Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Irony

 I teach a weekly creative writing class to a group of teens at our homeschool co-op. It is so fun, but I've been noticing that even though I give them several weeks for each major assignment they still often put it off to the last minute. So last week I lectured them about not procrastinating and whatnot. Because then you sometimes get sick at the last minute and you don't get it done on time.

I write this from my phone, while my head is slightly spinning and while I shiver with fever. I had an excellent blog post planned for today, but I kept on not getting it done. And now my head is too grumpy, my brain is too muddled, and I'm just plain too tired to finish it and post it today.

Sigh. Why is it sometimes so hard to practice what you preach?


Monday, February 13, 2017

Why My Political Party is Better Than Yours

by Kasey Tross

(Clickbait much? Ha, I know. But it worked with the topic and you ARE reading it now, right?)

The past year has been a doozy for American politics, but despite the emotionally charged drama, I for one am grateful for the focus on all things political, because it's taught me quite a bit about where my loyalties lie.

And here was the surprising revelation: where they lie doesn't start with a D or an R.

The more I watch the petty battles in the political arena, the more I realize that the only safe place for my loyalties is with me- not with a particular candidate, not with a particular party, not with a particular end of the political spectrum, not with a particular movement. Because none of them will ever align completely with my own personal beliefs.

See, the thing about loyalty is that it excludes a certain amount of logic and reasoning and more deeply relies on emotions- which is fine when you're talking about a love-based loyalty like loyalty to God or loyalty to family, but not so much when you're talking about political loyalty.

Political loyalty is a dangerous concept, because for one thing, it polarizes us. It creates this us-versus-them paradigm that simply isn't helpful, because we all live in this country together and that requires compromise.

Political loyalty also creates a finality to judgment: we have decided to follow one school of thinking and anything else is wrong. So we are unlikely to seek to understand another way of thinking or look for ways to compromise. We know we disagree with it, and therefore it is simply "off the table" for us, case closed, the end. No need to understand the other side if they're wrong.

But probably the worst part of this kind of loyalty is that we forget to think for ourselves. We allow others to make all the decisions because we know that we generally agree with them on most things, so we go along with them on everything. And that is frightening.

Probably the most startling example of this that I saw during the election were the number of people who weren't happy with either major candidate but felt they had to vote for them because third-party candidates didn't have any chance of winning. So, basically, they said they had to vote for a major party candidate because everyone else was doing it.

Can you see why this disturbs me?

During the election I liked to joke that it must be nice to be a political candidate, because you have millions of people who will love and support you unconditionally, no matter what stupid things you do or say, no matter what "dirt" is dug up from your past. I saw this all over the place- people doing and saying things that in any other context would be considered downright reprehensible, but in the light of political loyalty were either overlooked or- in some cases- defended and even celebrated.

This scares me. Because when this is happening, it means people aren't thinking!

So why am I writing about this on Mormon Mommy Writers?

Because writers think. And writers write. And when we think before we write, we can avoid perpetuating the problem. So listen up, friends. I'm counting on you.

One of the issues we've been seeing surface in the last few months is this idea of media bias. It's sneaky. You may not even realize its effect on you. But sometimes, it smacks you in the face, like this prime example of it on my newsfeed one morning- the same two images covering the same story, but from very different viewpoints:



I knew the instant I read both of these headlines (First one- BOO-yah! Second one- Boo-hoo! Me- *eyeroll* Boo.) that neither one was actually going to give me a clear picture of what really happened, so I didn't bother reading either. Instead, I sought out headlines that were more neutral. I found one from a website that was more neutral but had a slightly liberal lean, then I read another from a website that a slightly conservative slant. I read those, I googled the "broken rule", and then read a few more articles until I felt like I had a pretty clear picture of the situation.

And then I made up my own mind about what really happened and how I felt about it.

Not surprisingly, it didn't line up perfectly with any of the articles I read about it, but fell somewhere in between.

I am fortunate that I have friends "on both sides of the aisle", as they say. So my Facebook newsfeed has a good amount of bias swinging in either direction. I say that I'm fortunate, because I know that a lot of people essentially live in an echo chamber- and that's why so many were shocked when Trump won the election, because everything they'd been seeing and hearing was all Clinton, all the time! They were surrounded only by people who agreed with their political paradigm, so they got a rude awakening when the election showed that their echo chamber wasn't the only one, and apparently the other echo chamber was larger and louder.

Because I have eschewed loyalty to any political party, I choose to use the conversational aspects of Facebook to try to understand and to try to promote understanding in an honest, open, respectful way. For example, I could not for the life of me understand Trump's appeal to voters, and so I asked (respectfully and honestly)- why are you voting for this guy? The answers I got were enlightening and helped me to understand, even though I may not have agreed.

In another instance, I found a post promoting abortion, and I could see the telltale signs of echo chamber activity in the comments section, so I provided my own pro-life viewpoint- again, in a respectful way- and I was met with criticism and questions. I answered those criticisms and questions in the most kind, respectful way possible, and the conversation eventually ended with all of us thanking one another for the respectful debate and agreeing to disagree.

These are the kinds of conversations I want to see happening out there, and that is why I reach out to you MMWs. We have been blessed with talents of communication, and never before has good communication been so desperately threatened and so desperately needed! We can be the voices for respect and understanding, but we can't do it unless we're thinking clearly.

So the next time you see a news article that makes you feel angry, look for the inflammatory language ("BANNED", "breaking the rules", "silenced", "sad day"). Look past the headlines and ask yourself what the language tells you about the author's point of view, but don't let that determine your point of view, because you're smarter than that. Instead, seek out more articles. Ask questions of people from all sides of the issue. Google the relevant laws and facts. Then- and only then- thoughtfully and prayerfully make your own decision about what you think is right, and once you've made your decision, have confidence in it. Share it- intelligently and respectfully- for you will have won that right through your own due diligence.

When you are loyal to yourself, then when an old video of a Democrat surfaces where he's saying the same things about an issue as a current Republican, it won't shake you or anger you or make you question your loyalties, because you've already made your decision about that issue, and your decision was made on your own, not to align with a party belief system, so it doesn't matter who said what. You can see issues objectively.

When you make your own decisions, you can vote with a clear conscience and not feel like you're being coerced into something that makes you uncomfortable.

When you think for yourself, you can examine the actions of your government leaders- any of your government leaders- with a critical eye and determine whether or not you feel they're acting in your- and our country's- best interest. If they're not, you can speak up and work to make a difference. If they are, you can support them with confidence.

I truly believe that if we as writers can think before we write, and use our talents for discernment and communication wisely, we can set the example for positive debate and increased understanding in our great nation.

And that's a political point on which I think we can all agree.


[DISCLAIMER: If, after your own research and contemplation, you have chosen to align yourself with a political party and you believe that party to be your best vehicle for political activism, I encourage you to continue on that path. However, I would also like to encourage you to continue to question, continue to criticize, and continue to hold that party up to the light to ensure you are not simply going along with the crowd. There is nothing wrong with holding party leaders accountable.]

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Revised Resolutions

by Jewel Leann Williams

I keep swearing off resolutions, and then after all of the talk and reading about them during January, I feel guilty and plant myself a little crop of resolutions, feel better, and then ignore them for the rest of the year and feel guilty all over again.

This year threatened to be more of the same, but I read a few things that rescued me.

First, this:


This advice from President Thomas S. Monson is very simple, and yet, as most advice from the Prophet is, profound. For me, it speaks to my overachieving, way-too-high-expectations-of-myself soul, whispering to just chill out. (I'm sure that's what President Monson would say. "Just chill out, little sister." Ok maybe not. But still...)

I keep seeing goals with these "Write XXX words a day," "Do XXX pushups" "Save XXX dollars" and I always, ALWAYS fall short.  Apparently, those numbers are MORE than my current best self.

So my goals are: "Write MORE. Even if it's a little. Doesn't matter how much."  "Exercise MORE. Even if it's just going up the stupid stairs at work even when your bum knee aches." "Look for ways to save money. Even if it's a little, even if it's a jar with nickels and dimes in it."

This brings to mind advice from my favorite President forever, President Gordon B. Hinckley. He said this quite often in his talks, and I remember how encouraging it was to hear:

I used the meme I found with the cane because this is my favorite way to remember President Hinckley. Wise and loving but oh so spunky and with just the right touch of silliness.
He usually followed it up with things like:  a little kinder, a little more generous, a little stronger.... those are worthy--and attainable--goals.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf told a story in the January 2017 Ensign about watching archers and the way they took aim; if they missed, they didn't throw down the bow, never to pick it up again. They refocused their aim and tried again. Mastering the bow takes practice--years of intentional practice, of listening to experts, of learning new ways to do things, and yes, making mistakes and learning from them.

So my goal is to find ways to re-aim. To be a little better. No more guilt trips because I didn't hit some arbitrarily imposed number of pages, of dollars, of pounds. Just, a little better.

Yup, I know all the stuff out there about defining your goals or you won't reach them, yada yada yada. I'm sure I'm going against all the conventional wisdom, but I'm a rebel. I rebel. :) (Couldn't help it)

I'm going to try a little harder to be a little better. My method of "resolving" is also my way of trying to be a little kinder to myself.

Audio Book Love, Part 2

By Lacey Gunter

So I already posted about how much I love audio books on this blog a couple years back (Sheesh, have I really been blogging on Mormon Mommy Writers that long?). That post was about how audio books help crazy busy Mormon Mommy Writers keep up on the need to read other books in order to be good writers. Today, I am singing my praises for audio books for another reason.

Who out there has a reluctant reader they are mothering, or pseudo mothering?  Learning how to read is difficult for a lot of kids. Learning how to read well enough to actually enjoy what you are reading is a whole other story. Here is where audio books can come to the rescue.

Hopefully you live fairly close to a totally awesome library like my local library, Provo City Library. If you do, they have a spectacular selection of books on CD for kids, starting as basic as picture books. They probably also have a pretty great selection of online audio books as well. So here is a great idea to try.

Go to your library and either find or reserve several books available in both print and audio book form. Look for the topics your little one likes, in the level of reading they are on or just a little above. Half of getting a reluctant reader to enjoy reading is finding the right books. Then, go home and turn on the audio book and give them the hard copy to look at the pictures and try to read with the recording.  If you have several on hand, you can try out different topics and authors to see which one they like best.  If they fall in love with a prolific author or a series, this is the best because they are more open to reading the next book in the series or written by the same author.

You'll know when you have succeeded in converting them to a book lover when the book they want to read next is only available in print and they don't want to wait for the audio book to read it. Listening to audio books in the car on the way to school or soccer or dance is also a great way to help expose readers with narrow reading interests, to a broader array of genres.

Okay, blog post written. Now, back to my audio book!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Advice I Need

Lately the internet and Facebook and pretty much every source of external info has been getting me down. That's unfortunate because we've had a fair portion of stress at home lately too. So pretty much an overall yuck.

Which is why I think I could really use the advice spoken by President Gordon B Hinckley here:

"I come … with a plea that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I’m suggesting that we accentuate the positive. I’m asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort."

It's a matter of what we seek out. Do we find ourselves looking for angry political articles? We'll sure find them! Depressing stories? Yep. People arguing about what to feed children? Of course. And all the vitriol is there for the consuming.

But so are the positive stories. The people who respectfully discuss their differences. The stories of love and compassion and light.

I, for one, am exhausted by the nasty stuff, and it's time I stop seeking it out.

So... A lady complimented my children today on how well they get along. We have a fridge full of mostly delicious food. Our heater, walls, and roof protect us from so much cold. When I couldn't remember the House colors for Hogwarts, I had a little device I carry around in my pocket to look up that info. It also keeps me in touch with people I love hundreds of miles away. I'm able to share these thoughts on that same device. I have many people in my life who care about me and whom I care about. We're finally free of a super crappy lice infestation we had. My baby sleeps badly but he's oh so sweet.

That's my start. Those are some of the great things in my life.

How about yours?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Blackout Poetry: The Poem Hidden in the Page


by Kasey Tross

One night this past weekend I was in one of those moods where I wanted to create something but I was too tired to write and too tired to have to clean up any kind of crafting mess, so I decided to try something new: blackout poetry.

If you're not familiar with the concept, it's where you take a page from a book (or any document, really) and select words from it to become your poem, then you simply black out (or strike through) all the rest. 

My first attempt was probably my favorite:

Funny how when we're struggling life still just seems to go on.


This one had kind of a story element to it:


"Almost handsome, never careful."
I may have to use that in a book someday.


My 12-year-old son saw what I was doing and decided to get in on the action. In my opinion, he won the award for the line of the day.



"Richard Harding Davis was suffering from Government"

Aren't we all?


This other one I did was kind of fun:


"Face the unknown as if it were a picnic." 

Now that's advice to live by.

So if you have an old book lying around (this one was pretty ancient and falling apart- the good thing about it was that the pages were super thick so I could even blackout both sides without it leaking through) and you need to scratch that creative itch without too much brainpower or mess, then I highly recommend giving this a whirl. 

It's fun to find the poem hidden in the page.


Monday, January 16, 2017

My Writing Goals for 2017



by Kasey Tross

A couple weeks ago I posted this video on the MMW Facebook page about How to Gain Control of Your Free Time. In the video, the speaker, Laura Vanderkam, discussed how we so often feel like there's not enough time to do things, but that the real issue is that we don't make those things a priority.

Later on in the talk she suggested that in order to discover what your true priorities are, try imagining that it's the end of the year and you have just received your year-end evaluations from work, or that you're working on your Christmas letter to friends and family. What would you like to be able to see about your year in those documents? What accomplishments would you like to see listed? What improvements in your life would you like to see acknowledged?

Sometimes I struggle with narrowing down my goals, so I decided that would be a great way to envision where I want to be at the end of 2017 and then be able to plan out the habits I must develop and the steps I need to take to get there, in order to Set Goals Like I Mean It.

I noticed as I started working on my writing goals that they're quite different from what they were in 2016. In 2016 my main focus was on writing and publishing articles for magazines. This year I'd like my end-of-year report to say:

1. 2016 NaNoWriMo book is ready to submit to publishers. (It's an LDS book so I'll be submitting directly to publishers rather than going through agents.)

2. Had 5 stories accepted for publication in the Friend Magazine. (I've already submitted 2- go me!)

3. Had 2 articles accepted for publication on Power of Moms.

4. Worked on at least 1 other inspired writing project. (I'm leaving this open for now, but I'm feeling impressed that this project will involve taking Mormon Mommy Writers to another level and utilizing this platform to create more of a writing community, so stay tuned...)

These goals are fairly small and simple compared to years past, but part of that is because I have some pretty big personal and spiritual goals this year. For example, this year in place of NaNoWriMo I have decided that in November I would like to try to read the entire Book of Mormon in 30 days. I feel like it's a way to show my gratitude to my Heavenly Father for helping me successfully complete NaNoWriMo last year, and I've also heard from others that reading the Book of Mormon in a very short period of time changes the reading experience, and so it's something I've always wanted to try.

I'm also going to be focusing more on my physical health. I've gotten away from running this past year and I miss the energy and fitness I had while doing it, so I'm going to work on that. I'm also going to focus more on my church callings and my relationships with my husband and children.

So now my writing goals are out here for all the world to see, and I guess that means I'm accountable! I would love to help you stay accountable to yourself for your 2017 goals too, so please comment below and tell me about them so we can work on them together!

And because today is Martin Luther King Day, I will close out this post on goals with some words of inspiration from the great Dr. King:

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." 

-Martin Luther King


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Murmuration

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay
Birdwatchers, don't hate me if I'm wrong.
I'm 98% certain this is a European starling.



The other day the family and I were sitting in the kitchen when I looked out our window and saw a huge flock of starlings descend on our lawn. They stood around pecking for food, and we all watched them happily for a few minutes when suddenly, in one massive coordinated effort, they all took flight, moving in the same direction, so utterly synchronized. It was incredible to watch.

Just a few days later, I ran across an NPR article about this very phenomenon. It's called a murmuration, and the article has a cool video of one. The article talks about some scientists who have studied murmuration, one of whom calls the phenomenon a "remarkable ability to maintain cohesion as a group in highly uncertain environments and with limited, noisy information," to see how the starlings can be so unified. It turns out that they believe that each starling pays attention to the seven starlings nearest them and flies with them.

It made me think about a number of things, some of which I am still considering. So I'll leave you to consider some of the same questions.

Who am I flying with? Who are the people nearest me? And are they flying in directions I want to go?

Am I providing a lifting, positive direction to those who might be watching me? How can I be a better influence or help to those in my closest circles?

My friend Derrill thought of Laman and Lemuel in the Book of Mormon, who spend most of their time murmuring—complaining and performing all of their tasks grudgingly. He made this awesome Mormonad: Murmur not! Murmurate! So the question is, which do I do?

Of course every metaphor breaks down somewhere, and for me one of the breakdowns is that we are meant to be individuals, not starlings. But we are still meant to work together towards common goals and lend one another strength. So I think there's enough here to make the metaphor interesting and worth some thought.

What lessons do you think we could learn from the starlings?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Shoulder to Cry On

By Lacey Gunter

Life can be so difficult at times. For anyone who is experiencing the pain and sorrow that comes from injury, loss or difficult trials, I wish I could jump through this web page and give you a tender hug and a shoulder to cry on.  One thing I can do is tell you that you are not experiencing this alone.

In chapter 11 of John in the New Testament of the Bible we hear the story of Lazarus dying and being brought back to life by Jesus. In the King James version of the Bible we read in versus 32-35

32 Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,
34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.
35 Jesus wept.

Isn't verse 35 an interesting scripture to think about? We have no reason to think Jesus is weeping for Lazarus’s soul here. There is nothing in the chapter that even hints at the idea that Lazarus has died in sin. And Jesus understood the plan of salvation and the purpose of death and the assurance of a beautiful and better place after this earthly life better than anyone else who has ever lived on earth.

One might try to conjecture here that Jesus is simply morning the loss of a friend. He is sad because he believes he will not have the joy of interacting with Lazarus again until Jesus himself has passed on and returned to Heaven. Of course this idea doesn't seem very plausible since we learn earlier in the chapter that Jesus's main purpose in coming to Lazarus's house was to raise Lazarus from the dead. Not much of a sorrow inducing separation.

And yet, it says that he groaned in his spirit and he wept. The only conclusion I can come to here is that Jesus is troubled and weeping because of the sorrow he feels seeing the great sadness Mary and the other Jews are experiencing. He knows he will shortly end their mourning by bringing Lazarus back to life, yet he is so touched by their tender and brokenhearted feelings that he can't help but cry with them first. Wow, what a powerful and expressive demonstration of the true love and compassion of the Savior.

I believe the Savior loves each of us this way.  We may not get the privilege to witness it, but perhaps the Savior has sat and cried with each one of us at one time or another.  And after both of your tears have finally dried, Christ still has the power to heal your heart and cleanse your soul. You are not alone! I pray you can feel Christ's love and compassion and that you may have the strength and courage to take another step and face another day.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Put a Bullet in It



by Kasey Tross

New year, new adventures, new goals, new organization!

Yes, it's 2017, and like so many others, I have my sights set on new and exciting things for the year, and I've decided that one of those new things I want to try is a Bullet Journal. 

Bullet journaling has become this hot new trend, an "Analog System for the Digital Age." I first heard about it from a good friend- one of those people who always seems to have it all together, both temporally and emotionally/spiritually- and so it piqued my interest (grammar lesson for today, kiddos- it's "piqued my interest" not "peaked my interest." You're welcome.)

I asked her some questions about it one day, but I still didn't really "get" it, so I didn't think about it again until someone on a Facebook page I follow posted a link to a short video about it. I love a good how-to video, and this one's only 4 minutes long and it was made by the person who actually came up with the idea of bullet journaling, so I took 4 minutes out of my day to watch it. After that, I decided it was worth a shot (get it? BULLET journaling? Worth a SHOT? I am hilarious.)

Fortunately, I had a cute spiral-bound journal with my initial on it and a matching pen- Christmas gifts from my visiting teacher- and they just begged to become a part of my daily life, so I drafted them into service in my bullet journaling adventure.

So, how does it work?

Basically, your bullet journal becomes your brain- your planner, your calendar, your random-note-taking station, your to-do lists, etc. Because it is all of these things, it also serves as an actual journal of your life.

The first part of the journal is the index- and this is the part where I think the magic really comes in, because it allows you to really write anything you want in your bullet journal. One page might be a daily to-do list, another page might be an idea for your next book, another page might be gift ideas for your husband's birthday- just put it all in there! Then you simply go back to your index and add in the title of whatever it is, note the page number, and then you will always be able to find it.

There are some other core parts to bullet journals as well to help you plan your life, but what I love about it is that it is evolving, imperfect, and flexible. Because aren't we all evolving, imperfect, and flexible? I love that I can keep all my crazy ideas in one spot and know they're all right there.



I set up my bullet journal last night, and so far I have all my basics (see video), plus today's to-do list (#6 Write MMW post), a list of book titles I'd like to propose in a meeting of a brand-new book club starting this month, and a page for me to plan my daughter's birthday coming up next week (gift ideas, what she wants for dinner that day, her preferred cake flavor, etc.). 

I'm just starting on my bullet journaling adventure, but I'm excited to see what happens. I just love the idea of recording life in ink on a page, and I love that I can do that and get more organized at the same time.

How about you? Have you ever tried bullet journaling or do you think you might?

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