Dec 29, 2017

Looking forward to 2018

I'm not gonna lie.  I was done with 2017 by about January 27th. And March 12th. And I'm pretty sure I begged for 2018 about 37 1/2 times throughout the year. Somehow I survived with all my fingers and toes still attached, though some family members didn't kept all their body parts. 

I've spent years telling myself, "As soon as I get through this, I'll (insert goal here)."  My great epiphany of 2017 was that life is not going to settle down for me. This is my normal and I'd better figure out some way to cope and move forward.  If things haven't settled down after seven years, they're not going to settle down. 

So I pulled up my big girl panties until I had a wedgie, pulled back my shoulders, and decided to push onward.

This year, I refuse to look back. Only forward.  Goals are set and excitement is building.  Instead of enduring the torrential downpour, I choose to dance in the rain, puddle-jump to my heart's content, marvel at the lightening shooting across the sky, and howl with the thunder as it vibrates through my bones.

No matter what life throws at you, I hope I find you dancing in the rain with me - it's always more fun when you have someone to splash with. May your new year be amazing and filled with wonder.

Happy New Year!

Dec 23, 2017

Be a Bonfire

 Be A Bonfire 

by Deb Graham

I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, as do about 10% of western Washington’s residents. It’s an inconvenient disorder to contend with during the gloomy, dank, dark, dismal, sunless, often rainy, never-ending winters that plague this area. Symptoms include a mad desire for light in any form, carbo-craving, fatigue and lethargy, and a little internal voice that chants, “HiberNATE! HiberNATE!” when attempting to do anything vaguely ambitious.

Days are entirely too short here; often, streetlights shine before school buses pass the house. The only treatment I’ve found that sometimes helps, besides running up the electric bill and surrounding myself with special lights, is to plan a trip. Planning a sunny journey mid-winter gives me something to look forward to, as well as boosting my spirits enough to make through until springtime. Conveniently, my mother lives in Florida. I make a point to visit her in the darkest part of the year, To Be Sure She’s Alright. Mind you, she’s just fine the rest of the year, but in the middle of winter, I’d better go see for myself, and take a week or more doing it. I admit it’s a little transparent, as ruses go, but it beats jumping off a high building.

I think about light a lot this time of year. I find myself drawn to Christmas lights and candles and lightbulbs and flashlights and lamps and stars, when they’re visible, which isn’t often around here. Did I mention it rains? And I think about the Savior, the Light of the World, the reason for the pretty little Christmas lights all around. An oft-repeated admonition of Jesus is found in Matthew, and a few other places as well throughout the scriptures.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.  Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
                      Matthew 5: 14-16

 The Lord is big on light, it seems, and expects us to shine.

Who am I to shine? This time of year, especially, I feel more like a weak, wet match than a bonfire. But let’s look at that match. Once lit, however fleeting or weak, it has the power to light a long-burning candle, a bonfire, a forest fire. When I taught my Girl Scout troop to light cooking fires, they did so under a sprinkler. It’s easy enough to light dry firewood, but to light rain-soaked wet wood, the kind we find north of Seattle ten months of any year, well, that’s a skill! They all succeeded in not only striking a spark, but boiling water and a single spaghetti strand soft enough to tie a square knot in.

As I sit in darkness, being a little candle, I feel mighty inadequate. And a thought comes to me: not one about a light big enough to cast a dim glow across a room, but a full-on summer-beach-sized bonfire. That’s the kind of fire to be; a roaring fire that gives so much light, tourists can smile from three miles down the beach, wishing they were included. That’s the kind of light I want to be, the kind of old that steered sailors from a rocky jetty, bigger than a birthday candle. I can do this through my writing as well as human interaction.

So is Letting My Light So Shine Before Men That They May See (My) Good Works a daunting task? Likely, but I can take small steps. I’m all about small good works, anything that pushes back the darkness a little more. My goal: Be a bonfire. Any spark has potential, right?

Dec 21, 2017

Christmas Blessings

by Kari Diane Pike

Having grown up in the snowy mountains of northwest Montana, I always struggle to get into "Christmas mode" without some snow and ice. Thank goodness for music and cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies and yummy cookie traditions.

This year has proven to be particularly difficult. Honestly, between health challenges and the recent loss of family members and close friends, I couldn't find it in me to drag out the tree and the boxes and the strings of lights. My husband knew it was bad when, after wandering a bookstore for nearly an hour with the intent of purchasing Christmas gifts, I turned to him and motioned toward the door.

"Get me out of here." 

"But you didn't buy anything. Where else you would like to go?" Doug put one arm around my shoulders and pushed the exit door open with the other. A cool breeze swirled through the door and I shivered. The ache in my heart and the fatigue of a long day made it difficult to walk let alone think and make decisions. All I wanted was my bed.

"Can we just go to church Sunday, sing a few Christmas hymns and listen to a couple of talks and go home and go to bed? Can we just call off all the celebrations this year? I can't do it."

So home we went. A little chocolate and good night's rest helped restore my mood for a day or two. When I realized I had 9 days until Christmas and I hadn't even started shopping yet, I kind of freaked out. 

Then Tuesday happened. 

There's nothing like a little "could have been deadly" accident to bring the important things back into perspective. Doug and Amy were driving north from Gilbert to Prescott Valley on I-17. Just before the Pinnacle Peak road exit on the north end of Phoenix, the semi in front of them changed lanes, revealing a hand truck in the road. With no time to react, they hit the hand truck and lost part of the front bumper along with a parking light and damage to cowling around the tire and some sensors. But no one got hurt!!! And the car was driveable.

The highway patrolman asked if they saw what they hit, because all he could find was a couple of wheels. The hand truck had disintegrated. We have insurance and they will cover a rental car while repairs are made. The mechanics couldn't believe everyone walked away uninjured. We are blessed beyond measure.

Tomorrow the grandchildren are spending the day here decorating cookies and having fun. We will go caroling and play games Saturday evening. Sunday we will change up our traditional Christmas Eve trip to the zoo and act out a family version of the nativity. Family members will perform musical/reading numbers and we will enjoy lots of food and laughter. There might even be a few gifts exchanged...(assuming I can get off the computer and go shopping!)
It's going to be a magnificent Christmas.

I hope your holidays are full of love and joy. Merry Christmas to all and a very happy New Year.


Dec 12, 2017

Between a Rock and A Hard Place

by Terri Wagner

Appropriately enough our Gospel Doctrine lesson was on being a good citizen. In case you've been writing or hiding, you should know Alabama is voting on a new senator. We have quite the brouhaha here over our two candidates. While the lesson suggested you mention local elections, I did not want to get into a big discussion on this one. So I carefully read the riot act: vote, be active, run for office...and left it there. I did suggest they check the platforms of the people running for office, and prayerfully consider who to vote for. That's been tough here. How do you reconcile conflicting stories from 40 years ago...I have literally run from anyone trying to pin down who I intend to vote for while I considered and reconsidered. In the end, I made a decision based on as much fact (from fiction) as I could and prayed about my decision. And I still have no clear idea if I am making the right decision. I hope I am not wrong. I hope my vote counts, and the one I'm voting for wins, and proves to be what we need. So I'm signing off now to go vote.

Dec 9, 2017

It's the storm, not me, that's bound to blow away

It's the storm, not me, that's bound to blow away  

by Deb Graham

Lucky me– while in Utah visiting kids and grandkids over Thanksgiving, I attended a live broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word, with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  I saw them perform for the first time in July ,in the LDS Conference Center, and that was majestic and grandiose and overwhelming. This time was in the Tabernacle on Temple Square, a surprisingly intimate-feeling venue. We sat on seats hand painted by pioneers who wanted oak and had only pine at hand. Besides loving the swelling music that vibrated the seats and my heart,  two things jumped out at me.

 Mac Wilberg is a known musical genius, but I had no idea to what degree that’s true. We sat in our seats a few minutes early, and the Choir was rehearsing. Mac Wilberg stood on his podium with a headset on, the 110-member orchestra at his feet, the 360-member Mormon Tabernacle Choir in front of him. They ran through a line or two, and he waved his hand to a stop. He singled out three male singers  on the fifth row, and asked for “More energy, please, not more volume,” and called for the second and third cellos to pick up the pace on stanza eight, if you please.

Now, granted, I impress easily. I freely admit my only musical talent is as an audience, and a fine audience I am; polite, attentive, appreciative. To see a man so finely tuned that he could isolate three choir members and two cellists out of the all the waves of sound around him surprised me. How much do I miss in my life simply because I don’t block out the distractions around me?

The Choir sang a song I hadn’t heard. My daughter sat beside me, and at the first stanza, we turned to one another, locking eyes. She recently moved away, breaking several hearts in the process, including mine and hers. Those lyrics went right through us both; I felt it, I saw it in her eyes. We agreed we need to both print out the words and post them in our homes to remind us we’re tougher than we think we are. See if they don’t make you feel better!

 I also found the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s rendition on YouTube, should you have a few minutes to listen to it.

Hold On from The Secret Garden

When you see the storm is coming,
See the lightning part the skies,
It's too late to run-
There's terror in your eyes!
What you do then is remember
This old thing you heard me say:
"It's the storm, not you,
That's bound to blow away."

Hold on,
Hold on to someone standing by.
Hold on.
Don't even ask how long or why!
Child, hold on to what you know is true,
Hold on 'til you get through.
Child, oh child!
Hold on!

When you feel your heart is poundin', 
Fear a devil's at your door.
There's no place to hide-
You're frozen to the floor! 
What you do then is you force yourself
To wake up, and you say: 
"It's this dream, not me,
that's bound to go away."

Hold on,
Hold on, the night will soon be by.
Hold on,
Until there's nothing left to try.
Child, hold on, There's angels on their way!
Hold on and hear them say,
"Child, oh child!"

And it doesn't even matter
If the danger and the doom
Come from up above or down below, 
Or just come flying
At you from across the room!

When you see a man who's raging,
And he's jealous and he fears
That you've walked through walls
He's hid behind for years.
What you do then is you tell yourself to wait it out
And say it's this day, not me,
That's bound to go away.

Child, oh hold on.
It's this day, not you,
That's bound to go away!

We are not going anywhere. We just have to hold on and push back the swirling darkness. 

Dec 7, 2017

An Invitation to Grow

by Kari Diane Pike

About three and a half years ago, our youngest son Levi and our niece Megan participated in a cultural celebration to commemorate the dedication of the Gilbert Arizona temple for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Several hundred youth and their leaders rehearsed in dry, asthma-attack-inducing, dusty conditions and then performed as icy rain poured down from the sky. Megan described the event as the most horrible, magnificent experience she had ever had. All of the youth bore testimony of the Spirit they felt and the witness they received that Jesus is the Savior and Redeemer and that the Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ. They recognized that because of the conditions they faced, they could see how Heavenly Father strengthened them and gave them the ability to carry on with their celebration. They learned that they could do far more than they ever thought possible and do it joyfully.

 I've heard Megan's words echo in my mind quite a bit the past couple of months. Life is magnificent, but sometimes living hurts. And have you ever noticed that just when you think you've figured out some of the answers, the questions change? Or the challenge gets bigger?

Why does it seem so hard to follow through on those flashes of inspiration and promptings I receive from the Holy Spirit? Through prayer and study I've discovered answers to questions and greater insight into principles of the gospel that have helped me make sense of recent challenges. For instance, I came across a wonderful article by Wallace Goddard titled, "A Loving Perspective on Difficult Children" that I knew would help me understand and communicate better not only with my grandchildren, but with several adults in my life. Brother Goddard used a phrase that did more than light a bulb over my head. His "Irritation is an invitation" shot off fireworks in my brain. Thoughts and ideas that had been floating around began to fit together. But there was still something missing.

In seminary, we recently studied the book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. We compared the experiences of the people of King Limhi and the people of Alma. Both groups of people were descendants of the people who followed Zeniff from the land of Zarahemla back to the land of Nephi. Both groups ended up in bondage to the Lamanites and experienced great hardship and burdens. Both groups were eventually delivered from the bondage by the Lord. But their experiences also had some great differences. 

The people of Limhi had initially rejected the words of the Lord given through Abinidi and Alma. They stood by as Abinidi was burned to death and Alma was hunted. Only when they began to recognize that Abinidi's prophecies had been fulfilled, did they begin to change their attitude and repent. The Lord was slow to hear their prayers because of their iniquities, but He did hear them, and He began to soften the hearts of the Lamanites and the people began to "prosper by degrees". Eventually, Gideon came up with a plan and the Lord strengthened the people to carry out a plan of escape. 

The people of Alma sought him out and found him near the Waters of Mormon. They risked their lives to listen to him preach the truths of the gospel and to be baptized. They received warning when wicked King Noah discovered their whereabouts and they were lead safely to the land of Helam where they began to prosper. But then in Mosiah 23:21, 23 we read: 
Nevertheless that Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith...For behold, I will show unto you that they were brought into bondage, and none could deliver them but the Lord their God, yea, even the God of Abraham and Isaac and of Jacob.
While I thought I understood in my heart what the Lord is trying to teach in this account, I couldn't think of the words needed to answer the question I knew my students would ask : But they were obedient and making good choices. They were good people, so why did bad things happen to them? Why does the Lord see fit to reprimand people when they are being good?

Then I came to a quote in the lesson that added the missing piece to my puzzle:
“The word chasten comes from the Latin castus,meaning ‘chaste or pure,’ and chasten means ‘to purify’ [see Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary,11th ed. (2003), “chasten”]” (Lynn G. Robbins, “The Righteous Judge,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2016, 97).
All this time I had been looking at "chasten" as a reprimand or lecture or punishment. But purification - now it all made sense to me. When my trainer at the gym sees that I have progressed as far as I can physically with the exercise routine he had set up, he adds new challenges and pushes me to go faster, lift more weight, etc. He wants to help me increase my fitness, so he makes the workout more difficult. The Lord saw that the people of Alma were ready to grow. As a result, they bore their burdens with grace and humility. They prayed for deliverance. Because of their righteousness, the Lord answered right away and strengthened them to be able to bear their burdens until such a time as He saw fit to deliver them out of the hands of their captors.

The Lord delivered both groups of people from their bondage. The main difference is that the people of Alma saw their trial, or irritation, as an opportunity to submit their will to the Lord and remained steadfast and immovable despite the persecution.

So, I made it my goal to stop and think when I feel irritated by circumstances or the actions of others and ponder the invitation I am being given to grow spiritually and to become more like the Savior as He purifies me. For some reason I feel like more situations than ever have cropped up to challenge my desire to do and be a better person. Sometimes I manage to recognize them and navigate through successfully, but more often than not, I find myself distracted or focused on other things and I trip, stumble, and even fall flat on my face.

Oh, how grateful I am for Jesus Christ's Atonement - the one and only way I can be strengthened enough to get up, find my bearings, and continue moving forward. I can let go of irritation and let it become an invitation to grow, to change, and to humbly submit myself to the Lord. This does not mean I have to tolerate abuse of any kind - please don't misunderstand. It does mean that I can let go of offenses - whether they are intentional or perceived - and I can forgive myself and others and extend love the way the Savior extends His love to all. I can experience happiness and joy amidst the challenges by knowing that it is through those challenges that I will learn who I am: a daughter of a Heavenly King who loves me so much He sent His Only Begotten Son to live, love, serve, suffer, bleed and die, and rise again - opening the way for me to also be redeemed and choose eternal life.

Life is magnificent and the pain is worth it.

Dec 5, 2017


by Marsha Ward

It seems like time is rushing by so fast I can barely keep track of the days.

I noticed two days ago that I had a calendar stuck on October. As I regretfully flipped past November, I wondered where all that time had gone.

Had I used it wisely?
Had the hours been spent doing something good and/or worthwhile?

I think so. Two weeks of October were spent traveling to and from and attending a week-long workshop on the coast of Oregon. The over-arching theme of the workshop was "Time," and how authors--especially indie authors--don't have enough of it to do everything they want to accomplish. I came away dazed, and with my head so full of information that I thought it would explode.

In November, I finished working on a piece of fiction that I wrote over the span of three years, mostly because the main character wasn't ready to move on. I can't force characters to reveal their secrets until they are ready. However, I managed to publish Mended by Moonlight on the last day of the month.

I also traveled to attend a family Thanksgiving celebration. That was very nice. I may spend Christmas Eve with that side of the family again.

Now I'm starting a new story. The challenge there is to break away from everything else I do and make time for writing it.

I have so many plans for things to do in the new year: cover re-dos for better branding, writing, marketing, learning. I have to focus hard and pick the most worthwhile projects and endeavors.

What do you do with your time?

Nov 30, 2017

Dealing With Writer's Block

I knew this would eventually happen.  After five years of constant obsession over writing, editing, and improving my craft, I knew I would eventually hit a wall.  And, in true Susan Allred fashion, this writer's block is spectacular. Not spectacular as in, "this is so much fun I must do this every winter." More like "is this ever going to end? I have stories to write this century."

And it hasn't been just novel writing. The inspiration for our mystery game business has dried up, I have difficulty editing for more than fifteen minutes at a time, and I posted all of 238 words for NaNoWriMo in the month of November. Sigh. That's still 238 more words than I wrote in October.

Every day I sit at my computer with a list of different topics I could be writing about. And every day, I stare at a blank screen. I've plotted my Tim Reaper book twice, hoping to get the creative juices flowing. I've read other author's books. I've listened to a variety of audible books. I consider story lines as I'm driving and falling asleep, and have post-it notes all around my work space with ideas and prompts to motivate me to work.

I pray. I read my scriptures. Yesterday I went to the temple in hopes of finding the peace I need to begin working again. This blog is the closest thing to writing I've done all month. I'll take it.

As I struggle to find the creativity I need to push through this quagmire of creative mud, I'm reminded of those in the scriptures who endured hardships much more difficult than mine for years, sometimes decades, before finding relief.  I'm reminded that this minor struggle is a twinkle in the fabric of time, and it will pass. 

Until then, I take a deep breath, set my stories aside, and focus on my family during this holiday season.  Maybe what my mind is really telling me is that I need to spend more time with the little ones while they're still in my home. Make new Christmas memories, bake cookies, visit friends and loved ones, and serve those around me. 

What is a few months of writer's block if it means strengthening family and relationships and truly celebrating the birth of our Savior? So, I guess for now, I will continue to plot my stories while they're fresh in my head. And the true writing will begin in January. Sigh.  This too shall pass.

Nov 25, 2017


Does the God of all the universe and all within the expanse of eternity care about my measly writing goals? Does it matter one bit if I craft a perfect paragraph, finally locate the key to my research, design a stunning book cover, type The End on a manuscript?

In the same way I cheer on my young grandchildren when they learn a new skill or stretch in anyway, I think He does. I think the act of writing, of linking words together  like beads on a string is a significant part of eternity. There’s a lot of dark influences in the world; anything we can do to push back the darkness even a little bit is worth doing.

Dieter F Uchdorf said in October 2008:
“The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before.
Everyone can create. You don’t need money, position, or influence in order to create something of substance or beauty.
Creation brings deep satisfaction and fulfillment. We develop ourselves and others when we take unorganized matter into our hands and mold it into something of beauty—and I am not talking about the process of cleaning the rooms of your teenage children.
You might say, “I’m not the creative type. When I sing, I’m always half a tone above or below the note. I cannot draw a line without a ruler. And the only practical use for my homemade bread is as a paperweight or as a doorstop.”
If that is how you feel, think again, and remember that you are spirit daughters of the most creative Being in the universe. Isn’t it remarkable to think that your very spirits are fashioned by an endlessly creative and eternally compassionate God? Think about it—your spirit body is a masterpiece, created with a beauty, function, and capacity beyond imagination.
But to what end were we created? We were created with the express purpose and potential of experiencing a fulness of joy. Our birthright—and the purpose of our great voyage on this earth—is to seek and experience eternal happiness. One of the ways we find this is by creating things.”
How does this apply to writing? Have you ever found yourself caught up in a plot line, enthused about  how well that part turned out, felt a swelling sense of accomplishment reading over words you personally strung together? In a very small (but valuable!) way, that’s a shadow of God’s creations. After the earth was created, Genesis records the Creator stepping back and saying, “It is good.” Not spectacularly overwhelmingly awesomely wonderful, but good. Our writing is like that. Perfection is a process. Anything we learn in this world becomes part of us, our very being. Learning to expand our skills in communication and expression is not sneeze-worthy.

In Alma 34 we read:
 Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.
Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.
Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies.
 Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness.
 Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.
Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.
 But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.
 Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.

I don’t have flocks or fields or crops. I’m not really an animal lover, and this is the first year in twenty-seven I didn’t plant a garden. What I do have is a desire to write. For a while, I felt funny praying for help in my writing, but old Alma had a point; if it matters to me, it’s worth praying over. 

Sometimes, usually in that place between awake and asleep, inspiration will strike me and I’ll pick up paper and pen. Ideas for a new book, a plot twist, a way to untangle written dialogue, a nudge to write that article I’ve been putting off; often, ideas flow faster than I can write them down, like a waterfall of inspiration. Irrelevant things, perhaps, in the scheme of things, but it’s a reminder that my attempts at creating are noticed outside of my own mind. Sometimes I can sense a heavenly cheering section, encouraging me on, imperfect though my attempts may be. 

Waffling about writing? Feeling like you’re not good enough? Get back to it anyway! And don’t forget to pray. Help stands waiting, I’m certain of it. 

Nov 14, 2017

Lost in Life Events

by Terri Wagner

Once upon a time not so long ago, I would get up at 4:30 am, exercise, shower, commute an hour one way, work, get home, walk the dogs, jump on the computer and write for hours. What happened? In at least two years I've written maybe 10 pages. Re-reading them recently, they are good. But I have little desire to continue the story. Tried working on another story....nothing. It's like I caught something worse than writer's block. Has anyone else experienced this?

In a sleazy effort to redeem myself to my writing partner, I started the ole life-events routine. You know how it goes...things have been so difficult. Work is just crazy. Dad passed away (that maybe legit), losing my furry pals, moving back into my house, dealing with financial concerns about the get the picture.

A more honest assessment would be Netflix. What an invention. It's almost like Star Trek. I dreamed about just asking the computer to play a certain song, video, TV show, movie, endless possibilities. DVR is another great distraction. I could go all spiritual and say I'm a gospel doctrine teacher and lately I've had to do every Sunday (I have a sorta partner, she's gone a lot). I could say I'm working on being more physically fit, but the truth is....the desire is gone.

So how do I get it back?

Nov 11, 2017

Who Cares About Cookie Cutters?

Who Cares About Cookie Cutters?

Well, I do. They're common enough tools, but I value those snippets of bent metal, from the early tin ones to the modern steel or aluminum ones. Don’t get me started on the tacky plastic ones; they have no soul.  I own about 300, and the collection goes on. Some are my great-grandmother’s, my grandmother’s, my mom’s, mine from my childhood. Others are  travel souvenirs: a moose from Alaska, a palm tree from Florida, a sea turtle from Hawaii, a crab from San Francisco, a snowflake from a magical December getaway in the mountains. Each has a memory, a story in its shape. 

When we designed our house, pushing out the bow window left a weird overhang, a flat wall about 15 feet long and ten inches tall. The builder lamented, “It’s holding up the roof. I just can’t fix it!” Fix it?! Clearly, that was designed for my cookie cutter collection to be displayed, part of it anyway. In the center is my family. I found a cookie-man, a cookie-woman, a cookie-girl, and two cookie-boys, one smaller than the other, representing my daughter and two sons.  I arranged them under a temple cookie cutter, and above a sideways broom. That’s a nod to my southern years; jump the broom, get it?

My latest book is a multi-generational  story told through the perspective of an elderly woman, the keeper of the antique cookie cutter collection. I’m enjoying the research phase! Did you know the most –expensive cookie cutter, called Running Slave, sold for nearly $8000 in a heated auction? As I bring the story from Queen Charlotte’s period to current times, my heart is drawn to the generations of women who baked cookies for their families. Some were servants in England, other indentured servants in the New World, some slaves in America through no wish of their own. Mothers made cookies for their children, early nurses gave the harder ones to fussy babies to teeth on. Some women made them to sell, including a couple of enterprising women who used their baked goods as a way to slip messages under the noses of King George’s troops in Boston, triggering the timing of the Revolutionary War.

My own mother always had cookies in the cookie jar.  Mom is an orderly soul; she likes identical cookies.  When I was a child, milk and cookies was a common way to sit with a  child after school and ask How Was Your Day, Honey?  One of my favorite memories was when my family was traveling when I was a child. We stopped for a gas in a very small town somewhere in the Midwest.  As soon as we stepped out to stretch our legs, we were engulfed by an overwhelming lemon-cookie aroma. The gas station attendant laughed and said Ma, the owner of Ma’s Cookies, always turned her vent fans toward the gas station when she noticed travelers stopping, and wouldn’t we like to go to her bakery across the parking lot? We drove away with warm lemon cuts outs, bags of them.

A simple tool, it’s unlikely many people count cookie cutters as anything worthwhile, just a faster way to make same-shape-same-size cookies in a hurry. I see the story in them, a memory tied up in each. And I find it hard to talk about cookies without wanting one, so here’s a recipe for you:  

Sugar Cut Out Cookies
·         1-½ cup butter  
·         2 cups sugar
·         2 whole eggs
·         2 whole eggs yolks
·         4 teaspoons vanilla extract
·         2 teaspoons almond extract
·         4 cups all-purpose flour
·         1 teaspoon salt
·         1 teaspoon baking powder

In a mixer, beat butter and sugar until well combined, about 2 minutes. Add in 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks and mix until combined. Mix in  vanilla and almond extract until combined. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking powder. Slowly (about a cup at a time) add flour to butter mixture and combine. Just mix ingredients until they are combined, so as not to toughen the dough. Cover and chill at least one hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough out, cut out cookies, and bake for 6-8 minutes. Drizzle with a simple glaze or frost as desired.

Glaze:  stir one cup powdered sugar with enough orange juice or milk to make a pancake-batter consistency. Drizzle over cooled cookies with a fork. 

Nov 8, 2017

Business of Writing Workshop

by Marsha Ward

During the last half of October, I took an epic road trip to attend an 8-day workshop in Lincoln City, Oregon, hosted by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, two writers I count as mentors in the business of writing. I've learned so much over the past four or so years by reading their blogs regularly, but an opportunity came up to attend this workshop on the Oregon Coast and meet them in person, and I had to jump on it.

The venue for the workshop was the Inn at Spanish Head, a ten-story resort hotel on the beach built into a cliff. On the landward side, the reception area is on the ninth floor. The conference room is on the fourth floor. I wasn't the only one who became confused about whether one went up or down when entering the elevator.

The overall theme of the workshop was Time, since it's in such short supply for writers, whether indie, hybrid, or traditional. From 7 pm on October 21 to 9:30 pm on October 28, in three sessions a day plus late-night networking, I, and about forty-nine other professional writers, madly took notes on such topics as productivity, tracking output, deadlines, writing process for both linear and non-linear writers, health, separating the businesses of writing and publishing, making short- and long-term business decisions, structures of corporations, estate planning for authors, copyright, trusts, triage as a business plan, branding, virtual assistants, and the true meaning of hybrid.

Faces erased at the request of the participants.
Please note that we covered that extensive list of topics by the end of Monday's sessions. There were a ton more each day, and I'm still working my way through the incredible amount of knowledge and information. I expect it will be a year-long endeavor.

One thing that was impressed upon us is that we must not make any business decisions and change up our plans for at least the two weeks minimum that it will take for our brains to heal from exploding with the input of all the new facts. Another was that "should do's" and "supposed to do's" are deadly, evil beyond imagination. We must choose to do only what works for our style and methods of writing and publishing.

Since I traveled for several days before arriving home, my brain still hasn't adjusted to all the new knowledge. I have my work cut out for me as the holidays approach. I must not be pressured, though, by my inner panic to DO SOMETHING NOW! I have to study and decide what will work for me.

Oct 31, 2017


by Terri Wagner

Once upon a time, I used to dress up on October 31 and wander around my neighborhood getting candy. I usually went with a group and had a blast, the homemade treats were as tasty as the bought candy. Each house tried out do its neighbor in the scary but fun aspect of Halloween. I graduated from princess to pirate to Star Wars characters as my Halloween celebrations went from trick-n-treat to dances and parties. I had fun no matter what I did. I looked forward to being the house that dressed itself up, and handed out the flavor of the year treat.

In the words of a Tim Burton movie, "something went terribly wrong." Halloween became well weird. People started calling it Fall Festival...which just is not the same. People began x-raying candy, candy dispensing centers became the norm, think mall, and the age and time and date to trick or treat got complicated. What happened?

Did Satanists hijack Halloween like the Fall Festivalsayers claim? Did the inconvenience of a weekday Halloween just become too hard to set up? Did parties and adult tricks become the norm? Did the horror (think gross out) films take the fun from the holiday? It makes me sad.

I hope the tide changes or the pendulum swings back or whatever it takes to make it a fun kids holiday again. My favorite costume as a kid...hands down the pirate. I mean I got a sword! As a young adult, dressing up like an Ewok and singing Halloween carols to the bishop/stake presidencies at their homes, as an older adult, hands down opening the door to the cutest kids with the biggest smiles and handing out a treat.

The church's trunk and treat comes close to what I used to know. Let's take the holiday back.

My trunk and treat cuties...the mermaid and the rock star.

Oct 28, 2017

Whose Story Is It Anyway?

by Deb Graham

Whose story is it?

“Using the pointillism technique we’ve explored this week, draw a human foot. Due Monday.”

Confidently, I jotted down the assignment and headed home for the weekend. I got this! My grandmother was visiting, and she had the oddest feet I’d ever seen. Her baby toes curled under, and the corns near her big toes bulged.  I knew she’d welcome the chance to sit and pose for me while she crocheted. And I knew my art teacher would love it.

Pointillism; a series of dots gathered together in a foot shape; I knew I could excel at this art class’ first homework. I spent two hours carefully detailing every inch of Grandma’s left foot. My family agreed I’d caught the realism.

 On Monday, I slipped my sketch paper out of my hinged portfolio and clamped it on my easel to show the teacher when he circled the room. Ten minutes later, I was in tears, humiliated from the public mockery and scolding dished out.

 Inaccurate lines.

Bulge by big toe.

Baby toes grotesquely rolled under

 Visible boney structure and exaggerated veins.

And he announced my grade to the class; my very first D-. He said he only gave Fs when assignments were not turned in; this was a half point above not drawing at all. I held on another three weeks, then dropped the high school class, and with it, whatever latent drawing talent I may have had.

Today I secured a floor-length artist’s smock around my grandson; at only two years of age, adult clothing is always floor-length. I set him in front of an easel, and offered him his very first paintbrush.

“What color do you want?”

“Yite bwoo!”  No surprise there; light blue is his favorite color.

I sat back. The little guy dipped his brush in the paint. Sure of himself, he arched wide blue swaths with gleeful abandon. I envied his confidence and obvious joy. And I didn’t tell him how to hold the brush, what strokes to make or criticize his choice of color. This was his art, not mine.

I’m a writer and an author. I've published 17 books, three this year. I’m most comfortable in nonfiction because it’s predictable; I control the outcome. I’ve written two novels and I’m working on three more. Fiction tends to go off on its own, and I find that unnerving. Characters speak to me, scenes veer off where I hadn’t intended, plot lines refuse to stay on track. Nonfiction doesn’t behave like that.

When I first attempted fiction, I figured I’d need all the help I could get. I researched, starting with internet searches on How To Write A Novel, How To Set A Scene, How To Write Dialogue; the basics. I also sought human help, including a critique group, beta readers, and editors.
When I wanted to learn to draw, I sought a teacher. At this stage, I find both about equally helpful.

Readers change the voice, insisting Will has to use complete sentences, and Cinci can’t use run-on sentences, although that’s the way I hear
 them in my mind. Others call my style “Yoda-like” and insist on most sentences starting with He Was or She Went; passive to the point of yawning. One said a child couldn’t jump on a trampoline for ten straight minutes, but clearly, she hadn’t seen a joyful child on a summer’s afternoon. “You can’t kill off that character, or I’ll be mad at you!” wailed another. “Put him back!” 

If I listened to them, my stories would be unrecognizable mush.

An artist paints, then steps back, admiring. Never do they create a masterpiece, then hand over the paintbrush to a person to let them add a few strokes to the bridge or erase that tree on the left.

As writers, why do we open ourselves to peer-critique? No one can hear the story in our words, so why do we allow Them to change our voice, to dull its sharp tones, to conform the structure into mind-numbing dullness?  It’s time to stop running our writing through committees.

How? Trust yourself. You’re the one who can hear the character; let them speak, unflattened. 

Believe in your own writing. Trust the process, because what’s the worst that can happen?

Be brave! Get a copyeditor who will only find typos. Ignore any attempts to change your style or writing in any way; they’re only suggestions. 

Sure, rules of grammar apply, and punctuation is critical; I get seriously annoyed by authors who lazily neglect to close quotes or who think every sentence must be paragraph-length, and you just can’t spell “unique” as “yewneak” and expect me to bother reading the rest. I have my limits, and anything that requires me to use a magic decoder ring to read isn’t worth my time. But editors who seek to change your plot, characters, theme, etc should...go write their own book.

Writers are artists, and we need to trust our art. The world needs to hear our voice, our story, and sometimes, just telling it and putting it out there is best, rather than letting it be edited to death.

I can’t draw anything fancier than a straight line, but I can write. 

Oct 26, 2017

New and Exciting Things - Life Happens

by Kari Diane Pike

In that space between sleep and wakefulness I watched the sun rise.The light chased away night's shadow and dressed the clouds in gowns of fuchsia, and gold, and copper. Color overflowed from the sky and a vibrant rainbow arched down to touch the valley below. The feelings of peace and gratitude  and joy that accompanied the scene added to the beauty.  The rainbow began to fade and I reached for my camera in order to capture the moment but I couldn't find it. The rainbow shimmered in a valiant effort to keep shining, then burst into glittery specks that fell to the earth. That's when I realized I had to be dreaming because (1) seeing a rainbow in front of the sun was scientifically impossible and (2) rainbows don't explode into glittery confetti.

The light faded behind a silvery mist and the echo of a train whistle outside stirred my consciousness. One more thought rode on the tail of my dream as it slipped away:
You couldn't take a picture of what you saw, but you can share its beauty by writing about it. The gift is yours as long as you use it for good.
 Today I met my new visiting teaching partner. As we chatted and got to know each other, she told me at least three times that I should write a book.

I haven't even been consistent lately about posting on this blog. What makes me think I can write a book? Sure, I talk about it. All.The.Time. But, you know. Life happens.

And then it hit me. Life happens! And it is magnificent. I love recognizing the Lord's tender mercies and watching the way He has prepared a way for everything to work out. Every day He sends angels to assist me on this incredible journey. And I want to share the beauty of witnessing how the Atonement of Jesus Christ blesses my life.

Two weeks ago, I learned I would be helping our oldest daughter drive her vehicle with five children, a dog, from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Phoenix, Arizona - oh, and towing a tent trailer the whole way. Sheer terror twisted my stomach in knots because, you know, two lane roads, ice, bar ditches, ice, never been there before, ice, camping along the way, ice... So I prayed. Our daughter prayed. My husband prayed. And several people came across our path. I learned from one friend that if we took the ferry to Seattle, we would save 1200 miles. That sounded like a perfect solution to avoiding the snow and ice that decided that week to cover the roads across Alaska and Canada.  Except we couldn't find a ferry schedule. And believe me, we searched.

A few days later, I met a man in a hospital waiting room who had lived in Alaska for twenty-five years. In less than thirty seconds, he pulled up a ferry schedule. Hoorah! Another step forward. But alas. The ferry wanted $4500.00 for the three day trip for our Clampett-like entourage. Nope. Not happening. More prayers were offered. More research took place. My husband determined that the best decision was to store the truck and the camper in Fairbanks and fly everyone to Arizona. Staying alive was much more important than the expense of flying. Our daughter searched some more and found plane tickets that would cost less than the amount needed for gas to drive for 60 hours or more. Win-Win!

That's how a Grandma, a Mom, five children, a dog and kennel, 13 checked bags and backpacks of various sizes, seven carry-on bags and seven personal items descended upon an Alaska Airline flight to Seattle and Phoenix. Compared to the idea of driving and camping in the snow for a couple of weeks, the ten hour layover was a piece of cake.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin spoke about "Come What May and Love It". He taught about four things that help us get through life:

  • Learn to laugh - it will extend your life
  • Seek for the eternal
  • Understand the law of compensation - every tear today will be returned a hundredfold
  • Put your trust in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ
So during the past couple of days when my list of things to do threatened to topple over and bury me, I took a deep breath and watched the sunrise. I focused on the most important things, including a bike ride around the block with an active grandson and playing Mr. Potato Head with an imaginative granddaughter. I even found the time to post this blog, even if it had to wait until 10:35 p.m. 

In about eight hours the sun will rise again and new and exciting things are waiting to happen. I look forward to seeing what comes. I know it will be spectacular. 


Sunrise in Fairbanks. October 23, 2017

Oct 14, 2017

Bring on the Retreat!

by Deb Graham

As autumn settles in for good, I realize I’m exhausted. 

Part of this is because I just returned from a trip, and I leave again next weekend. Looking over my calendar, I see these are my 11th and 12th journeys this year, and two more biggies are scheduled before the holiday frenzy sets in. By the time my wedding anniversary rolls along, I’m invariably out of emotional fuel. Whose idea was it to marry right after New Year’s?  

Along with a whole lot of travel, I’ve had other bumps in my road this year; a few significant illnesses, my husband retired in May, then started a new (and undiscussed) job of work the following Monday. My eldest son has torn at the fibers of my family, causing sleepless nights and stomach pains.  My favorite (and only) daughter moved away and I grieve the loss of near-daily contact with her and my cute grandkids. I learned the meaning of Sandwich Generation as I worry for her having a rough time settling in and health challenges of her own, plus my mother who rode out a major hurricane at our place. I never aspired to be peanut butter, but sandwiched I am.

Writing has taken off this year; I’ve published three whole books and have several more in various stages of completion. Time-consuming, stressful, and enjoyable, it’s on my mind even when I sleep. I’ve longed for a personal assistant to take over the chores of advertising, website stuff, and other writing-related tasks that are not much fun.

As I said, I go into Fall feeling depleted, which is less than ideal since I live in the Pacific Northwest.  I need all the emotional energy I can muster to get through the upcoming long, gloomy, dreary, soul-sucking, endlessly rainy, dark, chilly days ahead. This year, I’m running on fumes, and it’s only early October.

But there is light on the horizon! I’m grateful to be at the ANWA Northwest Retreat as you read this! It’s my third year going, and I’m counting on the same uplift I found in the other years. The coming together of diverse, strong women, united in faith and common interest is soul-filling. I soak up knowledge insights, and information, but the best part of the Retreat is nurturing my bruised, tired soul absorbs.

These are not ordinary women; they’re creatives, out to push back the darkness of the world by writing uplifting, wholesome pieces that inspire and uplift. They’re warm and accepting, no  matter the level of writing we find ourselves, and just being in their presence is exactly what I need right now. I know I’ll come home re energized, buoyed up, strengthened and confident enough to step forward with feet undragging.

I’m not done unpacking from the last trip yet, but I already set aside a heap to take with me to the Retreat.  I can’t wait!!

Oct 10, 2017

Honoring Christopher Columbus

by Marsha Ward

Yesterday was the observance of Columbus Day in the United States, in accordance with the Monday holiday scheme. The original Columbus Day holiday is October 12, meant to commemorate the landing of Columbus in the New World on October 12, 1492.

I extend my gratitude and thanks to Christopher Columbus for finding the New World and revealing its existence to the Spanish court. No, he was not the first to "discover" it, only the first to publicize its existence. And for that, I am truly thankful and grateful.

For an interesting article from WallBuilders that explains more about the man and why I celebrate Christopher Columbus, click here.

Oct 6, 2017

My Black Thumb Strikes Again

Autumn is one of my favorite times of year. Crisp air turns noses red, dense fog blankets the earth and hovers over the river. Leaves turns brilliant hues of yellow, orange and red. Homes are decorated with pumpkins, gourds, corn stalks and hay bales. Crunching footsteps tromp through piles of dry leaves. Children chatter about their Halloween costumes, and the smell of pumpkin pies and warm, spiced cider waft through the air. I can almost feel the heat on my face from the crackling fire in the fireplace, flames dancing over a log, casting shadows on the pages of my book as I read nearby.

In Spokane, the metamorphosis from Summer to Autumn occurs almost overnight. One week, sweat rolls down my back, soaking into my shirt from triple-digit weather. The next week, frost covers the green grass, and I'm scraping car windows before I take kids to early morning seminary.

But by ten in the morning, the weather is perfect. 65 degrees F. Vivid blue sky with puffs of clouds and a brilliant sun brightening the day. It's the kind of weather that makes me want to go outside and do something.

Courtesy of:
Today, I only had two appointments, which means I had a few hours without (gasp!) anything to do.  So, I went outside for the first time since...well, who are we kidding? It's the first time all year. And, it's October. Ahem. Anyway, I went outside. To do yard work. I'd had a box of Red Hot Poker plants my sister had given me two months ago. They'd been sitting in the dilapidated cardboard box, slowly dying, changing from deep green, to pale green, then to tan, and a few of the stalks were now brown and brittle.  I'd walked by that pathetic, wilting box several times a day going to and from my car with my kids. I'd scurry from therapy sessions to school, seminary, church, and everything in between, promising myself I'd plant those poor flowers tomorrow. 

Tomorrow was today.  I grabbed a shovel, drug the box with my half-dead plants over to the side of the house where it gets the most sunlight during the day. I cleared out all the weeds vines, and debris from a year's worth of neglect, and planted those darned plants. 

As I stood, staring at the side of my house, dotted with green, wilting stalks, I shook my head.  It'll be a miracle if these poor things survive the winter.  Heck, who are we kidding? It'll be a miracle if they survive a week. Especially with my black thumb. But at least they have a fighting chance. Something they weren't getting in that stupid box!

I went into the garage and put away my shovel, lamenting over how I'd managed to neglect another set of plants. As I opened my front door, I glanced at the rock garden where my rose bushes used to be, and spied an itty bitty little purple stem from a burgeoning rose bush! The very same plant I've uprooted
four times, placed landscape tarp over, and then covered with about 2,000 lbs of rock. And yet somehow, this tenacious little plant has found it's way to the sunlight again. 

I think I snorted. I guess if that thing can survive me intentionally trying to kill it, my Red Hot Pokers have a chance at surviving my unintentional murderous tendencies. Either that, or I'm going to have to put a cape on that little rosebush, because that bugger has super powers!