyce DiPastena

Some days…too many days…I don’t really feel like a writer. Why? Because while I might walk around all day thinking about all the things I want to write about when I have time, longing in the deepest heartfelt way for those rare moments when I can sit down at the computer and allow all my wondrous ideas to flow like water from my fingertips onto the screen…suddenly, when that moment finally actually appears, all my longings abruptly disappear. Instead, I find myself faced with an equally heartfelt longing to be doing absolutely anything else than finally releasing my muse. In fact, that is the moment when I am absolutely convinced that I have no muse at all, and what was I thinking, imagining that I was a writer, when writing is suddenly the very last thing I want to do anymore!

This Tuesday, I will be giving a presentation on my book, Loyalty’s Web, at our local public library as part of our town’s celebration of the Kearny Library’s 50th anniversary. While jotting down ideas for my presentation and wandering through my personal library looking for inspiration, I came across a book I once loved but had not looked at for a very, very long time. It is called, Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers, by Susan Shaugnessy. Thumbing through the book, I re-read the first meditation, remembering it as the reason I bought the book, the meditation being such a perfect description of the way my personal writing muse once worked. I felt a bit of sadness, because that sort of writing seemed to belong to my past, and I miss it, and am still struggling to find my way back to that part of my writing again.

But then I glanced away from the meditation to the introduction. It was filled with phrases I’d highlighted for reasons long forgotten. Until I read through them again, and then they hit me like a thunderclap of memory and revelation. Here are a few of the phrases I had marked:

“What really goes on in the life of a ‘real writer’—discipline, working against resistance, and a crazy kind of faith.

“Every day, I think: ‘Today’s the day I won’t be able to do it.’ Most days, I drag myself down to where I write. I stare at the computer screen with a sinking and skeptical heart. Then I put my fingers on the keys. Most days, after the first sentence or two, the story comes, emerging from mysterious depths.

“Unless you are one of the very few, you [too will] face resistance every day. Why? Nobody really knows. It seems to be an integral part of the drive to write—a shadow you can never shake.

“Writer’s resistance (a term I like better than ‘writer’s block’) is persistent, so we must be persistent. We need to work with it a little every day. We need to recognize that it is not a personal demon, but one almost universal to writers.”

How many days—nay, years—had I fought my own resistance in the past? How many times had I—how many times do I still sit down at the computer, and say to myself, “Today’s the day I won’t be able to do it”? How could I have forgotten the comfort, the reassurance I first felt when I read the words above, realizing for the first time that it was not “just me”, and that battling resistance every day was not, as I’d feared, a sign that I was no longer a writer, but rather evidence that I AM a writer.

Those same fears have resurfaced in great force in my life, frightening me, blocking me from accomplishing what I might, because of that convincingly deceptive voice, “If I were really a writer, I’d sit down eagerly at the computer every day and words would flow like water from my mind and fingers.”

But now I know…or rather, I remember…that the truth is, indeed, just the opposite. Being a writer is sitting down however reluctantly and fighting through that resistance until I rediscover the joy of writing. I do not usually have to wait long for it, once I actually start pounding out words. In fact, once I have begun, I usually find myself much more reluctant to stop than I ever was to begin in the first place.

This has been the missing key to unlocking the discouragement I have been feeling for so long. A key now rediscovered, and hopefully not to be lost again. “A cazy kind of faith”, Shaugnessy said. But maybe not so crazy to us. Faith, we are taught, is an action word. And faith is what I need to exercise every day when I sit down at the computer. Not faith that “words will flow like water”, but faith that if I will only push through those few moments of resistance, joy in writing will come afresh.

Thank you, Susan Shaugnessy and Alligators. Thank you for reminding me that I am a writer, and that I am not alone.

Apr 13, 2008

A Story and a Card Trick

by Liz Adair

My son Clay is studying in Cairo this year and was asked to speak in church this Friday on a conference talk that impressed him. Friday is Islam's holy day and is the day the branch has meetings. He sent us a copy of his talk as a way of keeping in touch, and I'd like to share a part of it here.

Clay chose Elder Bednauer's talk on prayer and spoke about prayer in his own life. He started out with a couple of stories, but I'll just include one.

The Story

During my senior year, I landed a spot on the varsity football team. I was rather tall, thicker than most, somewhat uncoordinated, but I understood the basics of American football and had trained well through the summer. This combination and the fact that the coach didn’t have anyone else gave me the shot to play on the offensive line, a post that requires the least amount of thinking and decision making.

I am sad to say now that during my teenage years I didn’t pray much. I had had few experiences with personal prayer and lacked my own foundation. There were many times where I operated under the assumption that, because of my foolish behavior, prayer would yield few benefits, that I wasn’t in a position to be blessed.

It was a practice of several members of the team to gather in the pad room before games to hold hands together and offer a prayer. I was always invited, being a known Christian, but would always politely decline. One game day, for what reason I can’t remember, I overcame my resistant feelings and accepted. We all held hands, and each team member there took turns offering words of prayer. There weren’t many “Thees” or “Thous” but the prayers were sincere. Safety was always among the things petitioned for, also that both teams would play well. I remember asking in that prayer that we might be able to perform to the best of our abilities and that we might enjoy the game.

It’s funny to me now, but it wasn’t until years later, after I had returned from my mission and was driving down the freeway one day reminiscing, that I came to the realization that that game was amazing; it was the very best of my (brief) football career. I personally was on the whole game. I hustled hard, and had steam all four quarters. I stuck on my blocks and read my guys with skill and accuracy and reacted with lightning feet. And in addition to all of that, I was high on life and high on the game.

I remember sprinting down the field after a breakaway, waiting for my teammate with the ball to cut back in my direction, so that I could make a block for him and clear up a lane. I spotted a player from the other team heading from a similar direction on an intercept course, hoping to make a tackle when the cutback occurred. I turned in my steps, making eye contact with the man. He knew what I was up to. He also knew that he had the better angle. Try as I did to get my body under me before we made contact, it wasn’t meant to be and I ended up sailing through the air before skidding on my facemask across the turf. It was in this mid-flight moment that I realized the joy that I was experiencing and exclaimed to myself, “I love this!” Overcome with the experience, when were back on the line before the next whistle I found my man on the other team and called out, “Hey 72, nice hit!” The teammate at my side muttered to himself something to the effect of, “Stupid Mormon!”

I always smile when I remember that game and that experience. There I was feeling not comfortable to pray because of some stupid little thing, and there Heavenly Father was exclaiming to himself, “Finally, a chance to pour out blessings on Clay. Here’s a chance for him to feel my love.” I may not have known it, but by training through the summer and going to practices I had exercised faith, and by standing in that circle and voicing a prayer I had exercised faith. By excercising that small faith, I had opened a window through which the lord was able to bless me and teach me with experience.

The Card Trick

Clay went on to explain the nuts and bolts of how he improves his prayers and acts in faith:

For daily prayers I have employed a system at times that has helped me to be more focused and active with my personal prayers. I will take a 3x5 card and divide it into two columns: one “thanks” and one “communications”. I call it that because “requests” sounds a little demanding. I use the card as both a brain storm to figure out what things I want or need to pray about, and also as a reminder while I am praying. On the other side of the card I usually write down the things I need to do the next day. I then carry the card with me the next day as a reminder of the temporal and spiritual goals I have; things I need to get done and things I have asked for help with. Doing this has helped me to be more mindful of my prayers, exercise more faith, and to have more meaningful prayers. I also like doing this because at the end of the day after I review the old card and make a new one, I put the used card in a stack. It has been interesting and insightful to review the old cards months after they were written to see what things I had been asking for and how things went.

I thought Clay's card trick was so great that I asked share it, and he gave me permission to post it on my blog.

Apr 12, 2008

Parenting A Testimony

By Christine Thackeray

(Sorry this is so long but I had to prepare a talk for Stake Conference and decided to share it.)

As I was reviewing Sister Lant and Elder Ballard's talks, an idea hit me that I hadn't thought about in twenty years. In college I remembered my professor teaching us about Erik Erikson. He was an early psychologist who studied Sigmund Freud and noticed a flaw in his theories. Freud based his hypotheses on people that were emotionally damaged. Erikson figured that the best way to be able to understand healthy human development was to study healthy people so he left the laboratory and went home to study his wife and own children. Then he researched other cultures and came up with eight stages of emotional development, which have become an accepted standard.

These eight stages map the healthy emotional and social progression of life. Each stage builds on the next and as people progress through each stage they become more emotionally stable. If they seriously lack a step, a person may become fixated at that level, unable to progress to the next. These stages include:

Trust vs. Mistrust- An infant is totally reliant on his parents and soon learns that they will fill his needs and love him unconditionally. For children not given this center, they will struggle with every area of further development until they have it basic need.

Autonomy vs. Shame- A toddler begins to experience freedom from his parents as he begins to crawl, then walk. He also learns to eat independently and be potty training. When a child has difficulty with these skills, they can feel shame and back away rather than progress.

Initiative vs. Guilt- After a child learns to walk, he then starts to run, skip, jump and even dance. Confident children will take those basic skills and make them their own, enjoying their experimentation and progression.

Productivity vs. Inferiority- As a child enters school, they begin to learn about the world around them. They start to discover science, grammar and higher math concepts which expand their horizons. They either become more involved with the world or pull back into a feeling of inferiority.

Individuality vs. Role Confusion- With their expanding understanding of the world, a child will then look into themselves and ask "Who Am I?" They begin to plan for their future and map goals rather than simply relying on peer pressure. This usually happens in their late teens.

Intimacy vs. Isolation- If a person understands who they are, they will have the character necessary to build lasting committed relationships. This may be one of the causes for the high divorce rate we see around us, that many individuals do not have the social and emotional strength to create an intimate relationship.

Generativity vs. Stagnation- The next step is to start "giving back". The concept of "what is in it for me" becomes less important and our thoughts focus on assisting those around us and giving to the next generation.

Integrity vs. Despair- Finally, a person looks at his life and feels that he may not have everything but he has the best things. Feeling satisfaction and joy in a life well lived is a virtue that needs to be developed just as the other stages must be worked on.
Those are the stages of emotional growth. But what really hit me as I thought about it was how well those stages apply to spiritual growth as well. As parents it is our responsibility to “train up our children in the way they must go.” (Prov 22:6) We are also told that if we fail in certain duties, “the sin will be upon the heads of the parents.” (D&C 68:25) Of course even the best parents have children who may choose not to progress (look at Father Abraham, Lehi and our Heavenly Father) but by looking at their spiritual growth in stages it may help us as parents to understand more clearly how we can help our children in creating their personal relationship with Christ. For that is our goal.

When Alma the Younger talked to his son Corianton who left his mission to follow a prostitute, he did not lecture him about chastity. Corianton’s struggle was with theology (Alma 39 and 40.) Alma understood the root of his son’s issues were much deeper than his actual behavior. By increasing our understanding of spiritual progression, we may be able to see what our children are truly lacking and need help with.
Using Erikson’s stages and terminology, these would be equivalent stages of Spiritual Growth:
Trust in God vs. Mistrust- Just as the first stage of emotional development is that feeling unconditional love, the same is true of our spiritual lives. Although we tell our children of their loving Father in Heaven, the first step for them is when they feel it themselves. It may be when they are singing “I Am a Child of God” in Primary or “I Feel My Savior’s Love.” One of my children said the first time they really knew Heavenly Father was there was when he bore his testimony for the first time. He said he could feel Heavenly Father smiling at him.
I think it isn’t only important for a child to have those first experiences but to be reminded of them. When Oliver Cowdery was asking for a greater witness of Joseph Smith, his reply was:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might aknow concerning the truth of these things.
Did I not speak apeace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater bwitness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:22)

As parents we can ask our children about their first experience where they have felt that Heavenly Father was really there. I was surprised. For my one daughter, it was at her baptism. She just felt really happy. Another son remembered in kindergarten that he forgot his book and was going to get in trouble, he prayed and the teacher never asked if he had it. He was sure it was Heavenly Father who helped him. By helping our children “cast their minds” upon their first spiritual experience and others, it will help them remember how much their Savior loves them.

Autonomy vs. Shame- The next emotional stage is physically learning how to become an independent person. This step in our spiritual life is learning to how to physically become a saint. This is, in essence, the letter of the law, the things we learn in Primary and include:
· attending church meetings,
· paying tithing,
· participating in scouts, young women’s, achievement days,
· praying before meals,
· praying before going to bed,
· family scripture reading,
· and family home evening.
Now just as children from the most emotionally stable homes may have problems with learning to walk or may lisp into their school year but are still able to progress normally through the other stages. It is important to realize that we may not be perfect in every area but our children do need to have most of these basics down. I have seen so many new converts that feel their Savior’s love, they have felt that first spark of the Spirit, but never learn this second step. They have a hard time coming to church consistently, don’t continue to pray and read their scriptures and soon the spark dies away.
On the other hand, when going to church or doing FHE is forced, it can soon become a negative event. When I was a young mother, I had a friend who swore that she could potty train any child by the time they were 12 months all from the advice of a book. She gave me the book and I went to work on 14 month old Marcus. After many tears from both of us, I threw the book away. Marcus on the other hand began hiding the potty chair. I would find it under his bed or in a closet. For him it had become associated with bad memories and it took him much longer to master that skill than it probably otherwise would have. Don’t let church become your child’s potty chair. We need to encourage them to participate but make it a positive experience, filled with praise, so they can make it to the next step.
Initiative vs. Guilt- How many members of the church struggle with guilt issues? If a congregation was asked to raise their hands in response to this question, I’m sure a majority would admit it is an issue for them. Guilt’s only purpose is to encourage us to repent. Paul explained this to the Corinthians when he said,
“Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made asorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.
For agodly bsorrow worketh crepentance to dsalvation not to be repented of: but the esorrow of the world worketh death.” (2 Corinthians 7: 9, 10)
It is interesting that according to Erikson the opposite of guilt is initiative. It is when you begin to make the gospel your own- when you start looking for your own answers, when you listen to a lesson and suddenly realize what an awesome idea that was and go home and study it some more, when you begin to look forward to going to scouts, or activity days or even enrichment.
We can encourage this in our children by asking them about their lessons and discussing them at home, by having them plan the family home evening lesson on whatever they want, and by sharing our own insights and spiritual experiences. In our home we often go around the table on Sunday and talk about our lessons. Rarely do we make it all the way around before we are discussing some interesting tangent about the gospel. Some of my best memories revolve around those sometimes heated conversations.
In our ward we are blessed with incredible Achievement Day Leaders. They are always doing something fun and my daughter is having such a great time she decided to invite her friend. The two of them have done so many wonderful things that they brought another friend last Sunday to church. Sarah is ten but she is now exploring this stage of enjoying the gospel and making it her own.
Industry vs. Inferiority- In Erikson’s emotional stages this is where the child learns grammar, history, science and higher math. He believed that without an education our ability to progress was hampered. The same is true for our spiritual life. We can only progress so far on “borrowed light.” Thank goodness for early morning seminary!!!! Inspired prophets of this dispensation have given our children a gift to learn all the scriptures and church history at an intense level and have made it available to every member.
But unlike the parent who is afraid to help their child with algebra because they have no idea what a variable is, we, as parents, cannot be clueless about the scriptures. There comes a time where we need to learn and understand the scriptures. They are a lifelong study. Elder Maxwell said that “God is a God of Economy” he will not send a tornado if a gentle breeze will do. I believe if he has already given us an answer in the scriptures that he will often try to guide us there but if we never open them, the answer waits, unread. We need to become fluent in the scriptures through constant personal study. That is part of righteous parenthood.
This higher study is a difficult stage to encourage. One summer years ago my husband Greg taped a one hundred dollar bill to the wall and told my children that the first one to finish the Book of Mormon could have it. By the end of the summer the money was still there. But if we keep gently encouraging and strengthening the stages before it, that day may come. Lately, it has been wonderful to watch my son Marcus start to read Jesus the Christ and the Book of Mormon at a deeper level in preparation for his mission.
Identity vs. Role Confusion- As children begin to truly grasp the big picture of what the gospel means, they suddenly will sit back and wonder what part they will play in it. They will ask themselves “Who am I?” and realize that they get to choose the answer for themselves. With that understanding, they will set goals for their future. They will want to be an eagle scout or get their young woman’s medallion. They will want to go on a mission, and to be married in the temple. When I taught seminary there was a boy who sat at the back of the room, hating every minute of it. One day I was driving him home and I asked what I could do to make his mornings more enjoyable. He told me there was nothing I could do because it “just wasn’t him.” I asked him “so who are you?” He shrugged and said “he was the stuff he liked” and I shook my head. If children never realize that they are what they choose, then they are trapped by their natures and appetites and will never be more. It is the sad state of the natural man.
I love that it is right at this time of choosing that children are given their patriarchal blessings to lift them and give them a vision of who they can become. The gospel is awesome and I know this may sound silly but do you ever shake your head and smile, realizing how smart Heavenly Father really is? One of the greatest gifts of my life has been sitting in the room during my children’s patriarchal blessings. When our children finally choose who they are and truly commit to being part of God’s Kingdom on the earth, it changes them. I believe that is what is meant by “being born again” (John 3:5; Alma 7:14) or “becoming a son or daughter of Christ.” (Mosiah 5:7; Ether 3: 14)
Intimacy vs. Isolation- With this new found commitment they will have an “increased portion of the Spirit.” (See 2 Kings 2:9; Alma 17:9; and D&C 71:1) They will be able to have a relationship with the Lord that they have never had before because not only will they trust in God, but He will trust in them. It has always interested me that it wasn’t until the 84th section of the D&C that the Savior called the new saints “my friends” (D&C 84:63) and even then he only used that term for the twelve apostles. I know we can all have that gift but it is something we earn through worthiness, faith, love and commitment.
Generativity vs. Stagnation- This is the point where your children start to go to activities with the attitude of how can they make it better rather than if it isn’t fun they won’t go. They begin to understand that each church event is the way that God’s Kingdom is built on the earth and they want to be a part of it. They realize the gospel holds answers and they start to openly share those answers with the people around them. They look for the people who need love or help and reach out to them. And with each experience, you watch them learn and grow and progress. This is where service turns to charity.
It interesting that Erikson’s termed opposite to this progression is Stagnation. As a child, my brother and I used to like to run up the down escalator. If you ran normally, you stayed in the same place, but if you ran really, really hard, you could make it to the top. I remember when I was about ten that I suddenly realized that was what life was about. If I just stayed where I was and did nothing, I would lose opportunities and abilities. There is no standing still in this life- we are either going forward or backwards. Stagnation is such an incredible example of this. If water isn’t moving, it doesn’t just sit there pure and clear. It begins to grow algae, stink and poison instead of give life.
Intergrity vs. Despair- Finally, when our children have progressed through these stages, we need to encourage them to feel good about what they have done. They need to find joy in looking at their lives and realize that although they don’t have everything, they have the best things. It is also important that if a child or ourselves reach this stage and find themselves in despair that they use those negative feelings for “godly sorrow” and begin at the beginning to refresh your spiritual strength and fill in gaps.

I know my greatest privilege is being entrusted with raising these precious spirits of our Heaven Father and worry that many of us don’t really realize the importance of what we are doing. When my oldest sons started high school I joined a volunteer organization whose goal was to increase the safety and strength of our community by putting on events for teenagers so they wouldn’t drink or do drugs on the weekends. What I soon realized was that I didn’t really want my kids attending the parties after all. The adults planning these events were doing so with genuine concern and lofty ideals, but without a family context to set limits and increase respect, they were feeding the inappropriate behaviors they were trying to stop. They would have done more good if they had each invited a group of children to their own homes and let them have fun in the context of a strong family environment. I learned then that our homes have far more power to save society than any other institution. Perhaps that is another meaning of the scripture that the hearts of the children must turn to their fathers or the earth will be covered with a curse. (See Malachi 4:6; 3 Nephi 25:6 and D&C 110:15.)
We are seeing the curse of broken homes all around us but as we each strive to create homes of righteousness, as we build faith and testimony in our children, they will be able to do great things. Our children are truly a chosen generation who have been held in reserve for this time and are equal to the task. We as parents have also been given the necessary tools to be equal to the task and I pray that we live up to our privileges.

Apr 11, 2008

On the Road

By Kristine John

We have tried, without success, to visit a friend with cancer for the past 8 weeks.
Each time we have planned a trip to see her, one of the nine people in our family has been sick. In fact, all of us have been sick, not just once this flu season, but twice.
This weekend, (including today), we are close to making that long awaited visit a reality.
By noon today, we should be at her home.

Susan is very dear to our family and has been an important part of our lives for the past 15 years.
She has been present for 5 of my children's births, and has become the "Auntie" in every sense of the word.
This battle she is fighting, (for the third time), against cancer, is one that robs her of strength and stamina.
She continues to rally, and have hope, emotional strength, and a great desire to be healed.
She has shown me, and all those about her the meaning of the word courage and endurance.

I am anxious to see her...to make memories with my children, and to be physically present to show our love and concern for her.
If you would like to add her to your prayers, her name is Susan Ludwig...and I know she would appreciate any prayers and postive thoughts on her behalf.

Apr 10, 2008

The Perfect Gift

By Kari Diane Pike

What do you give the person who seems to have everything? My father recently celebrated his 76th birthday. I gave him his favorite Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory dark chocolate covered raspberry and orange sticks, and a couple of loaves of homemade honey-wheat bread to go with the strawberry freezer jam that my sister-in-law made for him. Unfortunately, my timing was poor. Dad was scheduled to have surgery the next day and I arrived with my gift after the time he was allowed to eat anything. But Dad demanded his birthday hug and made a big deal out of the wonderful treats he had to look forward to after his surgery and recovery. He graciously accepted my gift, recognizing the love and gratitude my heart wrapped around it.

I remember one Christmas when a gift was not so easily recognized. I drew my brother-in-law’s name and I stewed for weeks about finding “the perfect gift.” The days counted down. Finally, knowing how much David enjoyed reading, I resorted to a book store gift certificate. David has a great sense of humor. I wanted his gift to be fun so I also purchased a large box of Cracker Jacks. I carefully peeled the wrapper open so it wouldn’t tear and slipped the gift certificate into the box through a small slit. After I glued the wrapper back into place, you couldn’t tell the box had been opened. When David opened the gift, all he saw was a box of Cracker Jacks. His first reaction was to just throw the box away, but he tossed the box to his kids, thinking they would enjoy the sweet treat. It took several hours to convince him to open the box and discover the real gift.

A couple of weeks ago, I experienced a personal lesson about recognizing gifts. About 5:30am on a Monday morning, I found myself muttering and murmuring as I ironed a white shirt for my husband. I find ironing a tedious task and ironing at 5:30 in the morning just seemed wrong. Then the still small voice whispered in my heart,


“Aren’t you glad you have a husband who is not only able and willing, but worthy to teach Seminary this morning? This is a gift!”

Then it dawned on me. The task was there because my husband existed, because others existed, because I existed! Each task is a gift! (Then I recalled hearing a quote at the ANWA conference that a gift is something we are given to share with others. I couldn’t wait to share those gifts with my children!) As I performed each task, asking for abilities to equal the task, I found a new sense of joy and gratitude.

I love the Primary song, “I Will Follow God’s Plan” by Vanja Y. Watkins.

“My life is a gift; my life has a plan.

My life has a purpose; in heav’n it began.

My choice was to come to this lovely home on earth

And seek for God’s light to direct me from birth.

I will follow God’s plan for me,

holding fast to his word and his love.

I will work, and I will pray;

I will always walk in his way.

Then I will be happy on earth

and in my home above.”

Each life, each woman, is a gift. Different women represent different gifts, times of life, and circumstances. Just as women come in different shapes, sizes and colors, gifts can come in gaily wrapped packages, plain brown paper, or found behind personal challenges. We are given the ability to choose whether or not we will accept, open, and use our gifts. Sometimes we can’t wait to open our gifts. Frequently, we want to peek first and find out what the gift is before we open it. There are times we set the gift aside, thinking someday we’ll use it. Once in awhile we receive a gift that makes us uncomfortable or embarrassed and we hide it in the closet or garage, or like David, want to throw it away.

In John 4, Jesus told the woman at the well, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith thee, Give me drink; thou wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” What is the gift of God? Romans 6:23 teaches us: “…the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Do we recognize the true gift of the Atonement? We are free to choose whether or not to accept this ultimate gift, but it is there for everyone. Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:

“All of you know that God is no respecter of persons; that he deals with every individual solely on the basis of his personal righteousness; and that he has given a blanket promise in revelations that spiritual gifts will flow to the faithful, even to the point, the promise so stipulates, that every faithful person will see the face of God.” (Promise Made to the Fathers)

Doctrine and Covenants 6:10, 13: “Behold, thou hast a gift, and blessed are thou because of thy gift; Remember it is sacred and cometh from above-

If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.”

What gifts are you going to open today?

Apr 9, 2008

I'm still learning

by Anna Arnett

Today completes the fourth week of my newest status in life. I suppose eventually I’ll be able to think of myself as a widow but for now I still feel just as married as ever. My husband is merely on duty beyond the veil, which was once as far away as overseas. I managed then, so I expect I will now. Copies of Charles’ death certificate finally arrived Monday, and added words to my vocabulary. It said the cause of death was “atherosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease.” If it could take me as quickly and easily as it did Charles, I won’t worry about hardening of the arteries or high blood pressure. However, if it brings on something like dementia, then I’m wary. Maybe I’ll even try to get in shape.

Last night, at our ANWA chapter meeting, I made more new discoveries. I talked quite a lot, but knew that if I brought up the subject of Charles’ death, the expectation of sympathy would momentarily tear me up, (Woops, since you can’t hear my pronunciation, please know I meant 'cry tears’, instead of ‘rip me apart’.) Now, I don’t mean tears of sadness, but the kind of tears we shed at the pulpit on Fast Sunday. Well, I didn’t bring up the subject, so neither did anybody else. At first that was great. But eventually the idea crossed my mind that nobody knew, or they didn’t care. Of course, once the ice was broken, I got lots of love and support. I suppose my dear sisters were also waiting and wondering what they should or shouldn’t do or say. I’ll ponder about that, and see if I can come up with a great solution, if there is such a thing.

About thirty or forty years ago, while playing around with short, rhyming words and clich├ęs, I wrote the following ditty, that I still find satisfactory, in that it expressed not only what I’ve been taught, but actually feel (well, most of the time). I know, it hardly fits in right here, but I’m sleepy, as usual, and don’t feel like writing a neat transition. But you’re writers. Make up your own. Here’s the rhyme.

HOMESPUN PHILOSOPHY

Experience has given me
Insight to gradually
Spin a philosophy
Which I'll explain.
Since I come from Deity,
Father has love for me,
Angels watch over me,
Growth to sustain.
Then all things that come to me,
Sickness -- vitality,
Failure -- prosperity,
Pleasure or pain,
Come either deservedly,
Through toil, or laxity,
Else they are good for me,
So why complain?

In this world of sin and woe,
It seems where e're we go,
Troubled winds always blow,
Hedging our way.
If that's what we're looking for,
Tragedies by the score,
Crowding forevermore,
Darken our day.
But if we are earnestly
Seeking the praiseworthy,
Speaking up cheerfully,
Sorrows will wane.
If we keep our attitude
Reflecting gratitude,
We'll reach new altitude,
And peace obtain.

So.
Let's like what we have to do,
Gladly, our work pursue,
Pausing oft to review
Strengths in our course;
Converting each stumbling block
Into foundation rock,
With courage meet each knock
Whate'er the source.
Just learning from negative,
Feasting on positive
Is a prerogative
We can employ.
If we use tenacity,
We'll gain capacity,
And the audacity
To embrace joy!

Apr 8, 2008

Ramblings of a Title Hobbyist

By Betsy Love

I’ve been thinking much lately about writing and the fun we as authors have in creating. We conjure up places, some real, some imaginary, for our characters. These people we give birth to, not in the sense we think of children, but ones from our mind's eye live and breathe, and think and conduct their lives, sometimes in ways more real to us than people we know in our waking worlds.

When one of my characters seems to hide from me, or a story won’t come and I’m stuck in the middle of a dilemma with my heroine hanging from a cliff by her fingernails, not knowing if she’s going to fall onto a branch below, or be rescued by her love interest, I have often turned to a book called The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood.

Let me tell you a little about this unique little gem I found a number of years ago. It has no page numbers. There are no chapters, no sections, and sometimes one thing that struck you as amazing, you can never find again. One day I found a little blub, and had to do a lot of searching before I relocated. It goes like this, “When stuck or bored with your work, try making up titles.”

It has become a hobby of mine to create story or poem titles. Here are a few of my favorites. And yes, I have a few story ideas based on them. But titles are not copyrighted and you may steal them and use them as you wish.

Morning, Gloria. Night, Violet.

Phantom of the Hoppera

Donuts for my Dear Dead Sister

If I Give You a Kiss made from Yankee Dimes

Sweet What?

Uhg, Love!

Below the Bridges

Ring

Buffalo Sunday

The Glass Cottage

Don’t Look in There

If You Think it Looks Good Now

Bip Bop Boop

Liver and Onions, Hold the Liver

The Crazies Live Next Door

I Have Grandma’s Hankie

Serenity’s Secret

Blossoms

Daisy and Nightsy

Lumps are for Oatmeal

You get the gist. Then once you’ve created your own list, what kind of characters would you create to go with each title. For instance: in the first title, “Morning Gloria. Night Violet,” I picture two teenage girls who are best friends, but are opposites in almost every way. Why are they friends? What is it about them that makes them like each other? I now have the beginnings of a story.

Create your own story title list. See where it takes your imagination. You never know who’s lurking in the recesses of your mind. Ooh, there’s another story title, “The Recess Lurkers.”

Apr 7, 2008

Our New Prophet

by Rene Allen



This weekend was General Conference, a spiritual feast certainly, with the sustaining in Solemn Assembly of a new First Presidency. It seemed strange to me that I didn’t see President Hinckley’s face or that of President Faust. It took time to assimilate the differences, so that it wasn’t until Sunday’s closing session, as our new President revealed intimate stories about his life, that the shift occurred and he did, indeed, in my mind and eye, become the prophet and president of our church.

“Pray for me,” said President Monson, “and I will pray for you so that together we might receive the blessings the Lord has in store for us.” It was the same Thomas S. Monson speaking, the little Tommy of the Christmas coal car story, and the one who wiggled his ears in general priesthood session, who has devoutly and steadfastly served so long as a General Authority that my expectation was for him to be there as always, sitting in one of the big seats during General Conference. But there was a difference, too. As he spoke into the camera, I felt and heard the new authority in his voice.

He talked about the sacrifice of serving, of being absent from home for weeks doing the Lord’s will in the nether most parts of the vineyard. Did I hear him say life as a General Authority was hard?

General Conference is so well-planned and moves so seamlessly from session to session, that I am unaware of what happens behind the scenes and during the six month hiatus between conferences. Common men and women made uncommon by their testimonies and magnified by the Spirit, give consecrated time and talent to this church to which I belong, so that it does move seamlessly along.

I am deeply touched by their charity. I am deeply touched by how much our Heavenly Father loves us. To prepare leaders such as President Monson who has been schooled of the Lord nearly his entire life, is a demonstration of that love.
We are studying the Book of Mormon this year and its great prophets. I look at the stature of our modern day prophets and know they are great, too, as were Nephi, Alma, and Moroni.

How wonderful it is to have a prophet.

Apr 6, 2008

My Gratitude Journal

by Marsha Ward

Several weeks ago, author Kerry Blair inspired me to start a "Gratitude Journal." Alas, I suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which has a component of short-term memory loss. This means that unless I can embed a task into my schedule so deeply that I cannot forget to do it, the task will go undone.

I do have a few thing in my schedule that almost always get done. I pray when I arise, I take my pills. At night I reverse that sequence. If I am interrupted, I may forget my pills, but that does not happen too often. I have my medications in a weekly container so I know at a glance if I need to catch up on the day's allotment.

Unfortunately, after three days of entries, my Gratitude Journal got buried under a map and a couple of credit card statements, and I stopped writing in it.

Today I listened to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir before LDS Conference began. Such waves of gratitude to my Heavenly Father swelled over me that I knew I needed to unearth that brightly-covered little book and jot down my feelings. I went to get it, and now I will list a few things that came to me.

1. Gratitude that a young boy sought a private place to pray about which church he should join, thus opening the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times.

2. Gratitude for the orderly succession in the Presidency of the Church, and a new Prophet of God.

3. Gratitude for music--another passion of mine. Especially, I am grateful for the clear way music brings me messages from my Heavenly Father: "Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand" (Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, #85, "How Firm a Foundation"). I needed that message of love and uplift when we sang it as brothers and sisters all over the world.

4. Gratitude for the opportunity to listen to prophets of God twice a year in General Conference.

5. Gratitude for the chance to stand during a Solemn Assembly and raise my hand with my Relief Society Sisters--and later, with all the members of the Church,--to sustain a new prophet of God and presidency of the Church, and a new apostle, through the exercise of the principle of common consent that we use in the Church.

6. Gratitude that I am not the person needing the helicopter that is circling overhead.

I am going to put my Gratitude Journal in a new place, and intend to embed writing in it into my rising or bedtime schedule so that I will draw closer to God through my expressions of gratitude.

Apr 5, 2008

Take Advantage of Every Moment

by Margaret Turley

The other day my mother brought by the DVD of her sister-in-law’s funeral so we could watch it together. Tante (Dutch for Aunt) Agaath died a couple of months ago after having suffered for six years locked away in a non-functional body. My cousin, her daughter Elsbeth, has never married. She stayed with her mother throughout the years to care for her. When she could no longer do it at home, Tante Agaath was admitted to a nursing home. Elsbeth continued to visit her daily and provide most of her personal care.

I’m preparing a surprise birthday party for Mom’s 75th. This week I sent out e-mail invitations (which my sister Maria created) to family and friends all over the world. During the process I found there were several family members that I didn’t have an address for. One of them was Agaath’s oldest daughter, Kitty. When I was forwarded her e-mail address I wrote her the following message:

"I watched Tante Agaath's funeral DVD with Mom a couple of days ago. That was so nice of you to send Mom a copy. I thought it was very brave of all of you girls - the way you spoke at her funeral. It was a very tasteful ceremony. I have a special place in my heart for your family as you were so kind to me when I was there. I especially remember Sinterklaas Eve in your home and New Year's Eve. They were full of fun and love, in spite of the fact it was the first year you were without your father. Tante Agaath was a remarkable woman and I enjoyed the time that Elsbeth and she visited with me and my children in Pinetop. I'll always remember her digging up the wild flowers in the forest and transplanting them to my back yard."

Kitty’s response to me ended with the following advice: Wees zuinig op je eigen moeder, je hebt er maar een. Translation = Be thrifty, economical, careful, frugal, tight, provident with your own mother, you only have one.

I’ve thought about that advice – with which I totally concur - for the past couple of days. (As an aside note - that family doesn't belong to the church, but they chose "Abide with Me" sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as the closing song for the funeral service.)

We frequently don’t take advantage of the moment – thinking “Oh I’ll do that another time,” or “I’m too busy for that now.” And then one day your loved one is not available to have the opportunity to do it with in this earthly existence.

A friend at work asked for someone to take a shift for her. I volunteered. She recently moved to Gilbert, Arizona from Seattle, Washington. Her mother and sister will be coming down to visit, unexpectedly, and she wanted some extra time to spend with them. I told her to enjoy them while she could, and pointed out that this was the perfect time of year, with excellent weather to introduce them to her new home environment. She said yes, and she will be trying to persuade them to move down here because she misses them so much. My mother is living in Mesa this year with my youngest sister while she serves a mission at the Family History Library. I’ve been trying to take advantage of every moment that I can to share time and experiences with her. My answer to my friend was: “It’s nice to have family nearby to share special and ordinary moments with.”

My daughter who is no longer a member of the church decided spontaneously this week to spend the evening at the Family History Library with my mom. Genealogy is something she has enjoyed doing in the past. Mom gave her a ride home afterwards, and she was all excited about doing genealogical research once again, and promised to make it a weekly date. My secret prayer is that the tie with her grandmother, and the positive experiences she gains while spending time with her, will rekindle a desire for a testimony. If not, at least the time is well spent in sharing love with one another.

When I read Faith’s blog entry a couple of days ago, the same theme came to mind and I asked myself what am I doing to capture those moments? Do I remember to journal those times shared? I use my pictures file as my screen saver. As pictures of my son’s family flash by I am so glad that he has shared them with me so I can feel a little closer to my granddaughters. I feel we can never do too much or ever get too close to our dear family members.

Mom also serves in the Temple on Fridays. I promised Mom I’d go with her to the temple every other Friday on my days off so I can help her do the work for all the family members she has completed temple ready cards for. It’s a sacred experience that only LDS church members can share with their families. There is no closer feeling that I have ever experienced than when I am serving in the temple with members of my family.

I hope all of you will have a wonderful conference weekend with your family members.

Apr 4, 2008

School Presentation

By Rebecca Talley

Yesterday I had the privilege of doing a school presentation. I presented in individual classrooms.

In the 1st grade class, I donned my headband with antennas attached and read my picture book, Grasshopper Pie. I let one of the kids hold a large plastic grasshopper and put a smaller one on my finger to help me tell the story. I shared how this story was based on an experience with my kids when they tried, unsuccessfully (thank goodness), to feed me a live grasshopper. I also showed the kids the proof and an original watercolor illustration. They seemed to enjoy it and asked me a lot of questions. 1st graders are wiggly so I knew I had to be animated and entertaining.

I then presented to the 4th graders who were much less wiggly. While writing my book, I tried to build up to the climatic moment and yesterday I was pleased with the reaction by the kids. They all started laughing and gasping just before the mom gets the grasshopper in her mouth. I also shared my process with getting my novel, Heaven Scent, published. I showed them the notes I wrote and a couple of the proofs as well as the edit requests from my editor. I wanted to emphasize that rewriting and editing are part of the writing process. One girl wanted to know if you could turn in your manuscript with smears on it, you know, after you'd erased your mistakes. Her comment made me realize how fortunate we are to have computers. I remember writing on my lined paper and erasing mistakes, only to rip the page, and have to start over. Or using a typewriter only and having to use the correction ribbon or type it on erasable onion skin paper. We've come a long way since then. I explained to her that you have to write your story on a computer and edit it right on the computer and then the mistakes aren't noticeable anymore.

To conclude, I presented to a large 3rd grade class and ended up speaking to them for an hour. They had so many questions about submitting stories and writing. It was so fun to see the excitement and how most of the hands went up when I asked who kept a writing journal. I also asked what was the one thing that could help a writer the most. After a few answers one girl said, "Read." I told her that was absolutely right. The more we read the better writers we'll become and the more we write the better writers we'll become, they're both intertwined.

It was great to see such enthusiasm. I had a lot of fun and hope to be able to do more school presentations.

Apr 3, 2008

Exterminating Bugs

by Heather Horrocks

What is it about the change in the weather that drives the bugs inside?

The common cold bugs, I mean. Inside our bodies. Inside mine, at least. This week. Sniffle, sniffle. Blow. Sniffle, sniffle. Blow. Ad nauseam. Plus I’ve got a really sore nose now.

Can those scientists really not come up for a cure for the common cold? I mean, really. They can put a man on the moon, yada, yada, but we have to sniffle for days here on earth.

Okay, I’ll quit complaining. (Ha! Did you believe that?) I know it’s not a horrible thing like those that can happen suddenly – no deaths in the family, or accidents, or diseases. And I know other people are dealing with those big, horrible things (and I’m praying for you, if I know about it).

I do identify with those of you who have lost a loved one. I lost my father two years ago and my mother-in-law (second mother) last August, and I still have a very hard time attending funerals. But the sniffle, sniffle seems to muffle all that stuff, and my world has narrowed down to just me and my tissues. Sad, isn't it? What's the phrase from Miss Congeniality? 'Both pathetic and grotesque.' Yup, that probably describes it. Me, with my irritating sniffle. Sniffle. Excuse me, I have to go grab a tissue.

Okay, I’m back. I wonder just how many varieties of cold bugs there are. And would they survive a nuclear blast like the cockroaches? And then will the cockroaches catch colds?

Speaking of cockroaches (hey, my head is all fuzzy and tangents are all I can manage this week), we lived in South America, where they are huge and gross. I’m glad I don’t have them here in the Western United States.

Where will my mind wander next? It’s like a great adventure. My mind has caught the Common Cold Express. Off we go!

Because this is just a weird day, and because I absolutely love movies (I even owned a video store for five years), I’m going to list a few of my favorite movies (feel free to join in on your next blog : ) ... Star Wars (the original, not the dreadful Episode I), Steel Magnolias (‘Hit this!’), National Treasure, Groundhog Day, Three Men and a Little Lady, Undercover Blues, Miss Congeniality, and my new favorite, Enchanted.

Now I think I’d better take some medicine and tuck myself into bed. (If I’m naughty, will someone send me to my room?)

I hope this blog finds all of you healthy. And that those of you who are dealing with a real crisis are able to find comfort and peace throughout it.