02 December 2011

PiBoIdMo Winner!

I did it!  I finished the Picture Book Idea Month challenge with 32 picture book ideas.   Some are fully-fledged ideas, some are mere scraps of a wisp of thought, one has already grown into a full first draft.  I didn't finish all of my goals for November, but I'm excited to announce that I did, in fact, finish the PiBoIdMo challenge (which turned out to be much harder than I initially anticipated)!

In other news, I also entered the MeeGenius Author's Challenge.  Voting is now open, and if I win this challenge, my daughters' elementary school gets a library of ebooks!  Please stop by and read my entry PHILIP'S NEW PENCIL about a boy who simply couldn't complete his math test because his pencil wouldn't stop talking.  If you love it, please vote for me and tell all your friends!

18 November 2011

"Nothing Ever Happens to Me"

Last week, I went with my 7th grade daughter on a class field trip to the zoo.  Whenever I chaperone, my kids and their friends bombard me with questions, prompting story after story of my adventures when I was young(er).  This time was no different, and as we rode the bus to the zoo, my stories began.

Because we were going to visit the animals, naturally, I told stories about my various animal adventures.  And because the girls had just finished a debate over whether or not we would visit the reptile house, I pulled out my favorite snake stories.

I told about my junior high school science teacher, who had 2 giant boa constrictors that he would allow to slither through the hallways during class times, when the halls were empty.

I told about the time when I was working at the college print shop, and a snake reared up and hissed and struck at me when I tried to take a stack of papers out to the dumpster.  (It didn't bite me, didn't really even come that close before I ran away screaming, but this marked the beginning of my snake phobia.)

I told about the time, when my daughter was about two years old, that I took her to the zoo.  She wanted to pet the boa constrictor when the zoo keeper brought it out.  Being the amazing, wonderful, terrific mother that I am, and not wanting to pass my phobias on to the younger generation, I swallowed my terror, forced a few deep, steadying breaths into my lungs, and stood in line with her.  I even pet the snake with her, to show her little hands how to do it gently.  I didn't pass out from the fear, and my daughter still remembers it as one of the coolest experiences of her early years and proof positive that her mother loves her.  (Definitely worth it!)

At my daughter's prompting, I also told the girls about how my mother, back when she was a fearless tomboy, used to catch ribbon snakes and wind them around her neck and wrists as jewelry.  She would also catch tarantulas and carry them around on her shoulders.  And because she was such a thoughtful little girl, she never failed to find my grandmother and offer, "You can pet him, mommy.  He's so soft!"  Grandma never did pet a tarantula, but she must have been so glad to have the opportunity so often. :)

When I finished my tales, one of my daughter's best friends spoke up.  "You're so lucky! Why does everything happen to you?"

I asked what she meant, and she explained, "You always have so many cool stories to tell.  Why does the creepy, scary and cool stuff always happen to you? I've NEVER had anything interesting happen to me."

Before I could answer her, we arrived at the zoo, and in the chaos of finding our way into the zoo, along with about 200 other seventh-grade students, along with dozens of teachers and chaperones, our conversation was forgotten.  I wonder what I would have said, if I'd had the chance to answer then and there.  Probably something as mind-boggling as "I don't know."

Since then, I've pondered the question. 

Why do so many interesting things happen to me?  Do I possess some rare and wondrous quality that draws the universe's interesting vibes my way?  Probably not.  Am I exceptionally adventurous, going out of my way to find the cool and creepy elements in any given situation?  Not particularly.

But I'm a story teller.  I watch.  I pay attention.  I write.

Over the years, I've learned to pull the cool, creepy and interesting tidbits out of an otherwise mundane day, and weave them into a fun, true-life story, tailored to the interests of my audience.  And I'm not afraid to make myself look ridiculous in the retelling.

Everyone has fascinating stories to tell.  The trick is learning to watch for those moments. 

My daughter's friend (the one who thinks nothing interesting has ever happened to her) could tell about the time when she and her friends practiced "planking" on all of the play structures in the children's area of the zoo during their seventh-grade field trip. 

She could tell about how they bought several large baskets full of french fries from the zoo's food vendor at lunch time, and shared them with their friends.  She could talk about how they kept going back for more and more french fries, everyone gorging on fried potatoes until they all declared that they never wanted to see another one as long as they lived.

She could tell the story of how her group was late getting back to the bus at the end of the day (and almost caused the entire seventh grade to get back to school too late to catch the buses home), because they were waiting for one member of the group to make a purchase at the gift shop.  She could tell about running across the parking lot from the zoo to the bus, with nearly 200 kids and dozens of teachers and chaperones all yelling at them to "hurry up or we'll be late getting back to school!"

And that's just one day!

So what about you?  Think about your last 24 hours.  What amazing stories could you tell?

10 November 2011


As you know, last week, the worst day ever turned into the best day ever, when I found out that I won a copy of Anna Staniszewski's debut novel: MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE.  (If you don't know what I'm talking about, read this post.)  When I received the book in the mail, I was so excited that I tossed my daily to-do list out the window (not literally. Littering is never a good idea!) and sat down to read.  I was hooked by the end of the first page, and I couldn't put it down!

MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE is the story of Jenny, a 12-year-old adventurer who spends her free time in one enchanted kingdom after another, helping magical creatures in need.  With corny, cliched nuggets of wisdom like "sharing is caring," Jenny saves fairies and elves and teaches unicorns how to share.  The job comes with its own unique dangers, and sometimes Jenny has to escape dragons who want to turn her head into a flaming volleyball or unicorns who run her down when she attempts to show them how to share the rainbow, but she used to love being an adventurer.

When Jenny is assigned to save the kingdom of Speak from the evil sorcerer, Klarr, who holds the land under a silence spell, she refuses.  Klarr is much too scary.  Jenny decides she'd much rather be a normal girl, worrying about normal things like schoolwork and tests and hanging out with her friends.  Someone else can deal with the psycho sorcerer.

But life as a normal girl isn't as idyllic as Jenny imagines, and the creatures of Speak will never defeat Klarr without her help.  She must face her fears and find the courage to keep fighting, even when she doesn't think she knows how.

MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE is one of the best books I've read in a very long time.  When I reached the last page, I couldn't wait to read it all over again!  Staniszewski weaves together the trials and insecurities every young girl faces with a long list of fantastical "what ifs" to create a magical world that draws you in and won't let go.  It was the perfect afternoon escape from my very own unfairy tale life!

Update 11/16/2012: Anna Staniszewski is running a giveaway contest on her blog right now (until December 12, 2012) for a chance to win your choice of either MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE or the sequel: MY EPIC FAIRY TALE FAIL, along with TWO other books!! Make sure to enter for your chance to win!

03 November 2011

A Little Perspective Makes All the Difference!

Have you ever noticed that one unexpected thing can turn your whole day around, for better or worse?

On Tuesday morning, I woke up earlier than usual, refreshed, excited and full of energy.  I wasn't sick!  For the first time in nearly a month, I didn't have a sore throat, a headache and tired, aching muscles.  I knew the kids all had after school activities that afternoon, which gave me an extra hour and a half to catch up on the many things that I've let slide while I've been sick.  Since I was awake early, I took my time getting up, eating breakfast, checking my email and getting dressed for my weekly Temple day.

It didn't even phase me when my oldest two kids missed the bus.  I simply gathered up my younger daughters and drove all the kids to school.  (The older kids were even almost on time!)  When my son announced as he was getting out of the car that he'd left his homework on the table, I smiled and shrugged.  No problem!  I had just enough time for a quick detour back to the house before dropping my daughters off at their elementary school.  Added bonus?  I could also grab my cell phone that I'd left plugged into the charger.  And I could easily swing back by the middle school to drop off the homework on my way to the Temple.  It wasn't too far out of my way, after all, and I knew the quiet peace inside the Temple would more than make up for the crazy chaos of our suddenly hectic morning.

When I got home from the Temple that afternoon, feeling relaxed and spiritually refreshed, I had a quiet lunch and then got caught up on a few projects.  I even managed to finish my entry for the writing contest I've been working on for the past month, and I got it in just before the deadline!  Yes, Tuesday was definitely the best day I'd had in a very long time.

Then, as I finished submitting my writing contest entry and gathered my things together to go collect the kids from their various after school activities, my phone rang.  I smiled, recognizing the ring tone I'd created for my husband, and realized he must be calling to let me know he was on his way home from work - a little earlier than I had expected.  Could this day get any better?

His voice was a little strained.  "Honey, I'm on my way home, but when I get there, we're going to need to pray together for guidance.  I have some potentially bad news."

He told me that the Air Force is going through a force reshaping again, and due to a series of recent events, he's right smack-dab in the middle of the group most vulnerable to early separation.

I knew I shouldn't worry.  We've been in uncertain circumstances before - way too often to recount here.  It hasn't always ended up the way I wanted it to go, but it's always been, in the end, the absolute best thing for us.  The Lord knows what he's doing.  I trust Him.

Besides, I knew my husband's commanding officer would do anything in his power to protect my husband's job.  After all, just days ago, he was recognized as one of the key reasons that they passed their recent inspections with flying colors.  He's the go-to guy when programs need to be fixed.  They won't let him go without a fight.

Still, I felt like I'd been slammed up against a wall.  My amazing, peaceful day came crashing down all around me.  In a flash, the joy and tranquility dissolved, and I struggled through a dark cloud of fear and "what ifs."  Our bright, promising future suddenly seemed bleak and hopeless.

Yesterday, when I crawled out of bed, I was still seeing those dark clouds.  Not a single silver lining in sight.

Never mind the fact that my kids all got ready for school without fighting me, and I got to go to the gym for the first time in weeks.  By 7am, I already knew it was going to be a BAD DAY!

Since I've been sick and my gym routine has faltered lately, it took longer than usual to gather my things together.  I was late leaving the house, and arrived fifteen minutes late for my deep water jogging class.  I thought about skipping it altogether, but my lethargic muscles screamed for the opportunity to move again, so I trudged into the gym and changed into my bathing suit.  I tried not to notice that my favorite red suit was starting to wear through in patches due to the high chlorine levels in the pool, but I noticed it anyway.  Oh well.  I couldn't do anything about it now - my other suit was at home. 

I walked out to the pool and climbed in, barely noticing that the water wasn't freezing, as it usually is.  Normally, I would be grateful for such a blessing.  Yesterday, I couldn't make myself care.  My friends teased me about my extended absence, and even though I knew they love and missed me, the good-natured ribbing was almost too much.  I had to fight the tears that threatened to spill over.  Only 9:15am, and this was already shaping up to be the worst day ever!

I'd been looking forward to getting together with my friends for knitting club.  I've missed more Wednesdays than I can count lately, with my illness and various doctor and dentist appointments for the kids.  Unfortunately, I left the knitting project I'd so carefully set out that morning sitting on my dining room table.  I knew I could still go to the knitting club and visit with my friends.  I've missed them, after all.  But really, without a project to work on, what was the point?  Yep, worst day ever!

I took my car in to get the tire fixed (it's been leaking air), and they wanted to charge me for the repair, even though it was covered under the road hazard warranty I'd paid extra for when I bought the tires not many months ago.  Then, the 45-minute repair took just over two hours.

I couldn't even work on my NaNoWriMo writing goal while I waited in the overcrowded waiting room, because they had the TV tuned in to soap operas and daytime talk shows at such a high volume that I couldn't even hear myself think! 

When I finally got my car back, they informed me that both my front and back brakes were dangerously low.  I should make an appointment to bring the car back in for a repair as soon as possible.  Great!  There was no way this day could get any worse!

As I pulled into my driveway, I noticed a large box on my front porch.  The nook I'd been waiting for to replace my defective one had arrived right on time.  I took a deep breath and brought it inside.  At least one thing had finally gone right!  If nothing else, I could curl up with a good book and pretend that this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day had never happened.  I carried the box inside and pulled out my "new" (certified, pre-owned) nook.  I plugged it in to charge the battery - and nothing happened!  After hours of charging, I later had to admit that they'd sent me a defective nook to replace my defective nook!  I just couldn't catch a break!

I glanced at the clock and saw that I had just enough time to eat a quick lunch before my kids came home from school.  I popped it into the toaster oven to warm up, then answered the phone when it rang.  The dentist's office was calling to yell at me because I had questioned a recent bill.  Apparently, the amount they'd charged when I was in the office (telling me I had paid in full) didn't take into account the fact that they used a type of filling for my daughters' teeth that isn't covered by my insurance ("many policies don't cover this type, and we simply can't take the time to verify which items will or won't be covered prior to providing service.  You should have verified that yourself.")  When I had the audacity to ask that they use the type my insurance will cover for any future fillings, she reamed me for my bad parenting skills.  Apparently, if I really cared about my children, I would use the expensive, non-insured type! 

As politely as I could (I admit that I may have been a little more snappish than I meant to be), I explained that I didn't have time to argue, and I ended the conversation.  Then, I ran back to the kitchen to rescue my lunch, that was already starting to burn in the toaster oven.  As I tried to quickly pull it out, my lunch crumbled into a hundred tiny pieces, littering the bottom of the toaster.  I managed to save about half of it, and I tried to be grateful that I had something to eat, but really, I was just counting the minutes until I could crawl back into bed and forget that this day had ever happened!

As I finished the last bites of my smaller-than-anticipated lunch, the kids came home from school.  I took a deep breath, started them on their homework, and retired to my writing corner, determined to salvage the day by getting at least a little bit of writing done.

No such luck.

Within seconds of sitting down, I leaped up again and ran downstairs to rescue my youngest daughter, who was screaming in terror, as if she'd discovered a dead body.

She had!

My cats had killed a mouse and brought it into the library, leaving it right next to our favorite beanbag chair.  I tried to be grateful that they hadn't brought in a live mouse.  After all, they were doing what cats are supposed to do, right?

While I calmed my daughter, I persuaded my son to grab a plastic bag and remove the offending body from the house.  He took it to the outside trash can, then returned to wash his hands - only to discover that my thoughtful cats had also left a dead mouse as a present for us on the bathroom rug!  (Now, my youngest is convinced that the only safe room in the house is her bedroom.  She keeps the door closed, and the cats aren't allowed upstairs.)

I gave up on trying to salvage the day.  I told the kids they could eat as much Hallowe'en candy as they wanted, and I went upstairs so I could call my husband at work and cry in private.

While I waited for him to answer his phone, I pulled up my email.  The first message waiting for me in my inbox was from Anna Staniszewski (author of MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE), informing me that I won an ARC of her book!

I read the email to my husband, and he laughed.  "You are so lucky!  You always win these book contests.  If I were a gambling man, I'd tell you to buy a lottery ticket!"

And you know what? He's right.  I am so blessed.  I may have the most UNFAIRY TALE LIFE kind of day from time to time (don't we all?), but I have friends and family who love and care for me, and I really have just about everything I could want.

Besides, I'm getting a free copy of one of the books at the tippy-top of my wish list - one that, by the title alone, fit the theme of my day to a tee.  How could any string of bad day events compete with amazingly good news like that?  Yesterday was THE BEST DAY EVER!

01 November 2011

NaNoWriMo, PiBoIdMo, and General Writing Craziness

Happy November, everybody!

This is the month when writers and aspiring authors everywhere set crazy writing goals, and sometimes achieve them.

First, the month of November is known in writing circles as National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo.  This is when we pledge to write a 50,000-word novel within one month's time.  It's a goal that can only be achieved by turning off that internal editor and letting the writing flow, even if it's not perfect (which, I guarantee, it won't be).  By the end of November, you should have a full first draft of your next novel (or at least the first 50,000 words of it), and presumably, you will start revising it on December 1st.  (I don't care who you are, NO ONE writes a fully polished, ready-to-publish first draft.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably trying to sell you something.)

I've taken up the NaNoWriMo challenge a couple of times.  The first was in 2007, when my husband and I decided to write a book together, alternating chapters.  Our idea was fun: a historical novel with a hint of time travel and a young boy who comes to understand the importance of his heritage.  Our research was solid (that was my dear husband's favorite part of the process!).  Unfortunately, the motivation wasn't quite there.  We stalled out when it was his turn to write his third or fourth chapter, and I didn't want to simply take over the project we were supposed to be working on together.  By the end of the month, our poor main character was stuck in time-travel limbo.  Hopefully, we'll go back and rescue him one of these days.

In 2008, I took up the challenge once again, sort of.  I was in the middle of a cross-country move, and I knew that November would be entirely dedicated to packing and all of the moving craziness, so I moved my NaNoWriMo up a few weeks.  I started in mid-October, counted out 30 days on the calendar, and gave myself a deadline.  I wrote my first 50,000-word novel in less than a month, and I told myself I'd have a publishing contract by the next November, at the latest.  Well, that hasn't happened quite yet, but thanks to some great advice and encouragement from an amazing editor, I've finally started working up the courage to try submitting my work, and I've gotten some positive response so far.  (Fingers crossed!)  I'm not going to make any "I'll have a contract by this date" sweeping declarations this time around, but I will promise that I'm not giving up.  I'll keep submitting and working and writing and learning until it happens.

This year, I've discovered something new.  As not all writers are novelists, we also have Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo - logo by Bonnie Adamson, isn't it great?)!  The challenge?  Come up with 30 picture book ideas in 30 days that you will then turn into actual picture book manuscripts throughout the coming year!  I've decided to accept this challenge this November and combine it with a modified NaNoWriMo challenge. 

So my goal for this November: I'll write 1,700 words each day this month, for a total of just over 50,000 words by month's end, but instead of working on something entirely new, I'm going to keep working on the projects I've already started.  I have a novel I'm already working on.  I finished the 1st draft a little more than a week ago, and if prior experience tells me anything, I'll have a lot of writing to do on that draft once I get the feedback from my first-round critique partners next week.  I also want to finish the picture book ideas I have already swimming around inside my head, to make room for the ideas I'll be adding to the mix this month!

What are your goals (writing or otherwise) for this November?

27 October 2011

It's Amazing What You Can Do When You Forget That You Can't!

October is a crazy busy month at our house.  Fall field trips for school, music performances and lessons, church youth group activities, after school clubs, boy scout camp outs, and a whole host of projects around the house keep us running nearly nonstop.  For some reason, we're busier in October than in any other month of the year, and I almost wonder if I'll even have time to stop and take a breath.

Yet, every October, I volunteer to take on a massive project that makes me (and everyone around me) question my sanity by mid-month: making Hallowe'en costumes for my kids.  They have to present me with their final costume choices no later than October 1st, giving me nearly a full month to work on putting them together, and then I devote every spare moment (and some of the hours normally devoted to things like sleeping and eating) to creating the perfect Hallowe'en disguises.

Every once in a while, the kids look at the calendar, analyze the time commitments of the many appointments we have scheduled throughout the month, and take pity on me, choosing simple costumes that require a minimum amount of effort to throw together.  We've had princesses (Cinderella was easy, making a custom wig for Rapunzel with a yarn braid long enough to drag on the ground while posing for pictures, but short enough to easily carry with the trick-or-treat bag so my Dear Daughter didn't trip on it was more difficult), several Jedi Knights (basic Jedi costume: easy; creating a padawan braid out of my real hair and finding a way to attach it to my son's close-cropped haircut for an authentic look: a little more challenging).  We've also had some dinosaurs, a bride, and a mermaid or two.

Some of the costumes my kids have requested seem simple at first, but are deceptively challenging.  Like the time my son (then 4 years old) wanted to be Buzz Lightyear.  When he requested it, I readily agreed.  I thought it would be the easiest costume ever!  Toy Story was immensely popular, and there were Buzz Lightyear costumes everywhere!  But, my son didn't want to be like the other Buzz Lightyears out there.  He insisted that his costume had to be red and blue, instead of the familiar green and purple.  (The pattern I found was much more complicated than it looked in the picture!)

But my favorite costumes to make, ironically, are those that make me want to tear my hair out and scream in frustration before giving up and checking myself into the nearest mental institution.  Dear Daughter #2 is good at challenging my creativity when it comes to costume construction.  This year, after much thought and consideration, she decided that she wanted to be a Singing, Dancing Cowboy Seahorse.  No amount of searching gave me any patterns for seahorse costumes, and I wasn't convinced that I could figure it out.  I couldn't even find a pattern that I could alter. 

But she was so excited about her costume idea!  She told everyone that she was going to be a Singing, Dancing, Cowboy Seahorse, and that I was going to make the perfect costume for her.  If I couldn't pull it off, she would be disappointed, and I'd have to swallow my pride and admit defeat.  I bought lots of extra fabric, knowing that I might need it in case of failed attempts, and then I spent nearly two full weeks brainstorming ideas (I couldn't figure out the tail - how do you make that big tail that curls from behind without giving her something she's going to trip over all night long?), and I'm excited to announce that the costume was ready just in time for last night's Trunk-or-Treat activity at church!

Every October, as I'm in the midst of constructing the crazy costumes, I have well-meaning friends and family members who tell me that I need to take control of things at home.  "You need to lay down the law.  Give them a few options to choose from, if you must, but your kids need to learn to choose more traditional costumes.  It's not fair for them to expect you to create these crazy things every year.  Your time is valuable."

My friends are kind of right.  My time is valuable.  And it's important to budget that time wisely.  But I'm glad my children are willing to step out of the box once in a while.  I'm glad they're not afraid to do something different.  Wouldn't life be boring if we were afraid to take the time to figure out new ways to do things?  I've discovered that I can do so many things I never would have even tried - simply because my children, my husband, my parents, siblings, friends, and acquaintances simply assume I can figure it out.  "We really want to (insert major creative project here), but no one knows how to do it."  "Oh! Veronica can do that!  She's a creative type!" 

Sometimes, it drives me bonkers when someone asks me to do something I obviously cannot do... but it's kind of amazing when I try to do it anyway, and almost always discover that I can do more than I thought I could.

And the Singing, Dancing, Cowboy Seahorse costume turned out great :)

18 October 2011

Procrastination & the Power of Priorities

I started writing my second novel a while ago.  This one was more difficult than the first, mostly because the subject is something very close to my heart, and it felt a little too personal at times.  So, although I started working on the manuscript over a year ago, I haven't really been working on it.

I wrote a couple of pages, told some people about the project, showed my first chapter to my writing group, then shoved the whole thing in the back of a drawer and only thought about it briefly when someone asked, "So how is that story about the letters coming along?"

In the meantime, I completely rewrote, then revised and polished my first novel, wrote two picture books and started a third.  I told myself that I wasn't procrastinating.  I was simply too busy to work on that other novel right now.  I didn't want to get distracted from my work on these other, much more pressing projects.  I told myself I'd pull it out again as soon as I finished everything else, when I could devote my full attention to this very important manuscript.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, as I worked on some polishing revisions for one of my picture books, I started thinking about what I would work on when I had finished.  I found myself dreaming, plotting and planning novel number three, a story that would be so much easier to write than the half-finished work in progress I've been ignoring for months.  That's when I realized it wasn't my other projects that kept me from finding the time to work on this novel.  I was creating distractions to keep me from feeling obligated to write the novel I'd already started.

I know that sometimes, an idea simply doesn't pan out.  Sometimes, you start with a story idea, and you simply don't love it enough to ever make it into something wonderful.  And I believe that when that happens, it's totally okay to put that story aside and move onto something you do love.  But that wasn't the case here.  Truth be told, I love this story and the characters in it.  Before I put it away, the story was virtually pouring out of my pencil onto the pages of my story notebook.  And even after I shoved it aside, I kept thinking about these characters, dreaming of their daily lives, watching their stories unfold.  The story had become a part of me, and I still felt like it was an important one for me to tell.

The real issue was nothing more than good old fashioned fear.  This story had become so deeply personal to me that I started to worry about how others might receive it.  What if it didn't get the warm reception I hoped for?  What if people didn't think it was a story worth telling?  What if I got bad reviews?  I realized I was channelling George McFly (from Back to the Future): "I just don't think I can take that kind of rejection."  That's not how I want to live my life!

So I took a deep breath and pulled my manuscript out of the drawer.  I told myself, my family and all of my friends (in real life, as well as on facebook and twitter) that I was going to finish the first draft by this coming Friday (October 21st).  I turned off my Internet, silenced my phone and put my TV and DVD player off limits. 

It's amazing how much you can accomplish when you stop allowing fear of failure to keep you from trying.  Without the constant distractions and interruptions from my favorite time wasters, and armed with a newly discovered determination to keep going, I finished my first draft last night - four days ahead of schedule.  I even swallowed my terror and sent it off to my writer's group for critique.  I know it will be picked and pulled apart as they help me turn a very rough draft into a polished manuscript, but the point is that in the end, I will have a great story to share with the world - as long as I don't let fear keep me from trying.

The moral of this story?  When you're looking for an excuse to procrastinate, you will never have a shortage of other projects to fill your time and keep you too busy to work on the one you're avoiding.  You can always find something else that you "should" do first.  But when you make the important things a top priority, you can accomplish monumental tasks.

12 October 2011

Finding a Balance

I recently decided that I needed to simplify my life.  I was getting too bogged down with a million little tasks that kept me running in a hundred directions at once, getting nowhere in the process.  Though I was constantly busy, I found I was becoming less and less productive, and even when I managed to actually accomplish something, I didn't feel a true sense of accomplishment, because more often than not, I was working on projects that meant more to other people than they did to me.  When I found myself crying at the end of each day because I felt like I hadn't done anything, even though all the boxes were checked off my "to do" list, I knew I needed a change.

I'm a writer by nature, but lately I've let a host of distractions get in my way, and I haven't been writing as much as I wanted to.  So, a couple of weeks ago, I decided I needed to attend a Writer's Digest University webinar by Rochelle Melander (author of Write-A-Thon) titled "Making Time to Write." 

The webinar was fantastic, and I walked away with renewed motivation and determination to make writing a priority in my life.  Her entire presentation was wonderful, but the absolute best advice from the webinar was to create an "Absolute Yes List" - the 5 things you will always, absolutely say yes to, no matter what.  And if something is not on that Absolute Yes List?  YOU CAN SAY NO!

Rochelle pointed out that "when we say yes to the things that matter least, we often are saying no to the things that matter most."  That's not what I want in my life, but that's exactly where I was.  I kept saying "yes" to the pet projects of friends and family members, trying to make life easier for them, but in the process, I was saying "no" to almost everything that really mattered to me.  That's why I felt so disheartened at the end of each day.  I wasn't moving forward with my goals.  I was spinning my wheels, digging myself into a deep rut as I worked hard to make sure everyone else in my life got to do and be what they wanted.

I immediately sat down and wrote up my Absolute Yes List:

    1. My family
    2. Service in church (reading scripture daily, attending church & the Temple weekly)
    3. Writing
    4. Exercise / My own physical health
    5. Friends

I'm still working on finding a balance on these priorities.  For instance, it's important to me to spend a few minutes each day with my children.  I want to hear about their dreams and wishes, and I want to know all the exciting things that they learned about in school.  But I've learned that I simply don't have time to volunteer for every class party, every field trip, every PTA committee.  And I can't always drop everything to take my child to the store because he earned some money and wants to go buy a new toy.

Serving the Lord in my church callings and responsibilities is vital.  But do I really need to spend 10 hours or more each week for 3 months planning an activity that only 25-30 women will attend? 

Friends are so important, and I can't pull myself into an isolated bubble away from the world.  But I also can't say yes to every invitation.  I don't have time to participate in book club, writer's group, girl's night out, playgroup and knitting club, still making time to visit with a friend I haven't seen in a while or call a friend who lives far away.  As much as I'd like to, I can't do it all.

So maybe I need to make that Absolute Yes List much more specific.  Which friend-related activities will I always make time for?  How much time will I set aside for my family every day?  How often do I really need to make personalized pot holders for every member of my class at church, as a reminder of the weekly lesson?

Balance is a tricky thing, but I know I can do it.  I just need to start finding the courage to say "no."

What about you?  What are your Absolute Yes priorities?

05 October 2011


With the recent anniversary of 9/11 and Veteran's Day coming up in just over a month, I've been thinking a lot lately about the men and women who serve our country, ordinary people who never asked to be heroes, but who deserve our honor and respect nonetheless.  Perhaps, I have a different perspective, as the spouse of a military member, but at this time of year, when people sometimes stop to reflect on the blessings we all receive  from those who are willing to sacrifice so much for us every day, I am especially grateful for my husband, his co-workers and the countless others who have served to give us the freedoms we so often take for granted.

Recently, I enjoyed the novel Ghost of Heroes Past by Charles Reid (2010, Ronsdale Press), about a boy who learns to appreciate these men and women of our armed forces.

                Johnny doesn’t care about history, and he thinks the Remembrance Day parade is a waste of time, but his dad insists that it’s important to go this year.  Johnny falls asleep, trying to come up with a viable plan for avoiding the parade.  He wakes to find the ghost of a soldier in his room, who leads him through time and space to witness the forgotten heroes of World War I and World War II.  As Johnny learns about these men and women, who demonstrated immense bravery and strength in terrible times, he realizes that his father is right.  It is vital that we remember the sacrifices ordinary men and women make in their military service.  Reid tells a captivating story of a young boy who learns that history is more than just faceless names and dates. 

The stories told by Reid's soldier-ghost are fascinating and leave the reader hungry for more.  He shows that war is never glorious, and that the people on both sides of the fighting are forced to make tough decisions every day, in fighting for what they believe is right.  For anyone who has ever wondered, "Why should I care about a war I had nothing to do with?" this book shows us that we all have a stake in remembering those who serve their countries.  The fascinating subject matter even makes up for the choppy storytelling and somewhat forced dialogue throughout the novel.

29 September 2011

Don't Forget to Be Patient With Yourself!

I want to tell you something that I hope you will take in the right way: God is fully aware that you and I are not perfect.
Let me add: God is also fully aware that the people you think are perfect are not.
And yet we spend so much time and energy comparing ourselves to others—usually comparing our weaknesses to their strengths. This drives us to create expectations for ourselves that are impossible to meet. As a result, we never celebrate our good efforts because they seem to be less than what someone else does.
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.
It’s wonderful that you have strengths.
And it is part of your mortal experience that you do have weaknesses.
God wants to help us to eventually turn all of our weaknesses into strengths,1 but He knows that this is a long-term goal. He wants us to become perfect,2 and if we stay on the path of discipleship, one day we will. It’s OK that you’re not quite there yet. Keep working on it, but stop punishing yourself.
Dear sisters, many of you are endlessly compassionate and patient with the weaknesses of others. Please remember also to be compassionate and patient with yourself.
- President Dieter F. Uchtdorf,
2nd Counselor in the First Presidency of
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Last weekend was the annual General Women's Broadcast for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  I look forward to this all year, because the messages always seem to be exactly what I need.  This year was no exception.  I especially loved President Uchtdorf's message.  I'm certain he wrote it specifically with me in mind! (You can read the whole message here.) 

I'm sure many of you can relate.  I know I'm not the only one who spends far too much time comparing my weaknesses to others' strengths.  But why do we do that?  If we can forgive the small mistakes and weaknesses of our friends and family members, why can't we forgive those same mistakes and weaknesses in ourselves?

I'm fully aware of my shortcomings.  I feel like I need to apologize for my house whenever anyone comes to visit, because there's always a pile of clutter in a corner somewhere that I haven't dealt with yet.  I'm embarrassed to admit that sometimes I serve cold cereal (without the cut up slices of fresh fruit, eggs, bacon, juice and milk that the commercials show as "a complete balanced breakfast") when I'm too tired to cook a real dinner.  I don't think I'll ever attain a model-thin body, no matter how much time I spend at the gym.  And I sometimes let my kids watch TV when they have a day off from school, because I didn't take the time to come up with a fun and educational family field trip. 

Everyone else seems to be so much farther down the road to perfection than I am!  I spend most of my days furtively looking over my shoulder, waiting for my friends, family and casual acquaintances to point out all the ways that I'm disappointing them, because no matter how hard I try, I keep falling short. 

But instead, I often hear comments like: "I wish I could dance like you, but I have 2 left feet."  "I wish I had long, pretty hair like yours, but mine gets too frizzy if I try to let it grow past my shoulders."  "You cut your daughter's hair yourself?  It's so cute! I could never learn how to do something like that."  "You should really think about selling those cute bags you make.  I wish I could do something creative like that."

These are all things that come easily for me, or they're skills I've spent enough time mastering that I don't think about them as true accomplishments anymore.  But the thing is, we all have things we're good at, things we still need to work on and (sadly) skills we will probably never master.  That's okay!  We can use our own strengths to lift and help others where they may be weak, and they can do the same for us.  That's why we're all on this earth together!

26 September 2011

My Sister... My Friend

Today is my big sister's birthday (Happy Birthday, Carin!), but we live in different time zones, and it's sometimes nearly impossible to get in touch with each other.  Today was, apparently, one of those days.  I had to be content with leaving birthday messages on her facebook page and voicemail and hoping that she knows how much I love her.

It's kind of ironic...  Carin and I were the bitterest of enemies when we were kids.  We took sibling rivalry to monumental extremes, and I don't think either one of us believed our parents when they told us we'd be best friends one day.  In fact, the only time we ever really cooperated with each other for any extended period of time was when we were "pulling one over" on dear old mom and dad. 

Our parents used to punish us for fighting by sitting us side-by-side on the couch with strict instructions that we weren't allowed to speak to one another.  Then, they would leave the room.  Of course, we would immediately show dear old mom and dad that they couldn't make us do anything we didn't want to do.  We didn't have to do what they told us to do!!!  So, just to spite our mean, horrible old parents, we would start talking to each other.  Just in whispers, mind you.  We knew we'd be in bigger trouble if Mom and Dad ever found out we were "openly" defying them like this. 

But the point is, we WERE defying them - even if they didn't know it.  Before long, we were laughing and giggling about how sneaky we were, and how clueless our parents were.  Because THEY NEVER FIGURED IT OUT! Every single time we got in trouble for fighting, the punishment was the same.  Every single time, they put us together on the couch and made us sit silently together. And Every Single Time they left the room and forgot to pay attention to whether or not we were following the punishment they were trying to give us. 

It was really easy to fool Mom and Dad, because they always got busy doing other things in another part of the house, so they were always gone for a really long time (at least 10 minutes!), and they always announced "I'm coming back in there, and you'd better be sitting quietly like I told you to!" before coming back to check on us.  So we could easily stop talking and pretend we had been quiet the whole time.  We even managed to disguise our giggles and laughter with scowls and frowns, so that our clueless parents never knew we'd tricked them!

These days, Carin and I don't worry about that old, silly sibling rivalry.  These days, she's one of my best friends.  We learned to love each other in spite of our clueless parents' attempts to teach us "valuable lessons."  And now, I look forward to spending time with my big sister, because I know we don't need to compete for anything. 

Besides, I know I'm really Mom and Dad's favorite child (it's obvious - whenever they want to see me, they spend hundreds of dollars on plane tickets to fly out to see me, and they stay at my house for weeks at a time... they never even spend the night at Carin's house!), but I almost never point out how much they love me more.  I even let my big sister believe that she's the favorite, just because they come over to her house for Sunday dinner almost every week... 

22 September 2011


I recently read an amazing book: THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMAN SCHOOL, by Dori Hillestad Butler (2008). 

                Zebby and Amr want to write important articles for the school newspaper—articles about curriculum and student council elections and bullying.  When Mrs. Johnstone, the newspaper’s faculty advisor, refuses to approve any articles except “rah, rah, isn’t our school great?” pieces, Zebby and Amr decide to create their own web-based newspaper: truthabouttruman.com, where anyone can post articles and photos.  When someone starts using the site to bully a classmate, Zebby and Amr don’t know what to do.  They aren’t comfortable with the mean-spirited postings, but they aren’t sure if they should remove them from the site.  After all, their rules state that anyone can post to the site, as long as they’re telling the truth as they see it.  Before long, the true articles Zebby and Amr wanted to write are forgotten as truthabouttruman.com becomes a social hub for gossip, blurring the lines between truth and fiction, and the two friends must find a way to stop it before it’s too late. 

Weaving together the stories of everyone involved, Butler explores the truth about bullying, both online and in person and its devastating consequences.  Whether they’ve experienced the trauma of dealing with a bully, bullied someone themselves or simply stood by and watched as a classmate suffered, readers are certain to relate to this story.  It should be required reading for all middle school students, their teachers and parents.

11 September 2011

Remembering... 10 Years Later

Everyone has a story, everyone knows where they were and what they were doing when the terrorist attacks occurred on September 11th, 2001.  My story, like those of many Americans, isn't incredibly spectacular.  I wasn't in New York City.  I wasn't even on the East Coast.  And I hesitate to add to the flurry of "what I remember" tales, because mine wasn't one of the "important" stories of that day.  But this morning, as we were driving to church, we saw several people standing alongside the road, holding large American flags.  My youngest daughter asked what they were doing, and we explained that they were there because today is the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

"What's 9/11?" she asked.  And I struggled to sum up the importance of this day we remember so vividly in a few short sentences before her mind wandered to the next topic of interest.  I'm not sure how well I explained it this morning, so I'm going to try it again now:

9/11 was the day, 10 years ago, when our country changed in the wake of a terrible terrorist attack.  It's the day when some terrorists tried to destroy our country, our people and our entire way of life by filling our hearts with fear and paralyzing "what ifs?"

9/11 was also the day, 10 years ago, when we came together as a nation and fought back against the terrorists.  It's the day when people looked terror right in the eye and refused to let it take hold.  It's the day when we opened our doors and windows and got to know our neighbors.  It's the day when we took a look around and counted our blessings, when we held our loved ones close and knelt together in prayer for people we didn't know and would never meet - and we meant every word.  It's the day when we stopped thinking, for a moment, about all the things we didn't have and took the time to appreciate all the things we did.  It's a day when ordinary men and women stepped up to become great heroes. 

9/11 was the day when a group of misguided people thought they could destroy America with a well-coordinated attack.  But they were wrong.  As long as we remember who we are and why we are here...  As long as we never forget that America isn't about buildings and places and politics... As long as we remember that we, the people, make this country strong... As long as we remember to reach out to our friends and neighbors and lean on each other for strength... We can pull through anything.  That's what I learned 10 years ago.

09 September 2011

Hershey Park, Hurricanes and Facing our Fears

Two weeks ago, my husband took a day off of work so we could surprise the kids with a trip to Hershey Park for the last official day of summer vacation.  Only 1 of our 4 children had been to Hershey Park (part of a school field trip last May), and our youngest had never been to any kind of amusement park at all, so we were all full of smiles and excitement as we piled out of the car and trekked across the parking lot to the front gate of Hershey Park.
Once inside, we studied the map carefully, trying to decide which ride to hit first.  Emily (the one with Hershey experience) declared that our first stop had to be The Lightning Racer - a double roller coaster, where the 2 trains race each other along side-by-side tracks.  It was her favorite ride when she and I went with her school group in May (when we rode 3 times in a row), and she was certain that everyone else would love it as much as she did.

So we started our trek across the park to the roller coaster.  On the way, however, we saw a ride that Katie just had to try: the Starship America - a ride much like the Dumbo ride at Disneyland, where you sit in a spaceship and it spins around while you use a lever to make your ship go up or down.  Katie, Becky and Ben loved it.  They had so much fun zipping their spaceships up and down.  Emily thought the ride was fine, as long as she could keep her ship riding as low as possible, because raising it up was just too scary to even think about.

Then, Ben insisted that we stop at the Pirate Ship ride - the one where you sit in a "boat" which swings back and forth like a giant pendulum.  Becky and Ben thought it was amazing and so much fun!  Emily and Katie decided that you absolutely couldn't pay them enough money to even go on this ride.  They were scared, even watching us from the ground!

We finally made it to the Lightning Racer.  Katie was nervous, but Emily assured her that this roller coaster wasn't too scary.  We were sure that we'd finally found a ride everyone could enjoy.  We were wrong.  Katie cried through the entire ride, and for about 5 minutes afterward.  She didn't enjoy her first roller coaster experience one bit.  ("That was way too scary!  I hated it!") 

And so it went throughout the day. At almost every stop, someone was afraid and someone else thought the ride was the best one ever.  On the Wild Mouse (a roller coaster that gives the illusion that you're going to zip right over the edge of the track before it whips you around in a sharp 90-degree turn), Emily and Becky teased Daddy when his fear of falling manifested itself.  We simply couldn't find anything that everyone could truly agree on. 

Finally, I suggested that we ride the Ferris Wheel together as a family.  I reasoned that it's a nice, slow ride and we could all sit together in one of the gondolas and look out over the park.  What could possibly be scary about a ride like the Ferris Wheel?  Emily was nervous, because it seemed awfully high, but she agreed to go, and we joined the line.  About halfway through the line, Ben started teasing her about how high it went, and she lost her nerve.  When Daddy agreed to sit out the ride with her, Katie got out of line too, leaving only Ben, Becky and I to ride the wheel.  Becky and I thought it was great.  We pointed out rides we'd enjoyed, rides we wanted to try, and rides we hadn't even noticed on the map.  We marvelled at the beauty of the setting sun, and we chatted about all the fun we'd had throughout the day.

Ben sat as still as possible, holding onto the support bar in the center of the gondola with a death grip and praying for the ride to end so that he could "get off of this infernal contraption."  When Becky got overly excited and started bouncing around in her seat, causing the gondola to shake a bit, he pointed out that we were suspended high up in the air connected to the wheel by only the center support bar, and we weren't even wearing seatbelts!  When the ride ended, he literally bent down and kissed the ground, then declared that he would never ride another Ferris Wheel as long as he lived.  I laughed and teased and told him it was kharma ("I guess you shouldn't have teased Emily about her fear of heights!") until Daddy pointed out that Ben wasn't playing around.  "He's really scared, honey. You need to stop talking about it."

Only Becky wasn't scared.  She gleefully rode each ride, never sitting one out, and never losing her smile.  By the end of the day, we were all calling her "Fearless." 

But no one is truly fearless.  The next day, when Hurricane Irene came sweeping through our little corner of the world, my little "fearless" Becky cried for hours at the sound of the strong winds whipping through the trees.  And I had to remind myself not to laugh at the absurdity of her fear, as we sat, tucked in, all warm and cozy in our house, listening to gusts of wind that never got higher than the winds I grew up falling asleep to in wonderful, windy Wyoming.

Fear doesn't make sense.  It's silly and illogical, and more often than not, we can't pinpoint a definite reason for our fears.  Yet everyone has something they're afraid of.  We've all heard about the importance of facing our fears.  We know that we can't live our lives in terror, that sometimes we have to take a deep breath and do something we don't want to do.  So when we notice that someone we love is afraid of something truly silly ("how can you possibly be afraid of insert-name-of-your-biggest-fear-here???"), we want to help.  We point out that airplanes are statistically safer than cars.  We reassure each other that the bridge over the bay is highly unlikely to collapse while we're driving across it.  We drag each other to events designed to make us "face our fears." 

We all know that, if only our friend, sister, father, or neighbor-next-door truly understood, they wouldn't be afraid of the silly things they're afraid of, so we laugh and poke fun and make jokes to show our loved ones how truly ridiculous their crazy phobias are.  Perhaps, instead, we need to remember my husband's wise counsel.  "He's really scared, honey.  You need to stop talking about it."  Remember, you're afraid of something too, and I might think your fear is just as silly as you think mine is. 

Personally, I'm terrified of snakes.  I worry that they're having little snake conventions where they plot and scheme and make plans to attack me as soon as I let my guard down.  I don't read books about reptiles, I don't watch Discovery Channel specials, and when we go to the zoo, I wait patiently outside the reptile house while the rest of the family goes in to look.  My kids have learned not to even mention "the s-word" in my presence.  My phobia doesn't make sense to them, but they love me enough not to make fun of me for it (too much).  They know that "There is no afear in blove; but perfect clove casteth out fear: because fear hath dtorment." (1 John 4:18)  Maybe that's something we all need to remember.

03 September 2011

Being Prepared

It's been quite an interesting couple of weeks here on the East Coast.  First, we had an earthquake, which by West Coast standards, wasn't a big deal - just a "little" 5.9 quake.  But as my California-born-and-raised mother pointed out, people don't grow up preparing themselves for earthquakes on the East Coast.  Buildings aren't constructed with large-scale earthquakes in mind, so property damage is worse in "little" quakes back east than it is in the west, and with 100 years or so between shake-ups, people here have never gotten into the habit of expecting regular quakes.  So when this one hit, damage was done, people were scared, and it made big news.

Then, coming right in on the heels of the earthquake, we had Hurricane Irene barrelling up the East Coast, leaving all kinds of destruction in her wake.  The damage wasn't as bad as we expected in my little corner of the world (we didn't even lose any tree branches in our yard, but our next-door neighbor's giant pine tree toppled over, pulling up the roots and all), but lots of people weren't as lucky as me.

Unlike the earthquake, we all saw the hurricane coming.  We had time to prepare as best we could.  All the hardware stores sold out of generators and back-up batteries for sump pumps, some grocery store shelves emptied rapidly, and everyone checked to make sure they knew where the fresh batteries were for the flashlights.  We also had plenty of time to play the "what if?" game.  "What if we lose power and it's gone for days?"  "What if that big tree in the back yard comes down in the storm?"  "What if the roof blows off my house?"  "What if my basement floods?"  "What if my patio furniture blows away?"  "What if we have a medical emergency during the storm and no one can get to us in time?"  "What if??"

In a way, this game of "what if?" is a good thing, as long as we do something about preparing for those worst-case scenarios.  A little bit of preparation goes a long way toward eliminating fear.  I talked to several friends in the days leading up to the hurricane, and in many cases the story was the same: "We've pulled everything that could blow away inside, we've stocked up on flashlights and fresh batteries, we filled our freezer with bags of ice in case we lose power.  We're ready for whatever comes." 

I saw people on facebook and twitter sharing tips and reminders with each other on how to prepare themselves for the storm, getting ready to step in and help each other if the need arose.  And although many of us were nervous, there wasn't an all-out panic as we prepared for the impending storm.

We were prepared, and some of us were extremely lucky.  We didn't have as much damage as we could have.  (If my neighbor's tree had fallen in a different direction, for instance, it could have come right through my bedroom window, instead of simply filling the empty driveway between our houses, but as it was, we had no damage to speak of.)  Others weren't so lucky.  My daughter's best friend's family was without power for 5 days, and they lost everything in their fridge and freezer, probably hundreds of dollars worth of food.  My friend's sister, who just spent thousands of dollars on a sump pump that was supposed to keep running even if the power failed, discovered that it didn't work at all and had to spend an entire weekend frantically bailing water by hand.  Down the street from my gym, I passed a house where a giant tree had fallen across the driveway, smashing a fairly-new-looking car.  A friend told me about another friend of hers who experienced flooding so badly that her entire house had slid off the foundation.  She lost everything.

Still, as this same friend pointed out, even those who lost a lot in the hurricane and its aftermath didn't lose as much as it might appear.  Her friend that lost her house and all her possessions?  Didn't lose her family.  They escaped the flood by riding it out in the treehouse her husband had built for their children until rescue crews arrived to help them.  No one was injured.  And that was so much more important than the stuff they lost.  My daughter's best friend's mother, when she realized that they were going to lose all the food from their freezer, fired up the grill and invited all the neighbors over for a massive barbeque.  Yes, they lost their food storage, but they gained a closeness with their neighborhood that they didn't have before.  So it wasn't the tragedy it could have been. 

The damage from Hurricane Irene was extensive, and we're still working to put things right again.  It will probably be a long while before things are back to "normal" again.  As I've sat here typing this, our power has flickered on and off several times, and I expect to see it happen again and again as the power company frantically works to restore electricity to everyone still without it.  Some roads are still closed as they work to remove fallen trees and other debris.  13 schools in our district didn't open last week as planned, because they still have no power in the buildings... 

We have a ways to go before we get back to pre-hurricane status.  But we were prepared.  We knew this one was coming, so we took steps to get ready for the rebuilding before the damage even happened.  The Lord said that "if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear," and He's right. 

23 August 2011

Shake, Rattle and Roll

We had an earthquake today, here on the East Coast.  Apparently, it was a pretty big one (in area covered, not necessarily strength), because my friends, family and acquaintances from New York to North Carolina all tweeted and posted facebook status updates about it.  And our house got in some really good shaking time before the quake fizzled out.  When they realized it was an earthquake, my kids came running upstairs to find me, terror in their eyes.  "Mom, is this an earthquake?"

I smiled and reassured them, "I think it was, but nothing is broken and it seems to have stopped.  I think everything is fine."

Immediately, the fear dissapated, and they started talking excitedly, remembering the little earthquakes we'd experienced when we lived in California.  "I didn't even know they had earthquakes here, though!"  After a few more minutes of chatter (and running outside to ask the neighbors if they felt the quake too), the kids were off to the basement to continue their games, leaving me to contemplate everything that had just happened...

My children were terrified when the earthquake hit.  All kinds of "what if?" questions rattled around in their brains, and they worried that the house might fall down or even worse... Yet when I told them that everything would be fine, they trusted me enough to accept my assurances, and they let those fears and worries go immediately.  I need to learn from their example.

More often than I'd like to admit, I find myself playing the "what if?" game.  I worry and fret and fuss about what the future might hold.  What if my husband loses his job?  What if my friends decide I'm no fun and leave me behind?  What if I get sick and have to ask for help?  What if? What if? What if? 

When I find myself wrapped in terror and the What If's are crashing down around me, I turn to my Heavenly Father through scripture study and prayer.  He always answers me: "Be still, my child.  I know what I'm doing.  It will be alright."  He whispers peace to my soul, calming and comforting me the way I did for my children this afternoon. 

Yet, how often do I trust His assurances?  I'm afraid that, far too often, I rise from my knees after a heartfelt prayer and shake off the comfort of the Holy Spirit as I worry and fret and wonder, "How could it possibly be okay?"  Instead of trusting that my Father in Heaven truly does know what he's doing, I try to figure it out for myself, focusing instead on what makes sense to me.  I need to learn a lesson from my children: When my Father says everything will be okay, I need to remember that He doesn't lie.  If He says we're okay, then we are.  Even if I don't yet understand how it all works!

18 August 2011

Things That Break a Mother's Heart

Last night, I took my son to a youth activity for church (pool party for the young men and young women, aged 12-18).  He doesn't have many friends in this group, and his very best friend is moving overseas in a couple of weeks, so I worry about him sometimes.  Especially since there is one group of boys (most of the 14-year-olds) within this larger youth group who have had issues with my son since he turned 12.  They've given him unfavorable "nicknames," made rude comments, mocked him in games and treated him as if he were invisible... everything they can get away with and still be subtle enough that the leaders don't catch on to the bullying.

When we arrived at the pool party, my son walked into the back yard, where these 14-year-old boys were all congregated around the trampoline.  As he approached, all but one of them turned their backs and walked away.  The one who stayed was D (no names - I'm not here to call the boys to a public accounting for their behavior), one of my son's only good friends in the youth group.

"D!" my son called, walking over to give his pal a high five.  D stepped back, avoiding my son's outstretched hand, and stood for a moment, looking back and forth between my son and the Other Boys.  He mumbled something that I couldn't hear (I was watching this all from a distance), and my son put his hand down.  "I understand," he said.  Then he turned to D's younger brother, who turned 12 last week, and who was standing alone and uncertain in the middle of the yard.  "Come on, let's go swim!"

As they walked away, D called after him, "it's nothing personal!  I just have to distance myself from the younger boys for a while!" 

My son's smile never faltered, and he didn't miss a beat as he quick-stepped to the pool and immediately jumped into a rowdy game of pool tag with D's younger brother.  Anyone watching could tell that D's aloofness didn't bother him a bit. - Except, I noticed that he didn't bother greeting any of the other youth he saw on his way to the pool either.  Anyone who REALLY knows my son could tell you that it hurt a lot more than he was willing to admit.

17 August 2011

My Amazing, Supportive Children

This week, I decided I was really going to follow the advice Liz Szabla (editor at Feiwel and Friends) gave me at a recent SCBWI event.  When I told her about my fear of burning bridges by submitting my work before it was fully ready, she said "You could keep revising and critiquing the same manuscript for 20 years without ever finding the courage to send it out on submission.  You need to just start sending it out.  You're ready."  I came home from that conference all fired up and excited to really get started with my writing career... and then I talked myself out of it and thought I'd better do a few more rounds of revisions first.

But this week, I was determined to take the leap.  Until I woke up Monday morning, and started to second-guess myself again.

Luckily, I got the kick in the pants I probably needed.  I logged onto twitter for a few minutes before starting my "real" work for the day, and I noticed that one of the agents on the top of my "to query" list had just tweeted "I'm hoping for lots of prom and kissing in my slush pile today."  Prom??? Kissing??? Wait a minute!  That sounds like my manuscript!!  I pushed my household chores "to do" list to the bottom of my daily priorities and sat down to write my query letter for this agent.

I couldn't concentrate on it, though.  My kids were bored, whiny, tired and fighting with each other (end-of-summer-itis has hit our household hard!) - and they interrupted me every 5 minutes with another tattle-fest.  I sat in my writing corner, getting more and more frustrated with myself, my children and my attempts to write the letter.  "Don't my kids realize that I'm doing something important here?  I don't have time for their whining today!!"

Then, I realized... I don't have time for my kids?  Wow!  My priorities had gone seriously out-of-whack!!  I closed my computer, put away my writing pencils and notebooks, and walked downstairs to spend some time with my children.  We wound up all piled together on my king-sized bed while I explained to them that they really are more important to me than anything else.  "I want to be a writer.  I want to get my book published.  But there will be time for that later.  Let's spend the last 2 weeks before school starts doing some fun things together, and I can pick this up again then."

Immediately, all 4 kids told me not to stop writing.  "You need to send your book to that agent today, Mom!  It's exactly what she's looking for, and the world needs good books like yours."

I smiled and hugged them tighter.  I didn't want them to think I was simply trying to send them on a guilt trip.  "Don't worry.  I'm not giving up.  I'm going to keep working on my writing, but I'll do it when it doesn't take away from time with you."  To illustrate my point, I asked them "Years from now, when you're all grown up with children and grandchildren of your own, when I'm dead and gone and you're remembering your childhood, what will be more important to you?  That I worked on getting my book published or that I spent time with you and let you know that you're more important to me than anything else?"

It was an easy question.  There could only be one answer.  (You all know the saying that no one, on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time at work!)  Not surprisingly, when I put the question to them this way, my children didn't have to think at all before answering.  They all knew the answer to that question immediately.  But it certainly wasn't the answer I expected.  "It's more important to publish your book!" 

All 4 of them - even the youngest - assured me that my writing should take priority.  Speaking together, as a team, they patiently explained that I do so much for them every day... They know I love them, because I show it in all the little things I do for them... "Mom, you deserve a break to work on something that you really love.  You need to get your book published."  Then, they all gave me hugs, told me to go back to my writing corner and went to make lunch for us all.  They spent the rest of the day carefully working out their problems and trying to work together as a team so that I wouldn't have to stop writing. 

Wow!!  What inspiring children!!!

03 April 2011

The Simple Faith of a Child

This weekend, we had the amazing opportunity (as we do every 6 months) to listen to the General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Instead of attending regular church worship services, we gathered in our family room to watch a broadcast from Church headquarters in Salt Lake City. We listened to our Prophet and President of the Church, Thomas S. Monson, and other Apostles and General Authorities as they offered counsel and direction to the Church membership and the world.

My youngest daughter, Katie, was especially thrilled by this opportunity, as she got to celebrate her 7th birthday with the Prophet, learning the teachings of Jesus Christ. Let me just say that I am extremely impressed with all of my children. I remember, when I was a child, that I would get antsy and I often had trouble sitting still and paying attention through the long sessions of General Conference. Four 2-hour sessions (two on Saturday and two on Sunday) were just too much for my tiny attention span. As a result, my parents only required me to watch one session with them (Sunday morning) - and the rest of the sessions were optional. I was probably 10 or 11 before I opted to watch more than one session of the Conference, and it wasn't until I went off to college that I ever sat through all four general sessions!

So the simple fact that my children choose to watch all four sessions of Conference with us every time is absolutely awe-inspiring to me! And though they may get antsy and restless now and again, they truly listen hungrily for the inspired counsel they know they will hear. Yesterday, as we sat watching the 2nd general session of the conference, Katie handed me a letter she had written... to Jesus! In her simple language and using the creative spelling of a 1st grader, she expressed her love for Him and her desire to follow His teachings.

"To: Jesus

from: Katie

I love you Jesus! I rilly want to get Batist. I want to see you. I am waching confrins rite now. I Love the testumownes the uposlse are saying. I just ternd 7 today. I want you to get my toth I lost today and I want to see Hevenly Father agan. The toth fary will give you my toth I lost today. It is my Berth day today and I love my Berthday presins. I Love lerning abot you and going to cherch. Cherch is fun! I hope you get my toth and note. I hope I live with you agan xoxoxoxo

I Love you you Love me I Don't care if Satin temps me and wants ale live with you agan."

For those of you who don't speak 1st grader, here is the translation:

"I love you, Jesus! I really want to get baptized. I want to see you. I am watching Conference right now. I love the testimonies the Apostles are saying. I just turned 7 today. I want you to get my tooth I lost today [she lost it while eating a sandwich during the 1st session of the General Conference] and i want to see Heavenly Father again. The tooth fairy will give you my tooth I lost today. It is my birthday today and I love my birthday presents [presents consisted of homemade jewelry and a small pillow from her sisters - she hadn't yet received anything from Mom & Dad or Grandparents when she wrote the letter]. I love learning about you and going to church. Church is fun! I hope you get my tooth and note. I hope I live with you again. xoxoxoxo

I love you. You love me. I don't care if Satan tempts me and what he wants. I'll live with you again."

Such a simple, straightforward declaration of faith and commitment! Can I honestly say that my faith is as strong as hers? How often do I stop to remember that Jesus really does love me? That he would want to hear about the small, insignificant to the world but significant to me, moments like losing a tooth or celebrating a birthday? Do I keep my focus on the goal - to live with my Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ again? Or do I let myself get sidetracked with Satan's plan for me?

The Savior taught us that, if we want to come unto Him, we need to be as little children. This weekend, I got to see an example of precisely what He meant!

26 March 2011

Pouring Concrete

I was so excited, last weekend, to hear Jason Wright talk about the idea of "pouring concrete" when it comes to writing. He said that, more often than not, our beautiful, shiny muses will not be sitting beside us as we write. Sometimes, we just don't feel inspired, we hit a block and we don't have the perfect words for what comes next. Those are the times when we just need to "pour another square of concrete."

Picture your story as a sidewalk. You know where the story starts (the first square of concrete) and you know where it will end (that's the last square), but you have to finish the story by pouring concrete into all of the sections in between! In other words, when you don't feel absolutely inspired, just fill in the blanks to finish that first draft. You can't really fix and polish the story until you have the full story, so don't worry about getting it perfect the first time through. Just put in some work and get it done. You can fix and make it beautiful later!

It was perfect, timely advice for me. I've been working for more than a year on my second book (while still revising and refining my first novel - I know I said it was ready for publication a while ago, but it really did need more tweaking... it's much better now). My first manuscript took less than a month to get through the first draft. I carried it with me everywhere and made time to work on it, even when I wasn't sure what really came next. It was fun, I was excited, so I did it, and I didn't worry about making it perfect as I was writing that first draft. The finished product, as it stands now, bears little resemblance to the first draft - and I couldn't have written this story without first writing all that came before it (including that first, not very good draft). I knew the importance of "pouring concrete," so to speak.

So why is it taking so long to write the first draft of this second novel? Is it just that the story doesn't resonate with me? No. Am I trying to write about something that I know nothing about? No. Is it a story I shouldn't even bother to tell? Absolutely not. If anything, this story (about a young girl whose mother dies) is more personal, more compelling to me, than the first one. And I feel more driven than ever before to tell this particular story.

But I guess I forgot the importance of "pouring concrete." I've been waiting until I could tell the story perfectly in my first draft. Instead of carrying my story notebook with me everywhere I go, I've been waiting for those rare moments of inspiration, telling myself I would write when inspiration hit, and work on other (mostly non-writing) projects in the meanwhile. And I've never felt so empty!

This week, I pulled out my story notebook and my special stash of writing pencils. It's not coming as quickly as that first draft of my first novel, but I'm making progress. And when I'm finished "pouring concrete" and I get to polish the sidewalk, I'm sure I'll find that this path is more beautiful than the first.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a "sidewalk" to construct!

21 March 2011

What a Weekend!!

I had the most fabulous time at Jason F. Wright's "Some Day" One Day Writing Workshop on Saturday, and I'm still bubbly and bouncy over the whole experience two days later!

The workshop was absolutely amazing! The other attendees were friendly and fun, and everyone had his or her own voice. We heard some great writing samples throughout the course of the day, centered around a "car accident" we created in the conference room. (Jason had 3 of our group act out a quick 5-minute skit, which we then all wrote about later - to illustrate the way we can each take the same basic information and everyone will give it a different twist.) And Jason offered great insights into the publishing process, from his own experiences in seeking out an agent and a publisher for the first time, and wonderful, helpful hints on the writing process. ("Pouring Concrete" might just get its very own blog entry later!)

Skype calls with Heidi Taylor (Shadow Mountain Publishing), Sarah McLellan (Folio Literary Management) and Matt Birch (Matt Birch Public Relations) were fascinating and informative. They answered questions about the whole publishing process, from "How do you know when you're ready to start submitting your manuscript?" ("When it's as perfect as you can possibly get it.") to "How involved should I be, as the author, in marketing and publicizing my own book?" ("The more involved, the better!")

But the best parts of the day were things that only matter to me. Little, fairly insignificant things that no one else would notice, but which touched me personally. Jason would call them "Seventeen Second Miracles" (and if you haven't read his book by that title, I urge you to do so!) - I just call them life.

If you know me (or if you've read any of my previous posts), you know I firmly believe in daily miracles. Angels walk among us, without wings, in the form of our friends, family, coworkers and even total strangers. Heavenly Father answers prayers in very significant ways through the little, insignificant moments we tend to overlook when we aren't watching.

So the moments that mattered most to me:
* When Jason emailed a reply to my registration request and told me he was looking forward to seeing a friend! (It probably took 2 seconds, and I doubt he thought twice about it, but isn't it wonderful when someone you don't see often takes a moment to say "I'm glad you're my friend" - and you know they really mean it?)
* When Beth pulled me aside during our first break to say she thought my novel sounded interesting and we exchanged email addresses so we could keep in contact and send each other samples for critique. I desperately wanted to approach my fellow writers, but my fears had taken over, and I was once again standing off to the side, only talking to Jason (since he was the only one I knew coming into the workshop). Beth broke the ice, and made it okay for me to join the group!
* When Jason read my writing exercise aloud and stopped to point out how much he liked my one-sentence paragraph. I do that from time to time, when a thought needs some emphasis. Mostly because it just comes naturally to me. That's the way I talk. But as I'm preparing to send my first manuscript out into the scary publishing world, I began to wonder if that quirk would be off-putting. I felt like doing cartwheels through the conference room when he said it was a good thing! :)
* When Matt Birch ended his conference call with the advice: "It may be frustrating. People may even be very rude to you. But don't give up. Someone will care." My closest friends (and those who were there Saturday, because I mentioned it afterward) know that the most crippling criticism I've received so far was last year, when I submitted my novel to a major contest. The reviewer's response to my story I was so proud of? "No one in their right mind would ever care about a character like the one in this story!" Harsh, rude, and very disheartening. In tears, I set the manuscript aside and almost decided I wasn't cut out to be a writer at all (until my friend's wonderful son asked me to write a story just for him - but that's another blog post altogether...) But when Matt Birch announced "Someone will care!" it felt like a direct response to that horrible reviewer. He could have chosen many other ways to phrase the sentiment, but he chose the words I needed most to hear!