Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One More Year Has Gone

by Anna Arnett

Isn't it hard to believe that 2008 has only hours left to exist? That is, if time ever does really exist. Perhaps it's only a figment of our imagination, yet it dominates our mortal lives. I've tried for about eighty years to train the clock to stop while I goofed off. It should be possible. After all, Joshua asked the sun to "stand still upon Gibeon" and the moon to stay "in the valley of Ajalon", and "the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day" until Joshua and his people "had avenged themselves upon their enemies." We don't dwell much on this story, but still it's translated as such in Joshua 10:12-13. With a sigh of regret, I suppose when one procrastinates, one has no business asking for the time back.

It's been a full year, with many triumphs, but also 2008 leaves behind a lot of unfinished business I'd hoped to have already done. Great. That gives me challenge, renewed hope, and something to live for in 2009.

My thoughts turn to the song I sang as a girl (and even accompanied in Sunday School) at the passing of each year: Here it is, composed by "Mrs. M. B. C. Slade"; No. 44, straight from the old brown book of Deseret Sunday School Songs with only three single word changes to fit us ANWA writers, who are alwo teachers and scholars. Maybe a few of you might even remember it.

"One More Year Has Gone

"One more year has gone! Joyful marching on,
We this height have won; Resting here.
Back a look we cast, O'er the journey past,
Then we'll view, at last, The coming year.

Chorus:
"Teachers, scholars, rally round our banner,
See its motto shining fair and clear;
Onward! Upward! Writers sing hosanna!
God will lead us thro' another year.

Chorus:

"Glad we here have come, Oh, sweet ANWA home,
None from thee would roam, Blessed place!
Here our feet have turned, Here our hearts have burned,
Here our souls have learned The works of grace.

Chorus:

"Forward marching, we Our bright way would see,
Upward, Lord, to Thee, Climbing still.
Be our Guide, we pray--Ev'ry writing day
Teach us, Lord, the way, And Thy dear will.

Chorus:

"Father, hear our call, Let Thy blessings fall
On Thy children all, Drawing near.
May sweet show'rs of love Thy dear presence prove,
While we on-ward move Another year.

Chorus:
"Teachers, scholars, rally round our banner,
See its motto shining fair and clear;
Onward! Upward! Writers sing hosanna!
God will lead us thro' another year."

And He will. Have a joyful, spiritual, blessed, prosperous, productive New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Quotable Quotes

by Valerie Ipson

"Whenever he thought about it, he felt terrible. And so, at long last, he came to a fateful decision. He decided not to think about it." --John-Roger & Peter McWilliams

I love a great quote. I read this one today and it really struck me. It made me think of all the wasted time spent dwelling on negative things or that which we have no control over. This year let's decide not to do that, but to put our energy into accomplishing our goals in writing and in life. In fact, that reminds me of another quote I read, by Bernard Berenson, "I wish I could stand on a busy corner, hat in hand, and beg people to give me their wasted hours." Let's resolve to put wasted hours to good use in 2009!

I've noticed a shift in my mindset this past year (thanks to all the positive energy that flows when my ANWA chapter meets)...instead of thinking, "Who am I that I think I can write a novel?"--now I look around the rows and rows of books in the library and bookstore and think, "They did it, why not me?"

I love the ANWA organization and feel it is one of the greatest assets next to the computer's delete button that I have as a writer. I'm grateful to Marsha and her inspired creation that has grown to include every last wonderful one of you. I feel another quote coming on...this by Dave Thomas, "Instead of waiting for someone to take you under their wing, go out there and find a good wing to climb under."

ANWA is that "good wing." Here's hoping that 2009 finds me and you numbered among the growing list of ANWA success stories!

Monday, December 29, 2008

In Review

by Rene Allen

This is my final blog for ANWA Founders and Friends. Soon, I hope to have my own site running. Look for it at “nursetree.blogspot.com” as I explore the experience of memoir writing and the symbolism of a Nurse Tree in the desert. I’m late in posting—too much holiday, perhaps, and even as I finalize this, it is with one eye on the clock because I will have to be on the road to Phoenix in a couple of hours taking a daughter-in-law to the airport.

But it is all okay. Exactly one year ago, my New Year’s resolution was to be done with the old resolution list – fondly known as my New Year’s revolutions since they came up every January and disappeared shortly thereafter only to resurface the following New Year. Instead of a list, I resolved to give more heed to the little voice whispering the good things to do, to surrender, if you will, my will. This holiday has been filled with service to family and friends. We have reduced the material side of Christmas and given from the heart, those things that are without price: time, energy, attention . . .

It has been a wild year. Some of you who have followed our blog site will remember my concern about a family member, the loss of a brother and nephew and four other close friends or relatives during the year, and my mother who at 87, is so battered by these losses she has lost a chunk of memory and struggles with that kind of sadness that seeps into every waking hour.

None of these were in my plans for the future. They arrived, each with its own kind of distraction from my avowed intent to finish my memoir and move on to the next project. It didn’t happen. I had underestimated the enormous emotional distraction of loss and my own ability to circumvent it. But there is good news. That old, illusive goal of weight loss? Well, while the road to my goal isn’t exactly smoking, Christmas is past and my jeans are no tighter than they were before, and that’s looser than they were a couple of months ago. And the news is hopeful as well for troubled family members whose own course has taken them through valleys of despair and alienation. There have been blessings. There is hope.

As I finish, tying up loose ends and reaching closure—I do so with gratitude. This vehicle provided by Marsha Ward and ANWA has brought growth and maturity. It has quelled anxiety and opened the door for friendships I never dreamed about.I feel I know you, those of you who have written and posted about your lives and what is important to you.

What is next? I have an old pair of hiking boots in my closet. Whenever I put them on and tighten the laces, I know I’m going somewhere. There is preparation and anticipation. Those boots have taken me to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back out. They have become the symbol for adventure and for my role in making it happen.

In a way, it is as if those boots are waiting for me. Finishing my memoir is the next adventure and certainly, writing a memoir is akin to hiking the Grand Canyon. You go in and have to come out. But while you are there, the views are magnificent.

To all I say thank you. I love you. You truly are sisters. I hope this coming year brings you a wealth of satisfaction.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Here Comes 2009!

by Marsha Ward

As the end of each year approaches, we of the blog team gather in a huddle to see who needs to move on to other endeavors. We don't force anyone out, but we acknowledge the changing seasons of life in our team members. In fact, we do this in the middle of the year, too (or any time a member has Life Happen).

And so, we will be saying goodbye to five members of the team: Liz Adair (as she has already announced), Faith St. Clair, Rebecca Talley, Margaret Turley, and Rene Allen. I thank them for all the words, feelings, and insights they've shared during their time with us.

New team members joining us for 2009 are Shawnette Nielson, Sarah Albrecht, Cindy R. Williams, Marielle Carlisle and Stacy Johnson.

I'm looking forward to a 2009 full of blessings and outstanding blog posts. I'm sure our new team members are excited by this opportunity, as well and I hope you will enjoy their posts.


(Edited to add my byline)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Peace on Earth and Good Will towards Men

by Margaret Turley

Today’s blog is a response to Kerry Blair’s blog on 12/19/08, about her wish for peace on earth. In her blog she tells how her son told her that peace wouldn’t be a good idea as it would put two of her sons and a nephew out of work. My answer to him is: wouldn’t that be nice if militias weren’t needed or the war machines and equipment to kill – to supposedly keep the peace.

What would happen if we didn’t have wars? Would that ruin the world’s or even this nation’s economy? Yes, I have been taught that when we are at war our economy does well, creating jobs in many sectors. We have been at war now for years and the US economy is head in the direction of the Great Depression. The economy of the world is in a terrible downturn.

So what would happen if all of a sudden peace was declared? We would have army, navy, air force, marines, national guardsmen and contractors for the military that no longer had a job. That could be disastrous.

What if we used the billions of dollars we now spend on war and paid off the national debt, to feed the hungry, pay for medical care, finance research for incurable diseases, improve our education systems, or retrain displaced workers to a field that not only help their family financially but will also help the nation? What if we used those dollars now spent on the military to research and develop renewal energy systems, or to halt and reverse global warming? What if we took all of the current military persons and put them to work rebuilding infrastructures? Or what if we used the entire military R&D for making useful every day products out of all the items that would otherwise be scrap metal? Or maybe they could help our industries clean up the air, water and land of pollutants. What if we use the military medical personnel in local civilian public health or world health outreach?

With true world peace, national peace we would have no need for the CIA, the FBI, the Secret Service, or any other spy, body guard, system. Oops – they would also need different jobs and careers. How about having those people service the third world countries and bring them up to pace with the rest of the world? Yes they could make sure there was clean water, enough food, plenty of schools and health care facilities to meet the needs so that there would be no need to go back to fighting over what little resources were available. Maybe they could teach tolerance, diversity, living green, and or arts? Who knows? I’m sure there are plenty of things that could be done once the focus is off how to beat the other guy to the punch.

Homeland Security could focus on building bridges, dams, roadways. They could be ready to respond to natural disasters. Instead of spending time on wondering when the next terrorist attack will happen, they could bring us back to the land of promise, the land that the Statue of Liberty stands for.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

I think, and I know this is probably a dream that could only come true in the millennium, that we would not only have peace, but we could eliminate poverty, illiteracy, and disease. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

The lyrics and music to the song “Let There Be Peace on Earth” were written by Jill Jackson and Sy Miller in 1955. I feel they are more relevant now as they were then.

Let there be peace on earth,
and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on Earth,
the peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father,
brothers all are we,
Let me walk with my brother,
in perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me,
let this be the moment now.
With every step I take,
let this be my solemn vow,
To take each moment and live each moment
in peace, eternally.
Let there be Peace on Earth,
and let it begin with me.

So if Peace on Earth begins with me, what am I going to do to help achieve that goal? I will smile to spread good will. I will extend a helping hand every time that I can. I will practice tolerance. I will think twice before speaking. When I feel angry I will count to ten, walk around the block, do anything other than retaliate so that I don’t perpetuate the situation. I will vote for leaders who seek peace. I will love my neighbors.

Have a very Happy, Peaceful, and Loving New Year!

Friday, December 26, 2008

What the Savior's Birth Means to Me

by Rebecca Talley

On December 19, 1968 I awoke early and told my father goodbye as he left for work. I even rushed to my bedroom window to watch his car leave our cul-de-sac and drive along the road out of our subdivision. I didn't usually wake up early to see my father off, but I did that day.

My mother took my baby sister and me Christmas shopping. We ended up at my grandmother's house later that day to spend the night. Long after we'd gone to bed, I was awakened by the ringing of the telephone. Though I was quite young, I realized that the late-night phone call meant my life would never be the same. My father's mortal existence had ended in a mangled heap of a car on a dark, unlit road. He was such a young man filled with so much life and vitality. He'd hardly had a chance to live. He had a promising career, a beautiful wife, and two young daughters. His funeral was on Christmas Eve.

Every year I think about my father and his short life. I think of what could have been and, of course, I wish this story had a different ending. But, I also find great hope and comfort as I celebrate the birth of the Savior. Because Jesus was born into mortality, willingly chose to lay down his life, and was then resurrected, so too will my father (and my mother, my grandparents, my father-in-law, other family members, and my friends) be resurrected. The birth and life of the Savior means that I will be reunited with my father and all of those I've loved and lost.

The Savior's birth makes it possible for me to someday have the family I didn't have in mortality. Yes, it's been hard not having my parents. Yes, it makes me sad that they both died before they could see and know my children in mortality. Yes, I've often wished to build a time machine to go back and know my parents. But, in the eternal scheme of things, time is only relative. The significance of the birth of Jesus transcends time and heals the aching heart.

His birth means that I can have an eternal family and that brings me incredible peace and joy.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!!!

by Stephanie Abney

Christmas greetings my dear friends ~ I am in Henderson, NV spending the holidays with our daughter's family. Jim and I drove here yesterday. Surprisingly there weren't very many cars on the road and we had a lovely trip.

This year I have been blessed to blog on Pioneer Day, Thanksgiving and now Christmas as my every other Thursdays have fallen on these holidays. What a treat for me. I love Christmas and have wondered for days now what I would write. I decided to make it a matter of prayer (as if that were some foreign idea or something but I really don't think I've ever bothered to pray over a blog entry before). I searched all the far corners of my mind and enjoyed many a Christmas memory, but nothing stood out that I should write until the Bishop's wife in my daughter's ward dropped off a plate of goodies on Christmas Eve with a wonderful story attached. As soon as Mandy read it aloud, I knew that this was what I should use for my Christmas blog.

There was no author listed on the story, which of course(as a writer myself), just drives me to distraction. I searched the Internet for about 20 mintues and have been unable to determine the author so if anyone knows, please let me know. Also, I guess it is becoming a popular story this year and so you may have read it ~ if so, please enjoy it again; there must be others who will draw strength from it as I am sure this is what the Lord would have me share.

May you all have a blessed Christmas. Here is the story:

The Christmas Geese
Author Unknown


There was once a man who didn't believe in God, and he didn't hesitate to let others know how he felt about religion and religious holidays, like Christmas. His wife, however, did believe, and she raised their children to also have faith in God and Jesus, despite his disparaging comments.

One snowy Christmas Eve, his wife was taking their children to a Christmas Eve service in the farm community in which they lived. She asked him to come, but he refused. "That story is nonsense!" he said. "Why would God lower Himself to come to Earth as a man? That's ridiculous!" So she and the children left, and he stayed home.

A while later, the winds grew stronger and the snow turned into a blizzard. As the man looked out the window, all he saw was a blinding snowstorm. He sat down to relax before the fire for the evening. Then he heard a loud thump. Something had hit the window. Then another thump. He looked out, but couldn't see more than a few feet.

When the snow let up a little, he ventured outside to see what could have been beating on his window. In the field near his house he saw a flock of wild geese. Apparently they had been flying south for the winter when they got caught in the snowstorm and couldn't go on. They were lost and stranded on his farm, with no food or shelter. They just flapped their wings and flew around the field in low circles, blindly and aimlessly. A couple of them had flown into his window, it seemed.

The man felt sorry for the geese and wanted to help them. The barn would be a great place for them to stay, he thought. It's warm and safe; surely they could spend the night and wait out the storm. So he walked over to the barn and opened the doors wide, then watched and waited, hoping they would notice the open barn and go inside. The geese just fluttered around aimlessly and didn't seem to notice the barn or realize what it could mean for them.

The man tried to get their attention, but that just seemed to scare them and they moved further away. He went into the house and came back out with some bread, broke it up, and made a breadcrumbs trail leading to the barn, but they still didn't catch on.

Now he was getting frustrated. He got behind them and tried to shoo them toward the barn, but they only got more scared and scattered in every direction except toward the barn. Nothing he did could get them to go into the barn where they would be warm and safe.

"Why don't they follow me?!" he exclaimed. "Can't they see this is the only place where they can survive the storm?"

He thought for a moment and realized that they just wouldn't follow a human. "If only I were a goose, then I could save them," he said out loud. Then he had an idea. He went into barn, got one of his own geese, and carried it in his arms as he circled around behind the flock of wild geese. He then released it. His goose flew through the flock and straight into the barn - and one by one the other geese followed it to safety!

He stood silently for a moment as the words he had spoken a few minutes earlier replayed in his mind: "If only I were a goose, then I could save them!" Then he thought about what he had said to his wife earlier. "Why would God want to be like us? That's ridiculous!"

Suddenly it all made sense. That is what God had done. We were like the geese - blind, lost, and perishing. God had His Son become like us so He could show us the way and save us. That was the meaning of Christmas, he realized! As the winds and blinding snow died down, his soul became quiet and pondered this wonderful thought.

Suddenly he understood what Christmas was all about, why Christ had come. Years of doubt and disbelief vanished like the passing storm. He fell to his knees in the snow, and prayed his first prayer: "Thank You, God, for coming in human form to get me out of the storm!"

May we "Come to the Manger" this Christmas morn, away from the storm and feel the peace offered to us by He who left his throne on high to rescue the souls of you and I.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Christmas Gift to My Savior

by Terri Wagner

Usually every year at Christmas I think of a gift I can give back to my Savior for all He has done for me. This is the first year, I'm glad to say, that not only did I remember the gift but did it. It brought me closer to Him in all the ways that can mean so much.

Encouraged by this success, I have another gift in mind for this coming year. My gifts are always suppose to be a year long as a reminder all year of this special time of year. (Was that too many years?) This one will be easy to remember but I fear much harder to do...since it requires doing something I'm not particularly good at...visiting teaching.

In a small branch, your list almost always includes those not active and you never know what kind of reception you'll get. Perhaps because of the way I found the gospel (through the Osmonds), I have never been comfortable "pushing" myself that way.

But the Savior never pushes does He? He simply invites and hopes we will take advantage of His offer. So that will be my perspective this year...that I am inviting, caring, concerned (which I am) and hoping the less active will let me in.

Does anyone else have this "Gift-to-the-Savior" tradition? I started it years ago because of a young VT who was afraid to visit me because I seemed so much more accomplished than her. I wasn't, but she didn't realize that until we got to know one another better. She suggested this tradition in her first real visit to me. I loved it then. I love it now.

I love ANWA, and while I can't do as much as I would like to do (i.e., critique), I am grateful for Marsha for creating this network and Valerie Foy for getting me involved. I love blogging and hope everyone gets as much out of it as I do.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A New 2008 Christmas Tradition

by Joyce DiPastena

Last year, while browsing through the December 2007 Ensign, I ran across a Random Sampler suggestion for the Christmas season. By the time I read it, I was already too late into the month to give it a try, but I remembered the idea all year long, and have been following it this year since December 1st. The suggestion was to read one chapter from the book of Luke in the New Testament every day for the month of December. Why? Because the book of Luke has 24 chapters…thus, you will begin with the birth of John the Baptist, followed by the story of the Savior’s birth, read about his life, miracles, compassion, teaching, and love, and end on Christmas Eve with the glorious story of his resurrection. What a wonderful way to remind yourself every day of what Christmas is all about!

As I have accepted this scripture reading challenge this month, I cannot say that all my levels of Christmas stress have been eliminated, or even necessarily significantly reduced. I cannot even say that by the time I get to bed, I can still remember everything I read in the scriptures that morning. But I can say that for those few, precious minutes each morning, I have found contentment and peace in a few quiet moments of reading and reflecting on the life of the Savior. And just to make the time an extra treat, I bought one of those chocolate advent calendars and eat that day’s piece of chocolate to match up with the chapter I’m reading that day in Luke. (Luke 18 equals Day 18’s piece of chocolate from the advent calendar, for example.)

The experience has been sweet enough, both spiritually and chocolate-wise, that I hope to make this a regular December tradition from now on!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A day of Change

By Liz Adair

To you in the southern half of the United States, December 21 may not have much significance, but to those of us in northern climes, we watch for it with almost as much anticipation as we do Christmas. For us, it's full dark at 4:30 in the afternoon right now, and today is the day that the days change. Tomorrow sunset will a couple minutes later, sunrise a little earlier. It's wonderful what getting over this hump can do for the spirits. I've always said I understand why the pagans had a festival at this time of year. I have my own private winter solstice celebration each December 21.

There's another change that happens today: I will no longer be a member of the ANWA Founder and Friends Team. I'm a little sad about that, but I thought it was time to move on and give someone else the opportunity to grow in this wonderful cybernursery.

Thank you Marsha, our fearless leader, for extending the invitation and teaching us all how to blog. I know I'm not the only one who has ventured out on my own because of my experience here.

I'll continue to visit so I can keep up on what all my team members are doing. I feel like I know you all. And, I'll be excited to get to know the new members.

And, I hope you'll come visit me at http://www.sezlizadair.blogspot.com/ .

Bye for now, but I'll see you all at the ANWA conference. And, I hope you'll plan to come to my publication party the night before.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Peace

By Kristine John

Tonight, I feel peace.
Although my life has been more chaotic this week than most weeks, I feel more peace and serenity than I have in a long time.

It's not the circumstances of my life.
In just this past week, we finally got a signed contract on our new house in AZ, I fulfilled my calling (RSP) to the best of my ability, one of my best friends passed away, and I withdrew my children from our wonderful schools.
Add to that a mild stomach flu that is going the rounds through our family, and it should be a week when I've created at least a couple of bald spots on my head from pulling my hair out.

However, along with the added responsibility my calling has added, I have also received a measure of clarity and understanding of God's awareness of each of us.
He knows us.
He knows our names, our fears, our struggles, and He desires to bless us.
We just need to turn to Him...daily, hourly, each minute if needed, and He will help carry the burdens we have been given.
How I love my Savior, and our Heavenly Father.
They carry me when the burdens are full and heavy...and they truly make the burdens light.
They give peace.
Peace.
What more do we need?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tailor-Made Traditions

By Christine Thackeray

I had a wonderful childhood. I was raised in a family with twelve children who for the most part adored each other. From Halloween on, the holidays were magical. Starting with homemade costumes covered with sequins and satin to thematic thanksgivings with matching sweatshirts made especially for everyone in attendance, which included half the ward and every room in the house.

The minute Thanksgiving ended we began singing Christmas Carols. My mother loved to make candied fruit by covering huge bread bowls overflowing with grapes, plums, apples and pears with a crystalized sugar solution that made the fruit glisten like magic. We often made snow candy by pouring hot syrup in the snow till it hardened. You could make your dent any shape you wanted and the candy would be that shape. One year my brother made a candy of his own face! We also made snowflakes out of parafin and tissue paper which was the messiest project you can imagine and we still did it many years. My mother made every room sparkle and filled every minute with preparation and excitement as the massive list of traditions were repeated with gusto.

As a young mother, I used to try to match my mother's impressive pattern but often found myself run ragged and unhappy. As I got older I realized that for my mother each tradition she chose was something she loved doing. I found that I didn't have to be a photocopy to still follow her pattern. (By the way, this was a discovery achieved through many shed tears of supposed failure and frazzled nerves.)

So here are a few Christmas traditions that my family has altered to make the holidays just as fun but a whole lot easier-

Baseball Hat Nativities-
Don't you hate it when the entire linen closet gets emptied out for the nativity play every year? One nifty trick we have used for the donkey, star, three kings and other animals is to doctor up baseball caps for their costumes. You can tape on a couple donkey ears, swathe some beads across the top or stick an aluminum star on the front and ta-da there you go. We still use towels and ties for the shepherds, tinsel headbands for the angels and sorry, Mary and Joseph have the same faded costumes we've been using for twenty years.

Christmas Shopping on Christmas Eve-
My kids can't keep secrets. We used to take the kids shopping for each other as soon as they earned their money by doing household chores, but the day after they bought their gifts they had told everyone what they got for them- and if they hadn't, then their brother had poked and prodded the packages so much they knew- taking all the fun out of the present thing, while bringing many tears in the process. Add to that present-eating toddlers and the whole gifts under the tree thing wasn't happening in my home.

So we started the best tradition ever made. On Christmas Eve we take all the kids to Wal-Mart (often there is a Target or K-Mart nearby- or a great thrift store. Then we each split up and shop in three hours. I've got seven children and it's great. They usually go in teams of two. Then we head out to a restaurant for our fancy Christmas Eve meal. We used to go to Fazolli's because they had endless breadsticks. It's great because so few people were in the restaurant we felt like we own the place. Then we head home and everyone rushes to their rooms to madly wrap them and get them under the tree in time to choose chairs and head off to bed. By then they are all too tired to mention what they got each other-- and they usually sleep in the next morning to boot.

Choosing Chairs and Three Gifts-
Growing up we were showered with presents on Christmas and the reality is I remember very few of them. Think about it, how many gifts did Christ get on his birthday? THREE. So from Santa each of my children get three gifts and they aren't that big. We still have a great time on Christmas morning but it doesn't blow the budget. Also, we choose chairs out of a hat the night before and each child puts their stocking on the chair. On Christmas morning their stockings are filled with candy and the gifts sit unwrapped on their chairs. No Santa wrapping makes Christmas much easier.

Boxing Day-
Do you every feel guilty because Christmas has come and gone but you haven't visited your neighbors yet? In England Christmas Day is the day spent with family and on the day after Christmas called Boxing Day, the Lords and Ladies would visit their servants and friends and give them gifts. So if you haven't done it before, use boxing day to deliver cookies and go caroling- oh, and tell them the story so they think you planned it that way.

Valentine Cards-
I stink at Christmas Cards. I seem to always start too late and after all the parties and school concerts, they still sit half addressed on my desk. An alternative if you've missed the holiday is to go for the next one. One year I sent out Valentine newletters- a perfect way to show love. Another year when I was really off I sent out Easter cards which is the real Christmas date anyway.

So good luck and remember you can make your own traditions to suit your own strengths or weaknesses. The goals is to merely have a Merry Christmas!

A Christmas Miracle

By Kari Pike

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to teach the Relief Society lesson. I pondered, prayed, studied, and took seven pages of notes. I knew I had more information than time, but I felt the need to have all the notes with me…since I get so nervous I forget even my own husband’s name. Full of confidence, I set up a simple display and reached into my bag to pull out my notes. They were no where to be found. In my rush to get to church on time, I left all of my notes in the printer at home. I had two choices: panic, or retreat for a moment and offer a very humble and sincere prayer. I chose prayer (accompanied by a smidgen of panic, I must admit) and received a miracle. Here is a summary of what occurred that morning:

Who are we? Who are you? Who am I?

"I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents…" "Wherefore, Nephi gave me, Jacob, a commandment…I, Jacob,…" "I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man…" Now behold, I, Jarom, write a few words…”Behold, I am Moroni; and were it possible, I would make all things known unto you.” “Behold, I make an end of speaking concerning this people. I am the son of Mormon, and my father was a descendant of Nephi.”

Notice in this next verse how Moroni makes it a point to stop talking about his troubles and focuses on who he really is. "Behold, I make an end of speaking concerning this people." Moroni shows us that he is not defined by his challenges. He continues to define himself in verse 14: And I am the same who hideth up this record unto the Lord;

How do we come to know who we are?

Genesis 1:27- So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Acts 17:28- For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

Romans 8:16-17 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

As daughters of God and joint heirs with Christ, we can recognize who we are by getting to know who Christ is…and therefore come to know our Father in Heaven. We can begin learning of Christ by studying the scriptures.

John 13 - 17...In these chapters we come to know the Savior most intimately as he teaches us in the final hours of his life. If you knew you had just one day left to spend in this life...just as the Savior knew his time had come...how would you spend that time? Jesus set the ultimate example as he knelt before his apostles and washed their feet.

John 13:13 - 17 "Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."

Then in Chapter 17 the Savior gives the great intercessory prayer. In that prayer, he prays not only for his apostles...but for every one of us and throughout that prayer, he asks several times that we may all be one just as he and the Father are one. I particularly love reading in verse 23: “and that the world may know that thou has sent me, and hast loved them, as thou loved me.” Heavenly Father loves us the same as he loves His only Begotten! Doesn’t that thought just boggle your mind!

What does it mean to be one? How are the Father and Jesus Christ one? One in purpose. How do we become one? We become one as we individually place the Savior at the center of our lives. Zion is described as a place where all are united as one.


Does being united as one mean that we all have to be the same? No...
We all are different, unique individuals; each created to fulfill a special mission. Look at the instruments I have placed on the table. How are they the same? How are they different? (flute and violin...pluck strings, etc.) The pianist is going to play a C scale on the piano. Are the notes the same? What happens when a few of those notes are played in an organized fashion? (first 4 measures
of “Joy to the World”) Listen to the Soprano part...bass part etc. Each an individual voice, built of individual notes...Put all the parts together...what do you get ( melody with harmony) Have you ever listened to a symphony warming up without direction or common goal? Cacophony!! But when you put it all together with a common purpose, under a common director...(play Mormon Tab/symphony CD of Joy to the World) you get a miracle!!!

Another way to come to know the Savior is through searching out and serving others. The Savior isn’t satisfied with just the 99. He wants every part...every note...every individual to complete his work and his glory. Moses 1:39...did you know that a French translation for “work”, "travailler" also translates into "masterpiece."? Behold, this is my masterpiece...wow! We are His work and His glory!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thoughts on Christmas

By Anna Arnett

Many years ago I played a small part in Gilbert Fine Art's production of the musical, "Scrooge." Tonight I recall the exuberance with which we sang, "December the twenty-fifth, my dear, December the twenty-fifth. The finest day in all the year -- December the twenty-fifth." And you know what? It really is. Not that it's the actual date on which the Christ-child was born, but it's the day we celebrate the fact that he WAS born. Why on December the twenty-fifth?

It's been years and years since I researched this, and I've discovered that on many subjects I have develoed a very creative memory that loves to slip in little changes here and there. So, if you want to know the real facts and just the facts, go look it up for yourself. Meantime, here's how I remember history.

To celebrate the beginning of winter, or rather the lengthening of days, the pagans of northern Europe had a gala celebration. Why it was on the 25th rather than the 21st, I have no idea. It didn't even celebrate the coming of warmth It amazed me as a child, and it still seems to me that the shortest day should be the coldest, and the longest day the hottest, though experience has taught me otherwise. But be that as it may, the pagans loved their December celebration. They brought in a yule log, decorated, feasted, and partied in the most pagan of fashion. They probably danced and sang, and it wouldn't surprise me if they hung mistletoe to encourage kissing.

When Charlemagne, or however you spell it, declared that all should become Christian, those stubborn pagans refused to give up their celebration. No problem. Their new Christian leaders merely proclaimed a change in name. They could keep their date, but it would from now on be called Christmas, and a midnight mass would herald the beginning of the celebrations.

And what difference does it make? If a thousand years is as a day to the Lord, then I can't imagine even He would get upsetover the timing. However, I do recall that He scoldd the Brother of Jared quite soundly for going four years without praying,and I wonder if he also went without saying prayers. Is that possible? sometimes I think so.

Besides, being born ought to precede dying and being resurreced. NO? So, let's celebrate with joy and thanksgiving, prudence, self-control, and love.

If this is full of typos and doesn't quite make sense, blame it onto my falling asleep at the computer for a short nap between sentences. I don't think I could keep my eyes open long enough to catch any errors anyway.

So with Clement Moore, I'll merely say, "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Perfect Gift

by Valerie Ipson

I bought a very cool kitchen gadget recently. It's called a safe can opener. It opens cans somehow just under the lid's rim and not around the top, thus no sharp edges to cause nasty nicks and cuts. Believe me, I know about those because I have been wrestling with my old can opener--the one that developed the sadistic habit of always leaving the can uncut in two sections of the lid, and always on opposite sides, so it took the jaws of life, or really brave fingers, to pry it up enough to scrape out its contents a teaspoonful at a time.

Anyway, as I was using my safe can opener last evening, cutting along so safely and all, I sighed a happy, contented sigh--the kind that can only come when using awesome, cool kitchen gadgets that work the way they are supposed to. I remembered all the other sweet gadgets I had seen at Albertsons when seeking out the can opener...a variety of knives, garlic presses, pastry brushes, flexible cutting boards. Yes, that's what I said...FLEXIBLE CUTTING BOARDS. I mean, how have I lived without a flexible cutting board? I just don't know. According to the photo, you chop the vegies, then pull up the sides to dump them ALL ENTIRELY INTO YOUR PAN. Revolutionary, my friends. Life would be complete if Santa brought me one this year.

In fact, when my husband asked for Christmas gift ideas, several of these kitchen gadgets topped the list. He balked at my suggestions, saying they were household items. (I've taught him so well, haven't I?) My oldest daughter also complained, saying, "These are things you just go buy, they don't go on your Christmas list." (I've taught her well, too). Sisters, I'll understand if you choose not to allow your husbands, family members, and friends to read this--and yes, I've seen the video making the email rounds of men who were put in "the doghouse" because they bought their wives "household" items as gifts. One gave his wife a really nice vacuum, but I'm here to say, "Give me a vacuum, make it a Dyson. I'm okay with that."

I must be getting old. My Christmas gifts no longer define me. No longer will I be offended by the gift of a potholder. (Have you seen my crusty, scorched collection of potholders? Seriously, new ones are in order). I guess I figure if it will make me happy, then it's the perfect gift. And when I am pressing garlic and brushing pastries and chopping on flexible cutting boards...believe me, I will be so happy!

If you don't have a safe can opener, you should ask for one for Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Favorite Carol

by Rene Allen

Each year I have a favorite Christmas carol. This year it is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Longfellow wrote it on Christmas day in 1864, during the Civil War. His son, Charlie, had been seriously wounded in a skirmish in Virginia a month earlier. As Longfellow cared for his son, grateful his life had been saved, he also thought about the war. He wrote 7 stanzas. We only sing five.

The puzzler is the next to last verse of the song, when “In despair I bowed my head. / There is no peace on earth I said.” The previous verse is about the earth ringing and singing as it revolves from night to day. To read stanzas 4 and 5 is to understand the why behind the despair.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Hearth-stones, to my mind, connotes a glimpse into the hearts of homes across the country. This year, I wonder about the many rending elements in our society, exemplified most recently by the vitriolic polarization of November’s election. I wonder about fear standing at the doorway of innumerable homes as financial woes engulf thousands who are recently unemployed. Civil War is not alone among those afflictions that like an earthquake rend the hearth-stones of a continent.

This year’s carol is my favorite because of the last verse, the one that declares God is not dead nor doth he sleep. It is because this verse stirs my faith and chases away fear. I can almost hear the rolling peals of thousands of church bells across this same continent and those many souls who, unheralded in their conviction, make the same declaration, that the wrong shall fail, and right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Following Christ

by Marsha Ward

A few days ago I received a lovely Christmas card from a dear friend. In it she asked me to "Have a very happy and special Christmas. You should--you follow Christ."

Her words touched me deeply. I have always been a follower of Christ, even before I really knew what that meant, because I was what used to be called a sober child--one who thought deeply, observed, and tried very hard to be good.

Following Jesus Christ is important to me. He is my Savior and Redeemer. He has atoned for the sins of all who have lived upon the earth, including me. He is the Life, the Light, the Way into Eternal Life and Exaltation. I can only be so good in this life. I sin like any other mortal. My good works are incomplete, lacking in scope, falling short of perfection. Only by the grace of Jesus Christ will I ever be complete and able to be in the presence of my Father in Heaven again.

What I want to focus upon during this season of the year is following Christ and his example, giving what I can to others, and letting my family members know I love them.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Thoughts

by Margaret Turley

This month there is another birthday LDS people celebrate. Joseph Smith was born December 23rd, 1805. Though he was not a first child, he was born in humble circumstances. There are several similarities between the first prophet of our dispensation and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Both had their birth and mission foretold by prophets in earlier times. Both had goodly parents. Both were charismatic. Both were mocked and scorned. Both died in the prime of their lives at the hands of others that did not understand what they really were doing. Both sealed their testimonies in blood.

Along with reading in Luke, I like to read the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith Story to commemorate the blessings we enjoy because of this great prophet.

Even though this is the season where we generally sign Christmas Carols, I also like to sing or play A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief. It was this song that Joseph requested John Taylor sing before his martyrdom in Carthage Jail. It is all about Christ and the service he rendered for us and the service we may offer back to him. One of my ways to give service at this time of year is to play my violin for others. It helps me feel the spirit, and sharing music is a personal way for me to bear my testimony.

Another hymn that I feel belongs in the December repertoire is I Know that My Redeemer Lives. Because of Joseph Smith we know there are three distinct personages in the Godhead. Joseph was privileged to see and talk with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ in the sacred grove. They have bodies of flesh and blood. We are literally created in their image. This truth is very comforting to me. It is much easier for me to pray to an actual person. I can’t imagine being able to bare my soul to a nebulous being. We also know that prayers can be answered and revelation given in this time of the earth’s existence because of Joseph Smith and the restoration of the gospel.

My favorite sacrament hymn, I Stand All Amazed, is another song I hum in my head throughout the whole year, and especially in this season. So while many people are singing about the birth of Christ, I also sing and meditate on the life of Christ and his loving atonement for all mankind, including me.

I hope to be worthy to be present when he comes to earth again. I have copied the words of my favorite primary song that used to be sung around Easter time when I was a child. I feel the words fit right in with Christmas.

I Wonder When He Comes Again
Words and Music by Mirla Greenwood Thayne

I wonder when He comes again,
Will herald angels sing?
Will earth be white with drifted snow,
or will the world know spring?
I wonder if one star will shine
far brighter than the rest;
Will daylight stay the whole night through?
Will songbirds leave their nests?
I'm sure He'll call His little ones
Together round His knee,
Because He said in days gone by,
"Suffer them to come to me."

I wonder when He comes again,
Will I be ready there
To look upon His face
And join with Him in prayer?
Each day I'll try to do His will
And let my light so shine
That others seeing me will seek
For greater light divine.
When that blessed day is here,
He'll love me and He'll say,
"You've served me well my little child;
Come into my arms to stay."

I wonder when He comes again,
Will all the nations bring
Their children to His waiting arms
To hear the angels sing?
And as they heed His loving voice,
And seek His outstretched hands,
Will children of the world rejoice
To finally understand:
That only, as we do His will
Can happiness increase.
That love, alone, can make this world
A haven of His peace?

Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. Because of his faith, courage and diligence we have this scripture that is a second witness of Christ. My favorite part in the BOM is 3rd Nephi. It is so inspiring to know that Jesus spoke to Nephi the night before he was born to Mary in Bethlehem and gave reassurance that the signs of His birth would be given, thus saving the lives of the faithful Nephites. 3rd Nephi 1:13 “Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfill all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.”

When Christ visits the Nephites in the land of Bountiful he establishes the church on this Continent, the same as he did in Judea. Chapter 17 is particularly wonderful. 3rd Nephi 17:11&12 “And it came to pass that he commanded that their little children should be brought. So they brought their little children and set them down upon the ground round about him, and Jesus stood in the midst; and the multitude gave way till they had all been brought unto him.” Verse 21: “And he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.” Verse 23&24: And he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones. And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of the heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them.” This scripture is so soothing to me that I usually read it while I am in the temple waiting to go on an endowment session.

My mother was a young girl in Holland during the second world war. I would like to share her Christmas story which I changed to 3rd person narration to enter in the contest on Joyce DiPastena’s website.

Early on Christmas Eve morning if 1944, Martje’s momma put the largest pan on the makeshift wood-stove her father had crafted out of the toy galvanized bucket. It took a very long time to cook anything on this tiny stove so her mom had to start early in the day to have something hot by nighttime. Martje was very hungry, something she was accustomed to by now.

“What are you cooking for Christmas dinner Momma?”

“You will see.”

It had been a very hard winter. Most of the ponds were frozen over with snow on top. Her papa made a straw pit in the back yard where he stored some carrots, potatoes and rutabagas—but that was empty now. All they had left was some sugar beet pulp, a couple hands full of flour and a smidgeon of oil.

Martje was curious about what was going to happen this Christmas Eve. They had a tiny tree from their own back yard. Her mother had allowed Martje to place the nativity underneath scrub they kept in a bucket. She noticed her mother set the table as she always did for special occasions and every Christmas Eve Dinner. She used her nice linen tablecloth and her finest china and polished silverware. Her mother picked some holly that grew by their front bay window and decorated each plate with a tiny branch of holly and a candle with a red ribbon tied around it.

That night, the main thing that was missing was the usual holiday aromas from the delicious meals her mother cooked. Martje’s mother brought in the soup terrine and placed it on the table. Her father gathered everyone around the table, Martje, her sister Greet, and her mother. The only one missing was her brother, Ton, whom she missed fiercely. He was fighting for the resistance and she hadn’t seen him since the day he mysteriously showed up and rescued her from her school before it was bombed.

Her father said a prayer. He thanked the Lord for blessings of health and safety. He thanked God for sending the wonderful gift of His only begotten Son. He pleaded to guard his son and bring him safely home. After the amen her mother placed one beef bouillon cube in each of their soup plates. “I’ve saved these so we could have something special.” Then, as if she were serving a most exquisite cuisine she ladled out hot water from the soup terrine and poured it over the top of each cube. “Stir your bullion.” And so they did. The soup plates were deep so nothing spilled.

The family sat slurping up their “soup” without comment. All of them had participated on hunger walks trying to gather food from outlying farm areas over the past few years. But as the war raged on, there was less food to be obtained and greater danger anytime they wandered that far from home.

After the soup was gone; each had a thin slice of tasteless sugar beet loaf. It was not enough to assuage the hunger, but eleven year old Martje knew it would do no good to complain. She did wonder why her mother went through all the trouble to set a fancy table, when they could have easily drunk the bullion from cups.

When dinner was finished, her father read the Christmas story out of the Bible. Then they all sang Silent Night. That would have to do this year as the usual live nativity at their church was not allowed due to the German occupation.

That night when Martje got ready for bed she asked her mother, “Why the fancy table?”

“What day is it?”

“It’s the night Jesus was born.”

Her mother looked her in the eye. “Christmas, hasn’t changed. We can still celebrate the birth of Christ, and honor him. We can thank God for the birth of His son. It does not require fancy food. It does require a nice looking table, even for only a bouillon cube. We should show proper respect and so we always use the best and look out nicest. That way we can be ready to invite Him to be our guest.”

It was a meal Martje never forgot. Throughout her 75 years she has shared the story with many people so that they can know that we should always remember the reason for Christmas, and give thanks for what we have, no matter how little or humble it may be.

I hope that you will all have a peaceful Christmas this year, that you will be able to share the joyous message of the gospel with your family and friends and any new acquaintances you meet. If all you do is say “Merry Christmas” then at least you are reminding those you talk to about the true reason for this season. Wear a smile, give thanks for all your blessings and join with heavenly choirs in our homes, communities and at church to give praise to our Savior and King.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Jesus: The Reason for the Season

by Rebecca Talley

Every year our elementary school has a Christmas Program—at least that’s what it used to be called. It’s now politically incorrect to refer to it as a Christmas Program. It was the Holiday Program for a few years but is now called the Winter Program.

When my oldest daughter was in 2nd grade, she played the part of Mary and we had a program based on the Nativity. It was, by far, the best program I’ve ever seen our elementary school perform. Since then, we’ve had shows about penguins, Hansel and Gretel (another daughter played Gretel), the Abominable Snowman (my son played that part), and coyotes. This year it’s about musicians and a Hopi myth. While I like to learn about other cultures, having a program about Hopi Indians, instead of the Nativity, during the Christmas season seems out of place to me.

Our elementary school shies away from anything religious. My question is always, “If our program isn’t about celebrating Christmas, why do it in December (one of the busiest months of the year)?” I have yet to receive an answer to that question.

I’ve noticed over the years that while many minority groups have enjoyed greater respect and inclusion (as they should), it’s been at the exclusion of Christian groups. Our school district bends over backwards to accommodate every group under the sun except Christian groups. We aren’t allowed to pray in school. My nephew was told by a teacher that he couldn’t pray at all in school, not even silently. He responded that he could pray anywhere, anytime and no one could stop him.

If we claim a belief in God, more and more people scoff at the idea. People have gone so far as to claim that Jesus is a myth and the whole Nativity story is fashioned after the story of the Egyptian God Horus. They say that the Christian believers made up the story of Jesus and wrote the Bible in an effort to perpetuate the myth. They claim the Bible has been fabricated and cannot be a reliable historic source because those who kept the records only did so to fool people into believing Jesus was born and then crucified for our sins.

The only way we can know if the story of the Christ child is real or fabricated is to receive our own witness of the truth. Once the Holy Ghost has witnessed to our spirit that Jesus did in fact walk the earth and then willingly laid down his life to atone for our sins, there is no room for discussion or alternate versions of reality. We must each receive that witness.

For me, I have no doubt that Jesus is the Christ. I have no doubt he was born into mortality, walked the earth, and then took upon him the sins of the world as he suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane. How he did that, I don’t understand, but I have faith that he did. I’ve had my own witness.

It is his birth that we celebrate. May we all remember the reason for the season, proclaim our belief in the Savior, and enjoy a very merry and blessed Christmas.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bill of Rights Day is coming up!!

Hi Everyone ~

I'm chasing my tail as usual... busy, busy, busy!!! We had the BEST combined chapter meeting Wed. night at my house. It was also a party ~ good food, gift exchange, friends, sharing our writing... fun stuff. I truly count ANWA as one of my favorite blessings.

Did you know that Monday, Dec. 15th, is the Bill of Rights Day? How blessed we are to live in a country where we have such wonderful freedoms. Next week, at our opening ceremony (which we have every morning with all school students) a couple of classes will be taking turns each day presenting a skit on one of the first 10 Amendments (a.k.a. THE BILL OF RIGHTS). Our class has the First Amendment... one we writers should be especially grateful for.

Here it is: 1st Amendment ~

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Got to run ~ need to work on the script for our skit, but I didn't want to miss my blog (again) and thought we could all use a reminder of how lucky we are... yes, with this amendment we get the "bad" stuff as well... kind of like life ~ you need to know of the bad in order to appreciate the good ~ so let's saturate the world with our goodness!!! WRITE!!! WRITE!!! WRITE!!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Refusing to Fail

by Faith St. Clair

There are many mountains to climb, upheavals to calm, hurdles to jump and stresses to tame these days and as hard as we try to put positive energy and thought into accomplishing those tasks, there are just as many voices and situations pulling us back down.

I read an article in the Meridian magazine by H. Wallace Goddard wherein he said that Pollyanna was right! Those living in reality are depressed and miserable and miserable people distort things negatively. However, those looking at the world through rose-colored glasses are healthier, happier and more positive – and why shouldn’t we be? After all, God gave us those glasses. Nothing should deter us from joy – we have a divine heritage, we can do all things through Christ and we know that if we endure well, we shall be exalted! (Great article – Meridian Magazine, Wednesday 12/10/08, “Pollyanna Was Right”)

So, just shy of foregoing all responsibility I possess, I will not watch the news, I will not look at my checkbook, I will not muse about losing my job, I will not turn my back on pursuits invested in, I will not give up hope. Instead, I will live in my own little happy world where the sun shines every day, recession notwithstanding, where my neighbors return my smiling hello, forgetting all rudeness, where I smother my children with kisses despite their “you’re mean” goodnights, where my husband and I talk every day, regardless of the fact that we don’t communicate very well, where I can wake up every day eager to engage in the pursuit of my dreams, even amidst discouraging comments.

I will write down my goals and my plan on how to get there and go about my happy journey. I will stay on my own little path, skipping along, whistling a happy tune, but never taking my eyes off of my destination. I will look at the flowers along the way, but ignore the wolves in the forest. I will bask in the beauty around me, and blow away the haze that tries to cover that view. I will focus on the joy of my journey and disregard attempts to confuse me.

In short, I refuse to fail just because someone says I should, or probably will, or have. There are no failures without successes, there are no trials without leaning opportunities, there are no fears with faith.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Keeping to the Same Idea

by Terri Wagner

Joyce gave a wonderful exercise post so I thought I would do the same. I took a creative writing course at William & Mary many years ago. Our instructor challenged us to take our favorite book ever and deconstruct how the author wrote it.

Did he/she use first person? What was the hook? How did the plot play out? What made you keep reading? Were there boring parts? Why? Were they necessary to the plot? Who was your favorite character and why. What surprised you? What challenged you? Was it a page turner or something you had to pick up and put down to think on? Why did you do one or the other?

Then when that exercise met his expectations (I had to do mine twice), he told us to rewrite the plot as we would have written it. To my surprise, I found I wouldn't have changed a thing.

Then we had to give an oral report on why we liked it as writers not readers and why we would change something if we could or, as in my case, not change at all.

For the record the book I used at the time was "Tennis Shoes Among the Nephities." Have to take those missionary opportunites when you can.

Re read your favorite book as an author and let me know how it goes. I'll do the same and report back to you, and I promise I'll use a different book.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Let’s Hear It For The Period!

by Joyce DiPastena

At our last CyberScryber meeting (that’s the new online ANWA chapter group, in case you don’t know), we had a wonderful lesson on the meaning and importance of the all too often taken for granted Period. At the end of the lesson, we were given some exercises to try. One of these exercises suggested writing one entire page without using a period. A second exercise encouraged us to write one entire page where each of our sentences was made up of only six words. I haven’t tried the second exercise yet, but on Sunday afternoon I decided to try the first one. I sat with my feet tucked up all cozy on my living room couch, and wrote out the following in long hand.

The incident below is based on a true experience, although I might have taken a little literary license with the stamping feet and puddle of water. ;-) By the way, for those who might not know, IGI stands for the International Genealogical Index maintained by the Church’s Family History Department.

Exercise:

Janet threw open her apartment door with a bang, stomping the Salt Lake City snow free of her boots, not even caring for the melting puddle of water her action caused on her tile entryway because she was still steaming internally at what she’d discovered while checking the IGI at work, the old computer program that allowed family history researchers to look up temple work that had been performed for their ancestors, only someone had made a horrible mistake with Janet’s ancestor who was only kind of a sideways ancestor since she was Janet’s aunt and still very much alive and should not have had her temple ordinances available for public display, especially since that information was wrong, wrong, wrong because someone had mistaken her aunt’s birthday, stuck an “18” instead of a “19” in front of her birth year, and now her aunt was not only listed in the IGI as being a hundred years older than she was and born before her own parents, but also had suffered the indignity of having her baptism and endowment redone, after she had already done them for herself, and despite Janet’s repeated efforts, she had been unable to get the information corrected and removed, because live people’s information is not supposed to be available in the IGI for privacy reasons, and Janet had had it up to HERE with overzealous, incompetent family history researchers who couldn’t get their facts straight and ended up turning live people into dead ones and sticking them in the IGI.

So, what do you think? Gives you a little more respect for that tiny little period, now doesn’t it? What I wrote above was a straight-through first draft, and obviously would have been much improved by a generous sprinkling of periods. (Not to mention some judicious rewording and reordering, but then, that’s what second drafts are for).

This was a great exercise, and actually turned out to be more fun than I expected. I’d like to challenge each of you to give it a try. If you’d like to share your results, feel free to copy and paste your effort into the comment section of this post. No cheating with colons or semi-colons, mind you, although as you can see from my exercise, commas are liberally allowed. I’d love to see what you come up with!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

An ANWA Christmas Limerick

By Liz Adair

I’m working on some Christmas limericks for our family Christmas dinner. I bought a package of those blank jigsaw puzzles last year to use for seminary, but now that I’m not teaching any more, they’re sitting alone and unused on a shelf in my office. I decided to write a poem about each member of the family on a puzzle, take it apart, and put it in a small, wrapped box for a place card at the table. Before dinner, each must put his puzzle together and read the poem.

I got so in the limerick groove that I thought I might try my hand at an ANWA limerick. Here ‘tis.

Merry Christmas to my favorite group.
I love to converse on the loop
With writers all female
Via my email
For all the literary scoop

Anyone else want to try? I’d love to see what you come up with. Just post it as a comment so all can enjoy.

Merry Christmas to all you wonderful ANWA sisters of mine.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Story Arcs, Symmetry and the New James Bond Movie

By Christine Thackeray

Having just finish my last manuscript, I've started plotting and researching my next project, which is a tad more massive than anything I have previously attempted. I'm interested in doing an historical fiction piece and have struggled with where to begin the story and how much back story to bring in. It feels like my brain is flooded with facts and ideas simply floating around aimlessly, and the shape and direction of it all isn't quickly becoming evident. That was until Friday night when my husband and I finally saw the new James Bond film "Quantum Solace." It actually was the next day (this morning) that the epiphany of it hit me. Let me explain.

We spent today driving from Utah to Portland. The fourteen hours were a perfect time to bounce ideas back and forth with a captive audience. As I rehearsed the historical facts that brought about Herod's assent as King of the Jews, I found I went back to how his father got in government and then how he became a Jew in the first place which brought me back to the Maccabees which then brought me to the genesis of the Essenes. So where does the stupid story begin???? By then my husband was so confused he wondered if I should even attempt it. I shook my head, knowing that this is a fabulous story that must be told but where to begin???

Greg asked where most stories begin and if there was a rule. I said that many bad novels really don't start at the beginning. The beginning should state the major conflict or the elements that lead to the major conflict, usually with extreme action of some unanswered question that pushes the reader forward. The best books (for me) then come full circle and with the last scene complete the first scene, while the scene right preceding should wake up some new question that leaves you wanting more but nonetheless satisfied. In searching for an example I remember the new James Bond film. It did this perfectly! (If you haven't seen it yet, you may not want to read on.)

In the first scene they have caught a man who knows something of Bond's wife who is dead. He says that James would have done anything for them if his wife hadn't killed herself. James' boss says that his wife must have cared for him but Bond only thinks she has lied. There is concern about Bond being filled with revenge and talk of an organization that is more powerful than any other. Then the bad guy gets away. Boom! Bond starts chasing him in an incredible action scene and the show continues to unfold bit by bit in the choppy, partial clues that make James Bond what it is- a show loved by most men and any woman who loves rock-hard abs, but merely endured by women who love character development.

Still, in the last few scenes some great things happen that make the movie feel complete and surprisingly well constructed. First, the Bond girl doesn't get killed and gets her revenge against the man who destroyed her family. In watching her reap her revenge, Bond realizes that the dead don't care about revenge and he shifts from killing the bad guy to only leaving him in the desert to drink motor oil. Next, we learn that the organization that this bad guy belonged to is still in force. And with in the last few moments Bond admits that his boss was right about his wife. A perfect arc, giving the story satisfaction and completion (if you caught the short phrases which couched these messages.)

So back to my story. As soon as I hugged on to my central and secondarly conflicts, I knew where to begin. Yeah! I'm starting with Herod ambushing Malichus to avenge his father's death. In that one scene he will learn his destiny which is connected to the golden eagle and the Essenes, and he will begin to fear what he himself may become. In the end he sees the golden eagle clearly for the first time but still thinks he has the power to change destiny. It is beyond his reach. Meanwhile Herod's actions have only served to lay the foundation for a larger more miraculous story.

It has been said that although we can't remember every meal we have ever eaten, the mixture of all those meals has made us what we are today. I think the same is true for what we watch and read. We can learn from a variety of different genres and when we see something that really works, we can apply it to whatever we are creating. What an incredible gift. Tomorrow I'm ready to start a new file entitled Prologue.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Moving

By Kristine John

My post will be short today.
Our family is moving from Silver City, NM to Queen Creek, AZ.
The last month has been a bit harried (although I'm coming to believe I'll always be at least a bit harried).

Mid-October I was called as our ward Relief Society President.
I spent the next two weeks praying, pondering and poring over names as I was guided to choose counselors to serve with me in the Relief Society Presidency.

At the beginning of November, my husband received an unsolicted e-mail asking for him if he was interested in a job.
He contacted the company and had an interview lined up within the week.
Two days after his interview, he was offered a job, and having fasted and prayed about it over the weekend, we knew it was the right move for our family.

So now I sit here, 3 weeks from a move, soon to be released from my *long* stint (3 months on Sunday) as RSP, contemplating where my nearest ANWA group will be so that I can start planning to attend a chapter meeting.

Am I slightly insane?
Or just happily guided by the Lord?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Miracle of Light

By Kari Diane Pike

Have you ever noticed that when we celebrate special events we almost always include something special that gives off light? Think about it. We put candles on birthday cakes, create magical light displays with fireworks, and string millions of lights for Christmas... We are drawn to light. We love light. We need light.

A quick search of the scriptures showed me more than 250 references to light. Study of the book of Ether expanded my mind and my heart filled with joy as I gained new insight about the miracle of light. Ether 2 tells about the brother of Jared, who obeys the Lord’s commandment to prepare vessels to carry his friends and family across the great sea. In verse 22, we read,

“And he cried again unto the Lord saying: O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?”

The Lord doesn’t immediately answer the brother of Jared. In verse 23, the Lord asks the brother of Jared what should be done considering they can’t have windows or fire on the vessels. Then the Lord says,

“24For behold, ye shall be as a awhale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the bwinds have gone forth cout of my mouth, and also the drains and the floods have I sent forth.

25 And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?”

That is when I saw this story in a new light; light that helped me understand how these scriptures apply to us in this day and time. The Lord knows we can’t make it on our own, so He has given us the means to be prepared for our personal storms. He can and will lift us from our “depths” of sorrow and pain. The brother of Jared thought about how they could have light in their vessels. He worked out a solution to the best of his ability, and he took it back to the Lord. In Ether 3:4, we read:

“And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all apower, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy bfinger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have clight while we shall cross the sea.”

The Lord then touched the stones with his finger and in Ether 6:3,10 we learn: “And thus the Lord caused stones to shine in darkness, to give light unto men, women, and children, that they might not cross the great waters in darkness. And thus they were driven forth; and no monster of the sea could break them, neither awhale that could mar them; and they did have light continually, whether it was above the water or under the water.”

When we are encompassed about by our own stormy seas, we can call on the Lord and He will bring us safely through the tempest. We, too, can have “light continually” to light our journey. As I ponder on this, 3 Nephi 17:24 comes to my mind:

“And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and aencircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them”.

Just like that sacred fire, the light of the Lord that we can carry with us on this arduous journey we call life, will form a protective shield between us and the darkness of the adversary. I know that as I drop to my knees in prayer and immerse myself in the scriptures, I find strength…strength of body, mind and spirit. A recent entry in my journal says:

“As days go by and I witness the trials and tribulations through which my friends and neighbors pass, I see with greater clarity how close we must be to the second coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The longer I serve in this calling, the more fervent my prayers are becoming- I see more things as they really are and I feel things more acutely. My prayers are becoming more sincere, more focused, more intense…and longer. I find my heart drawn out in prayer continually. I have never felt so inadequate, yet so strong at the same time. I know the strength comes from God and I find it through prayer and scripture study and service. I see my weaknesses more clearly and Satan knows that and he works really hard to get me to focus on those weaknesses, telling me that “I can’t.” Well, I know better. I know I can do hard things, through faith in my Lord, Jesus Christ. I can stand for truth and righteousness.”

I want to celebrate this Christmas season by sharing and being a light. For someone who is usually caught up in the “doing” part of the holidays, this will be a challenge. But I know that the true miracle of Christmas is in our hearts and all we need is a little light to shine.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

THE UNIVERSITY OF MORTALITY

By Anna Arnett

My husband and I were very pleased when we discovered the ward library had hearing aids calibrated to pick up only the sounds that come through the microphone in the chapel. A curving, plastic wire hangs over the ear and allows the one earpiece to be used either left or right. Wonder of wonders, we could thus hear everything we needed to, with only as much background rustling, whispering, or baby crying as our other ear would pick up. Since Charles had completely lost his hearing in one ear, he had no audio interruptions.

A dear friend quipped, “Anna Arnett thinks she’s fooling us as she sits in church looking righteously engrossed in the speaker, but I know what she’s really doing. She’s listening to her iPod.”

I wished I had one.

Then, my son Wayne, gave me an iPod filled with his favorite music. No, I don’t take it to church. One of the first things I did with it was to leave it on when I put it away. Several days later, when I finally got back to it, it was as dead as the proverbial door nail. Of course it took me a week or so, but I finally figured out how to recharge it. The other morning, I hung the receptors in my ears, clipped it to my robe and enjoyed a wonderful day of glorious music varied from instrumental to vocal, solo to chorus, Classical to Swing, Spanish to Rock, Symphony to Opera. I hear piano, guitar, organ, woodwinds, brass, strings, and anything else I’ve missed. It skips happily from one to another.

The song that drove me to my computer, however, was Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” where he lists all the wonderful experiences he had doing everything ‘my way’. My first reaction was, “Poor, foolish man. If you only knew what you’ve missed. How much richer you would be had you discovered the Lord’s way.”

But then, I thought again. Every one of Heavenly Father’s children born on this earth has had to choose his path, and then ‘do it’ his own, inimitable way. There has been only one who actually did it the Lord’s way, and that was the Lord himself, even Jesus the Christ. The best the rest of us can do is to choose to live as nearly as we can to the Lord’s way, but let’s face it—we’re incapable of emulating Him completely.

I join myriads of others in believing that the Lord’s way is the way to happiness. And since mortal life is our institution of higher learning, we must experience as many classes as we need to become perfect ourselves.

In the University of Mortality, the ultimate leader is the University president whose leadership transcends this world, yet he intimately knows each student. His two counselors work with him as one. They have complete control over the collegiate environment, and issue all degrees.

To insure agency and present sufficient challenges, a pseudo president, or dean, is permitted to staff a division. His teachers are alien spirits who have not had the opportunity to take even the prescribed, basic classes, and though they are intelligent and persuasive, their words cannot be trusted. This division offers the lowest degree, the telestial. Required courses include classes in willfulness, disobedience, anger, aggression, warfare, theft, gossip, and the art of undermining. Any of these courses may be re-taken for credit since the subject matter is forever finding new applications. Students enrolled here are admonished to take courses only within this college for easy high grades and quick graduation.

Another division is presided over by the richest, most charismatic and scholarly man who applied for the job. This dean gives lip service to the University president, but shuns the finer teachings. Basic courses here deal with moral ethics, including honorable business practices, kindness, and brotherly concern, but credits are not accept for any classes in religious practices, devotion or ordinances. Graduates from this division earn the terrestrial degree.

The dean of the largest division, but not necessarily with the highest enrollment, in the University of Mortality, has many colleges, under his jurisdiction. There is the College of Early Graduates, who matriculate before the age of accountability. These automatically are awarded the highest degree.

For the rest of us, enrollment in the College of Hard Knocks is mandatory until certain courses are completed. These lessons are individually designed to toughen us, to teach us problem solving, and hopefully, humility. There’s the College of Appreciation, the Colleges of Obedience, and Repentance, of Service, of Selflessness, with myriad instructors, offering classes to bring us all to candidacy for the highest, or celestial degree.

Make no mistake. All who enter the University of Mortality will eventually graduate with one degree or another. It is impossible to drop out, though we can change colleges and goals. Through our agency, and our diligence, we gain both the grades, and the degree we earn. While each of us is “doing it my way,” it behooves us all to pattern our ways after those of the university presidency, enroll in the best colleges, and try to ace all the classes we can manage. The real test (which is also a reward) is to stay enrolled in the best of colleges and keep studying to the end.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Just the Typist

by Valerie Ipson

It’s always a treat to read a book on writing that is so well-written. This is the case with Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. The title comes from an incident where her brother had to write a big paper on birds. While he had been given the assignment three months earlier, he put it off and then, suddenly, it was due the next day and he had not even begun. He was overwhelmed at the task before him. His father sat down beside him, placed an arm around his shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” Lamott applies this to writing a novel or any piece of work—it can be so over- whelming—the only way to tackle it is a piece at a time. She discusses those different pieces in her book, and minus the non-Mormon usage of a couple of words here and there, she crafts a book that will inspire.

She writes of characters driving the plot and we are just the typists who get it all down on paper. Good typists listen she reminds us: “Your plot will fall into place as, one day at a time, you listen to your characters carefully, and watch them move around doing and saying things and bumping into each other. You’ll see them influence each other’s lives, you’ll see what they are capable of up and doing, and you’ll see them come to various ends.” She quotes another author, Carolyn Chute, who was discussing rewriting, “Over and over, I feel as if all my characters know who they are and what happens to them… and what they are capable of doing, but they need me to write it down for them because their handwriting is so bad.”

I’m beginning to feel that way about the main character in the novel I am writing. I think she will be angry with me if I don’t get her story written. I can sense she is saying, “I’m not telling you this for your own enjoyment, write it down.”

I don’t know why she chose me to tell her story, but I figure I have enough to worry about from the real characters in my life, that I don’t need imaginary ones irritated with me! And so I type…

Monday, December 1, 2008

Why I Love to Write

By Rene Allen

It’s Monday morning, THE Monday morning after Thanksgiving. I fixed two turkeys this year because I thought we were having more company than actually showed up and neither turkey was big enough. I also made three kinds of cranberries and told everyone who was coming that the only bread would be in the dressing because I’m avoiding it, i.e., no rolls, because I’m managing my food. It rained (which really was a BLESSING) but an hour away in Florence, my 86 year old parents were stopped in a line of cars because there was three inches of hail and six cars slid off the road. I bought two packs of Canasta cards because we all love it, but because of the rain everyone arrived late and had to leave early so we didn’t play Canasta. It was a screwy Thanksgiving.

But now, it’s Monday, and I’m back at the keyboard. The weekend’s chaos is dissolving even as I write. It is dissolving because I write.

I love to write and this is why, because what is inside my head has an outlet. It pours into my fingers which dance over the keys. The keys make satisfying clicking sounds and words appear on a screen. These words are the first pass, the raw material in a refining process that moves toward precision.

I love to write because the blank page demands truth. I can hedge, stutter, hold back and I will know. Something will gnaw in my mind until I pay attention. It will demand focus until I get there, until I unravel a mystery or face a dragon or just sit and gaze out the window until it comes to me. Truth isn’t good or bad. It is simply truth, things as they are without judgment or criticism, and I love it as much as I love writing.

When I write I create. I put words together in new ways. I tell new stories. My writing is uniquely my own, identifiable and recognizable because it comes from my soul. Sometimes, what I create from my soul touches someone else in a good way. This is another reason why I love to write.

I may sit down sometime today and write about this screwy Thanksgiving weekend. Was putting a hex on bread really worth it? Someone brought squash instead of green beans. The plates looked funny. Is that why? Besides finding the truth about this weekend, writing may give me the chance to learn more about myself. I threw dinner together, cooked two turkeys and three kinds of cranberries and was broadsided because I didn’t get to play Canasta?

Were I not writing now, I would not understand that change is happening, that time waits for no man and that I, too, am caught in the flow. There is uncertainty ahead, and surely there will be sadness. But there will be these minutes with a laptop and the click-click-click of the keys, too, and I will remember again how much I love to write. And though it won’t change anything else, it will change me.