30 September 2012

Parenting in Difficult Times

We had a very powerful lesson in our combined Relief Society / Priesthood meeting today.

(For my friends who aren't familiar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, let me explain: Relief Society is the women's organization of the church, and all worthy male members of the church, ages 12 and older are given Priesthood responsibilities. Each Sunday, our worship services consist of a Sacrament meeting, where the whole congregation meets together to be taught together and to partake of the Sacrament, as instituted by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. Then, we break into our Sunday School classes, and in our third hour - yes, we have three hours of worship each Sunday - the women meet for Relief Society, the men meet for Priesthood lessons, and the children meet together for Primary. When there are five Sundays in a month, however, the fifth Sunday is a special meeting where the Relief Society and Priesthood come together for a joint lesson on a pertinent topic. These are usually my favorite lessons!)

Today, our lesson was about an issue that extends far beyond the boundaries of our church community. Our youth today are under attack. They face issues at an earlier and earlier age that many of us never dreamed of dealing with when we were very young. Even elementary school-aged children face tough choices when it comes to pornography, drugs and alcohol (and so much more)! As I've mentioned before, we can't wait until a child is "ready" to handle a particular issue to introduce the subject. If we don't have the courage to open clear lines of communication with our children about sex and drugs and all of the other tough issues when they are still much too young to engage in these behaviors, they simply won't be prepared to make strong choices for themselves when they are "old enough!"

We watched a short, but powerful video produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints about the importance of "staying within the lines." Just as in any sporting event, you must stay within the boundaries set for the competition if you want to make progress, we have boundaries that help us make progress in life as well. We are happier when we stay within the lines that the Lord has set for us. (Here is the video:)

The conversation that followed was powerful. One thought that was repeatedly expressed was that we are not here to be "friends" to our children. We need to have the courage to be PARENTS! I agree, with one slight correction to the statement...

We are not here to be our kids' buddies, but a true Parent is the best kind of true friend! I've always believed that a true friend is one who will lift you up and help you to become the best person you can be. That is the kind of friend we should be for our children. Lift them when they fall. Love them when they are not perfect. Let them know you expect greatness from them. Be there when they need a shoulder to cry on, but have the courage to let them face the consequences of their mistakes. Our children should know that they can come to us with anything that's troubling them. They should know that we will love them, no matter how royally they screw up. They should know that we will do anything and everything in our power to help them learn to be truly happy. And they should understand that sometimes, in order to help them learn, we will have to be "mean." That we won't clean up the messes they've made, but we'll help them find the brooms and mops and antibacterial cleanser (real and metaphorical) and teach them how to clean up after themselves.

That's what a True Friend will do for you. A buddy is someone who you can laugh with when times are good, but a True Friend will encourage you to keep going when times are tough. And if we want to be effective parents, we need to be True Friends for our children.

27 September 2012

Book Review: THE MAP OF ME by Tami Lewis Brown

This morning, I get to spend some time volunteering at my daughters' elementary school library, and it's put me in the mood for a good middle grade novel. THE MAP OF ME by Tami Lewis Brown is one that I've recommended to several of the young readers I know, so it's perfect for this morning's review.

Twelve-year-old Margie feels small and insignificant.  Compared to Peep, her nine-year-old genius sister, who skipped third, fourth and fifth grades, Margie knows she’s nothing special.  But when they come home from school one day to find an empty house, everything changes.  Mom has gone, leaving only a hastily scrawled note on the back of an advertisement torn out of the newspaper – a note that says simply “I have to go.”  Margie knows it’s up to her to bring her mother home and save the day.  This is her one big chance to be the hero and save her family.  She decides that the ad on the back of her mother’s note has to be a clue, so she kidnaps Peep and steals her father’s car, determined to find the International Poultry Hall of Fame, where her mother is certainly searching for the last piece to her chicken canister collection. 

An endearing story about love and family and finding yourself, Margie’s quest will resonate with anyone who has ever wondered where and how they fit in. This book isn't just for girls who have lost a parent or those who feel overshadowed by a sibling. It's for anyone who has ever felt insignificant or alone in a crowd.

23 September 2012

It's the Differences that Make the World Beautiful

multi-colored flora @ the ABQ Botanical Gardens
 Yesterday, I took my family to see the Albuquerque Botanic Gardens. The gardens were absolutely beautiful, with several different, themed gardens to enjoy, and of course we snapped lots and lots of photographs of the beautiful flowers and other plants. As the day wore on, I began to notice something very interesting about the pictures we were taking. The wide shots, which usually encompassed several different types of flowers and plants in one, were absolutely breathtaking...

But every time I tried to get a close-up shot of an individual flower or two within the grouping, the individual flaws and imperfections of that particular flower became more apparent. When taken all together, I saw and focused on the beauty of the flowers, and it was only when I tried to find that one, magical, picture perfect plant that I came away disappointed.

I realized that life is like that. No one person is completely perfect, absolutely devoid of flaws. We all wish we could change something about ourselves. Maybe you want to lose a few pounds, add some muscle, change the color or style of your hair, alter the shape of your nose... Or maybe you have a bad habit you'd like to break (or a good habit you want to adopt)... The point is, we're all works in progress. We all stumble from time to time. We get scraped and bruised and completely run down from time to time, but we all have the potential to become better.
But the great thing about life is that we don't have to be perfect to be beautiful. And when we all work together for a common goal, we can rely on each others' strengths to pull us through where we may be weak.

The flowers at the Botanical Gardens weren't trying to put each other down or compete for the title of "most beautiful plant in the garden." Growing side-by-side, accenting and even supporting each other as they grew together, they created a beautiful display that makes hundreds of people each day stop and stare. Wouldn't it be nice if we could do the same for each other? If we could work together to make our world a better place, remembering that a daisy isn't any less beautiful simply because it isn't a rose? Wouldn't it be great if we didn't spend so much time trying to make everyone else do and act and think just like us, but learned to love and accept the unique beauty of everyone around us, remembering that it's the differences that make our world truly beautiful? Wouldn't it be great if we could learn a lesson from the flowers?

18 September 2012

Book Review: STIR IT UP by Ramin Ganeshram


STIR IT UP by Ramin Ganeshram is more than just a fun story. It's also a great cookbook, containing delicious recipes for the Indian cuisine that serves as a backdrop for the novel.

Anjali Krishnan is passionate about cooking.   Working in her family’s roti shop in Queens, she experiments with recipes that combine her Trinidadian culture and family traditions with the influences of the multicultural world she lives in.  Though her parents hope Anjali will make the family proud by gaining admittance into the exclusive Stuyvesant high school, she has other plans.  Anjali dreams of attending a public school, where she can participate in C-CAP, a culinary arts study program, and ultimately becoming a famous chef with her very own Food Network TV show. 

When a contest for young chefs promises a chance at her dreams, Anjali knows she’s destined for greatness.  Unfortunately, the contest tryouts are the same day as the Stuyvesant entrance exam, and Anjali’s parents insist that her studies must come before her hobby.   Taking a chance at her dream means defying her parents and her family traditions, but Anjali can’t let the chance of a lifetime slip away. 

Chock full of real (and delectable) recipes, this novel is a treat for the mind as well as the taste buds.  The chicken curry recipe has become a family favorite, and it's super easy! (We've used variations of the recipe as the basis for many, many family dinners, since we read the book a few months ago.) I recommend this book for anyone who loves cooking, and anyone who has ever had to make difficult choices when following their dreams.

16 September 2012

Staying Safe vs. Staying in the Loop

On Thursday, one of the literary agents I follow on twitter, Pam van Hylckama, was attacked. At first, she thought she was a victim of an attempted car jacking. (Her dog bit the man and he ran away. I've never been a huge fan of dogs, but I've gotta admit, that dog is kind of my hero right now!!) - But when she called the police to report the crime, they didn't think it looked like a random car jacking. Upon further investigation, including a look into her email, the police determined that the attacker was probably a disgruntled author she had rejected. He'd responded to her rejection with an "I hate you and want you dead" email, but apparently, agents receive this kind of horrendous response from whining authors a lot, and so she had ignored it. She tried to explain to the police that this email didn't mean anything, but they insisted on investigating. Sure enough, they found the man at the address he'd included in his query letter, and he had the dog bites on his arm to prove he was the one they were looking for.

I wasn't on twitter much that day, so I missed the drama as it unfolded, but when I came back online on Friday morning, I was horrified! It's no wonder so many literary agents these days don't want to respond at all to submissions they aren't interested in. How many of them would have thought that this would be such a high risk job? The saddest part of all was that she ignored the threat when it first came in, because literary agents get such hate mail all the time!

According to Ms. Van Hylckama, it appears that her attacker found her via her status updates on social media sites, as she checked in to various locations and updated her status to let people know where she would be.

Of course, any sane person would agree that this attack was not her fault. Merely letting friends and co-workers know "I'm going to such and such book signing tonight at XYZ bookstore" is NOT inviting an attack from some wacko, but as she said, "We all have to be careful about telling the world where we are all the time in this age."

The sad truth is that the world is full of crazies, and we need to be careful. It's one thing to let your close friends and family know where you'll be and when you'll be there. It's another to publicly share real-time vacation photos and travel itineraries that scream "My house is empty for the next 2 weeks, just in case you want to burglarize it!"

In the last few days, I've been going over my online presence, trying to find any security lapses in my own judgement. I used to be more diligent about not letting things slip, because I remember the fear of hiding behind the couch while my stalker went from window to window, peering in to determine whether or not I was actually home. (I was never actually assaulted by this guy, but it was still terrifying to realize he wasn't going to take "no" for an answer!) I'm not a celebrity, I don't have a high-profile job that keeps me in the public eye, and I have to admit that I'm not nearly as cute as I was seventeen years ago, when I was being followed by a nut job, but it doesn't hurt to be careful, and letting your guard down might be a mistake you can't afford to make.

I'm not saying you have to completely go off the grid. Use the tools you need to stay in the loop with your friends, family and co-workers. But pay attention to the things you're making public. It's better to be safe than sorry!

09 September 2012

A Legacy of Creativity

My grandfather died a few weeks ago. I got the call as I was travelling from Baltimore, Maryland to our new home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Grandpa had been sick for a while, and so the news wasn't entirely unexpected, but even when you know it's coming, the death of a loved one is a difficult pill to swallow.

Suddenly, the sight of the moon brought tears to my eyes as I remembered the way Grandpa used to transform into an "earwolf" under the light of a full moon. (He said the world had plenty of werewolves, so when his time came to transform, he turned into an "earwolf" instead. He would chase the grandkids around the yard, and we all knew that if he caught us, he would "eat" our ears - which tickled like crazy, because of his full beard!)

My siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles all promptly posted tributes to Grandpa on their respective facebook pages and online social networks. I wanted to do the same, but I couldn't. Nothing I could say or do would ever be enough to sum up the life of this great man, who meant so much to so many.

Last weekend, I travelled with my family to Salt Lake City for Grandpa's funeral. I spent the weekend reminiscing and reconnecting with family members I haven't seen in far too long. And as we remembered my Grandfather, I realized that my entire life is a tribute to Grandpa.

People always tell me that they wish they could be as creative as I am. "I would never even think to make purses out of recycled grocery bags!" "What? You built a playhouse loft bed for your kids without even following any pre-made plans? How did you even know how?"

But with grandparents like mine, is it really any wonder that I can't think inside the box?

I remember going to yard sales and thrift stores on weekends with my grandparents, to help them find torn leather jackets that they could purchase for pennies and cut up into pieces. They would turn the leather into beautiful Native American-inspired art pieces: dreamcatchers and wall hangings to celebrate the cultures and traditions of many different Native American tribes. Where others saw only a torn coat, no longer good for anything, my grandparents saw beauty waiting to be born.

The creative spirit went far beyond the beautiful artwork my grandparents created together. I never heard Grandpa say "that can't be done," and he wasn't one to sit back and wait for someone else to figure out how to do it. I can't even begin to count the number of times when someone would idly comment "wouldn't it be cool if we had a device to perform task XYZ?" Grandpa would get that familiar gleam in his eyes, and then he'd disappear for a while: scouring thrift shops, yard sales and his own stash of odds and ends until he'd compiled the components he needed to create such a device.

One shining example of Grandpa's creative spirit: Not long ago, he wanted to take several of his great-grandchildren to Thanksgiving Point (in Utah) for the day. Because his physical health didn't allow him to hike and run and chase and carry the little ones on his shoulders (like he did when I was a child), this was a slightly daunting prospect. Never fear! Grandpa always finds a way. He found several wagons and linked them together to form a train, with his electric scooter as the engine and a large wagon containing my Grandmother in her wheelchair as the caboose. And then he took his great-grandchildren on an outing they'll never forget.

Grandpa taught me to see the beauty and the myriad of possibilities in the world around me. Is it any wonder, then, that I'm driven to imagine and to create?