Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Things that happen...

*Image from: Nickmom.com

By: Kristi Hartman

The last couple of weeks I have been struggling with making enough time to get some real, focused, quality writing time in.  It seemed like every time I sat down to tackle a page or two, something was beckoning for my attention elsewhere.  The toddler was crying, the clean clothes had been nicely smashed into the laundry basket for 3 or more days, the clothes in the washer had already been re-washed two times already, and the toddler was going through a growth spurt, which meant constant snacking and the inevitable diaper changes.  Growing more and more stressed by my situation, I turned to the scriptures.  I was feeling overwhelmed by my daily responsibilities and the desire to accomplish the goal I so want to achieve.  

Writing and publishing a novel has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember, yet sometimes there just doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day.  How can I be a Mom of 3 young kids, and still have the time (and let's face it, energy) to fulfill my personal goals?

As I was reading in Doctrine and Covenants, a particular scripture caught my eye.  It reads:

"Yea, I tell thee, that thou mayest know that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart." 
                                                 D&C 6:16
I also read:

"Fear not to do good, my sons, for whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap; therefore, if ye sow good ye shall also reap good for your reward."
                                                 D&C 6:33

The Lord knows what our situations are, day in and day out.  He knows better than anyone else.  He knows when we barely get to sit down some days, yet still feel like we haven't accomplished enough. I felt so much peace after reading in this section of D&C, and felt like the Lord knows what I want to do, and is truly aware of me.  He knows of my struggles and my goals, my strengths and weaknesses, and like it says above, my thoughts and intents of my heart.

So. Let's not give up!  Even when we do finally get to sit down for a second, after a long busy day with the kids, only to remember we are boiling some pasta for dinner and the pot has boiled over yet again, and we have to dash to the kitchen and rescue the pot and stovetop from the boiling, watery mess.  We can't give up.  :)

What do you do to stay focused and positive?

*Nick Mom is a really funny website I suggest you visit if you ever need a laugh about our lives as Moms for a moment.  Really witty!

Monday, April 28, 2014

No Mormon Literary Giants?

by Kasey Tross

Last year I came across this article in the New York Times by Mark Oppenheimer:

I was bereft of post ideas for today so I turned to my “Writing Articles” files and found this one to share. It’s a juicy one, that’s for sure.

I’ll give you a minute to click on that link up there and have a quick read. Because I’m too tired today to do a lengthy summary.

All done? Great. :-)

So, there are several things I agree with in this article- Shannon Hale’s (ILOVEHER) observation that much “serious” literature is on the gloomier side is one thing (“Of Mice and Men”, anybody?). Another would be Rachel Ann Nunes’ assertion that LDS writers try to avoid time in the bedroom in their books. Also very true.

What I didn’t agree with was the conclusion that Mormons can’t be “serious” because it is a part of our culture to essentially “put on a happy face.” It’s no wonder to me that Brian Evenson moved toward writing literature that resulted in him getting kicked out of BYU and eventually excommunicated if he grew up in a family culture where (from what he said) it appears that he was forced to repress all negative feelings. I certainly hope I am correct in saying that his situation was was an unfortunate anomaly in the Mormon culture and not the norm. 

While I do believe that as a whole we Mormons are fairly cheerful because of the gospel knowledge we have and the resulting testimonies, faith, and spiritual fortitude we enjoy, I would hope that we are not propagating a culture where we quash feelings that don’t “fit” with that mindset. First and foremost we should be practicing a culture of love, and that includes loving not only the pretty smiling mom with her kids all lined up in matching outfits but also the homeless man who is struggling with a drug problem. 

Do we focus on the ugly side of life? Not usually, but we shouldn't hide from it, either. When I read the article I thought a lot of Ender’s Game by LDS author Orson Scott Card, and about the struggles the main character, Ender faced. These were not just your typical coming-of-age struggles, either. They were serious moral questions and while Ender was certainly a hero, he wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Unfortunately, because that book falls in the science fiction genre, it may never be applauded for its “serious” themes.

As LDS authors, we write what we know, and it’s true that we know a culture of hope. We can and do address serious themes, just with a dash of hope (and sometimes sci-fi) thrown in, not only because that’s what we believe but because that’s what the world needs. Most of us probably see our writing abilities as a gift from God, and we feel inclined to use it to uplift our fellow man, because we believe that is what He wants us to do with the gifts He gives us.

What is your take on this article? Do you agree or disagree with the author’s conclusions? 

(And is anyone else feeling the pressure to achieve literary greatness after reading that? Yikes.)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

LDStorymakers 2014

I was so blessed to be able to go to LDStorymakers this year for the 3rd time. I went, knowing a little bit more about what to expect and what I wanted to learn this year. I’ve been working on a project for a long time, about my grandparents. It means a lot, it is special to me and it’s my baby. The last little bit I’ve been frustrated, not wanting it to end, unsure if I was ready to be finished. Is it ready?

After a few classes the first day I realized that no, I wasn’t ready. I don’t want my first novel to be this one. Not only is it a family story, but it’s an amazing story. I want to know more about writing. I want it to be really good. So I decided by Friday afternoon knowing that I wasn’t going to write my Historical Fiction based on my grandparents. So as I continued going to classes, trying to think of what I wanted to learn. What project I was going to start working on and all of the sudden it just hit me! I knew what I want to write and work on. I am so excited and the ideas just keep coming.

The classes were all so amazing and I wanted to share a few quotes and other wonderful words that I learned while attending LDStorymakers.

Sarah Eden’s class, Dissecting Jane- I’m not much of a Romance reader, but I just finished the book Edenbrooke and was enthralled in the story. I’ve only read a couple of Jane Austen books… I know, she’s amazing, don’t hurt me. I do think she is amazing, but I really started reading a lot about five years ago and there are a lot of books out there to read. I am slowly getting to them. We talked about Jane’s style and a little bit about her experience in getting her work published. She couldn’t have her name on the books. Her first three books were successful, but her fourth was not. She had to pay back the money from her failed fourth book, by using money she made from her other three books. She never made any money while alive from those books. It took her ten years to get the rights to that book back. She never saw the wonderful success that she became. Sarah said, “…but Jane still wrote. Because she liked it.” I loved that. Do we write because we want to be rich and famous? I write because I have stories clogging my brain, I want to inspire just one person and I love it.

Julie Berry taught Secondary Characters- She talked about the importance of creating believable and deep secondary characters. How boring would a book be we only explored the main character? She said, “Treat the secondary characters as though they were main characters. Good writers use minor characters well.” I love that. Those characters help the story and help us get to know the main character. Ernest Hemingway said, “Now watch one thing. Don’t let yourself slip and get any perfect characters in… Keep them people, people, people and don’t let them get to be symbols.”

Lisa Mangum’s class, Making your Manuscript Sing- We talked about the difference between voice and style. She compared it to a song, the voice is the lyrics and the style is the melody. She played the song by Twisted Sister and then she played the same song in a softer version of the song. She asked who we believed more. Of course the answer was Twisted Sister. They were using emotion that matched the words. I loved this quote by Donald Mass, “To set your voice free, set your words free, set your characters free. Most important, set your heart free. It is from the unknowable shadows of your subconscious that your stories will find their drive and from which they will draw their meaning. No one can loan that or teach you that. Your voice is yourself in the story.” I really truly loved that quote. You become your characters and you use your own emotions in your story.

There were so many more amazing classes, but I would go on forever if I shared them all. I had a great experience. I feel inspired and also as though my mind might explode, in a wonderful way. The conference ended on such a high note, with a few cracks about the Keynote address. (if you want to know check out the talk on Twitter by using the hashtag #storymakers14. But my eyes welled up when they showed this video at closing. I had never seen it before, but it was wonderful. CLICK HERE to see it.

Change your words, change your world.

LDStorymakers... Post coming soon....

It's been a long great, wonderful weekend in Layton. I am excited to share a few of the wonderful things I learned at Storymakers14. I will be posting it later today!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Writing is WORK!

At first glance, the title of this post is a big fat ol’ “DUH!” Of course writing is work. I’m not saying that as if it was a surprise. I’m actually trying to announce to the world that I am, once again, trying to write for money instead of just for the pleasure/need of it. For those who don’t know me (most of you), you don’t know that I spend over a year trying to navigate the content mills/freelance sites/elance, guru, etc. trying to scrape together a living with my writing skills. I completely failed.
OR DID I?  Really, I didn’t fail any more than every other writer does who tries to do what I did.  Elance.com, Guru.com, all of those sites—they are a total scam. They legitimately set up contract services with writers and clients, but their culture is one of earning maybe a few dollars per article. If you take the time to research and write something that contains complete sentences and cohesive thought and structure, you will earn, maybe a dollar an hour. Supposedly, you can build a portfolio and start charging more, but with so many people offering to write for clients for just a few dollars, you really cannot move up. So, it was no longer an option.  That and the time that a client insisted I change an article to be grammatically incorrect and quite frankly nonsensical, just to include a keyword that wasn’t really a word.
So, here’s the work I am doing now. Magazine articles. Short stories. Poems. I am getting back to the heart and soul of what I write. I will NEVER, EVER, EVER write another article about zodiac tattoos—well, I may, but it won’t be at .05 cents a word (you heard me, a half a cent per word!) 
I am being creative again with my writing. I’m putting my heart into my writing again.
I just wrote a short story about Winston Churchill for a kid’s magazine. It was important enough to me to get it to them, that I spend sixty bucks to overnight it in order to meet the query deadline. I researched and learned about Sir Winston, and wrote historical fiction for the first time in my life. I actually gained quite an admiration for Churchill, based on how he acted as a younger man (think Indiana Jones fighting the Germans). I wrote another short story for a kids’ religious magazine and sent it off.  After this blog entry is done, I plan to maybe do a little revising on my middle-grade (MYSTIC MARBLE), or I may start gathering and editing a book of poetry for submission to a publisher who is running a contest specifically for poetry books.
What is my point? Well, I am working hard, for one. My family is slowly, oh so slowly, learning that they need to not bother me so much when I am “at the desk.” Right now, the TV is so incredibly loud in the other room, but we’re taking baby steps. If I am going to contribute to the family budget, I will have to submit, submit, submit, write, write, write—sheer volume will have to make up for the fact that everything I write won’t be purchased.
The big takeaway, though, is that I am writing with passion again. It’s work, but it’s good work, not mindless, sweatshop, slave labor breaking rocks with an icepick.
Please, if you ever, for a moment, consider looking for work on Elance, Guru, Examiner.com, any of those things, just…. don’t. It’s not worth your time and energy if you’re not putting your passion into the work (I have written just a few things that I’ve been able to point at and say that I was writing with passion. Surprise, surprise, those are the SAME few things that my clients actually gave me writing credits to… coincidence? You decide….). Don’t let the content mills suck your brain and your creative passion dry. Find clients who value the work you do, and pay you what you are worth. They are out there. The avenues are out there, be they content services that pay in real money, not Monopoly money, or if it be through freelancing for magazines.  You are worth it. You really are.
What about you? Have you had experiences with freelance writing? Horror stories? Happy stories? What’s your take on content writing?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Guest Post by Michelle Badger

There are many different motivations that drive people to write books. Today I want you meet my friend, Michelle Badger. This is her story of how she came to write a cookbook, "A Wheat Free Life".  Right now she has one child on a mission and is getting ready to send out another missionary. Writing a book about something that changed her life seemed like the perfect way to raise money for her missionaries. I agree, and writing a book is fun!! Please give Michelle a nice warm welcome! --Nikki Wilson

This is my Story
                In 2010 I became very ill with an infection that simply wouldn’t go away and for the next two years I lived in constant and sometimes incapacitating pain. Traditional medicine may not have had the answers and yet I believe in miracles and I knew God could preserve my life and lead me to those who could teach me how to regain my health. So I prayed!
                Miracles began to unfold in my life and the lives of my family when my eldest son and daughter decided to serve ecclesiastical missions for our church in 2011.
                One morning I received an email filled with hope and excitement from my daughter who was diligently serving in the mission field. Believing God had heard our family’s prayers she related to me how she had met a wonderful young woman whose mother was a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine. So I sought out this young woman’s mother’s help and after a myriad of tests she discovered Wheat was at the root of my health problems.
                For 25 years I ground my own wheat twice a week to make home-made bread, something I believed to be the foundation to a healthy diet. Unknowingly, my good intentions were in actuality slowly poisoning us.
                In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s unknown to the general population agri-buisness scientists dramatically altered the DNA or genetic structure of the wheat, creating a new high yield variety of wheat with detrimental side-effects to the human body not known at the time of its creation.
(There are countless articles and books written on this subject I suggest you do your own research)
                I don’t have letters adorning the front or back of my name denoting countless academic degrees. I am simply a Mother who deeply loves her family, so I thought to myself,
                                “What can I do?”
                So I made a plan and set out on a crusade to create a menu for my family’s dinner mealtimes.
First, I needed to completely relearn how to cook.
Second, I knew I needed to research which foods contained wheat.
Third, I needed to learn what wheat-free products I could afford to buy at local grocery stores or online
Fourth,  In the process I also learned many so called wheat-free products are not healthy for you
                In organizing my findings of my newly created and many times experimental recipes I decided to pull it all together into a family cookbook. This 7 week recipe menu plan and the accompanying grocery lists made my shopping easier and saved us money.  It has taken me a year and a half to create this cookbook and knowing the difficulties I faced in the beginning I wanted to share this with others to help lift the burdens many may face as they learn and begin to deal with wheat allergies.
                It has been a year and a half since my friend the Naturopath set my feet on a new path. I have discovered this is not a new fad diet it is a life style change with profound health benefits.
                God Bless you on your new journey to health and I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we have.
Click on the picture above to go to Amazon and learn more about this wonderful book!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

No Accounting for Taste, or Why Goodreads Is Lame

by Katy White

I recently went on a Goodreads kick and looked up famous books and their ratings, as well as books I like and dislike.  I was stunned by what I found.  Horrified for the state of humanity, honestly.  Because guess what I discovered:

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank was rated lower than EVERY SINGLE CASSANDRA CLARE novel.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Humanity (of the Goodreads variety) has decided that The Infernal Devices series--which is not only completely derivative of The Mortal Instruments but is also glorified fan fiction of the author's own fan fiction--is better than the candid, unfiltered, unedited diary of a girl hiding in Nazi occupied Amsterdam, a diary that shows us the unquenchable power of the human spirit.  A diary that illustrates that, even in the most dramatic and evil of situations, hope reigns supreme and a girl can actually still fuss about kissing boys and fighting with her sister and not getting along with her mom. A diary that displays growth and maturity and a skill for writing that's far beyond Anne Frank's years, while still allowing for mood swings and a youthful woe-is-me attitude that you'd be hard-pressed not to find in a teenager, let alone one hiding from the Nazis who ultimately killed her.  Add to all of this the fact that she was keeping a diary, not writing a novel to be consumed and criticized by the public...

Right.  Clockwork Angel is totally better than that.

*Takes deep breath*

This isn't about Cassandra Clare or her books, of course, because they're fun (at least the first series) and exciting and have lots of kissing and teen angst and magical powers, which is always a good ride.  It's not even about how important I think Anne Frank's diary is in exposing teens (among others) to the darkest aspects of history and mankind in an...approachable way.

It's about the fact that people have the right to their own opinions and voices, even if their voices suck (to us).  As writers offering our works to the public for criticism, we must remember one cardinal rule:

We're going to write some beautiful things, dang it. Lovely, powerful, striking words that will put tears in people's eyes and tug on their hearts and make them feel all the feels.  These words will appeal to some and not to others, which is fine.  People don't have to love what we love to be smart or well-read, even if that means an intense dislike of a classic book or author (though a general disdain of the classics makes me question someone's taste entirely). But we call it "taste" for a reason. Everyone's wired to like different things. I'm wired to like sriracha and salt and vinegar chips, and you hating those things isn't a threat to my love.  The same should be true of our preferences in books.  Nothing is universally loved.

But that isn't the problem, either.  The problem is the professional haters of the world who think it's their job to poop in every sundae because someone said she liked chocolate.  We could write the greatest, most poignant novel of the modern era, and some naysayer's gonna naysay, like so:

The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
Recommends it for: people who like depressing or boring books
This book was awful! I hated it and thats all i have to say about it.

Well played, CullenFan172.  Well played.  

So when we all get to the stage of having books up on Goodreads, may we allow the following reviews to remind us that people revel in creating controversy the way I revel in a two pound bag of Mini Eggs.  Or, at the very least, let the measured, thoughtful reviews below remind us that Goodreads can be super lame:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling
Pathetic. Really pathetic.  Don't even get me started on the plot. Epic failure.
This is the great literature of our age? What hope is there for any decent writers if all kids want to read is this utter garbage? What hope is there for the world if kids are growing up thinking this is good literature?

It made me consider both suicide and mass homicide

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
This book is quite possibly the most insipid novel I have ever read in my life. 

Macbeth, William Shakespeare 
Possibly the greatest disappointment I’ve had in my entire reading life.

East of Eden, John Steinbeck
I hate this book. Hate. Ponderous, pretentious, melodramatic, self-satisfied, patronizing to its readers, with ultimately nothing to say.

The Tell-Tale Heart, Edgar Allen Poe
This story was disturbing. Ummmm yeah that about sums it up.  (Katy's snarky aside: So, you gave the story one star for perfectly accomplishing what it set out to do? Goooood.)

The Road, Cormac McCarthy
This is perhaps the worst story I have ever read.  The Road is personally the first really pointless book I've read.  

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë 
If you like fantastically depressing subject matter that would make Dickens cry (think orphans, typhoid-infested boarding schools, and crazy people locked in attics) and an annoying protagonist who can't decided if she's independent or submissive, you'd probably like this book. 

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
This is such a piece of steaming dog **** that I'd recommend it only to people I REALLY hate.

The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
Utter drivel. The book was badly written, righteous, condescending, preachy, and worst of all, the ending was morally questionable.

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
Predictable. Boring. Uninspiring. Put me to sleep. 

Nice, right?  

When we reach the stage of having our labors of love lambasted on Goodreads, remember the words of Brendan Behan: 

"There is no such thing as bad publicity except for your own obituary."

What do you think? Does Goodreads scare you? Are you excited by the prospect of having someone care enough to hate your book? How do you handle bad reviews?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tips for a Writing Beginner: Part 1 - Point of View

We all have to start somewhere.

My first two novels were published almost fifteen years ago. They were pretty successful, and they're being republished this year. Unfortunately the manuscripts have been lost. It was several computers ago (they're probably on a 5¼" floppy disk somewhere) and my publishers didn't keep them, so I'm having to retype them into the computer from the original copies of the books.

And boy, was I a terrible writer back then!

There are so many really basic things that I did wrong that I'm amazed that I was ever offered a publishing contract. I'm lucky to have this opportunity to set things right, but this, coupled with the fact that I've recently started doing some editing and reading self-published works, has made me realise that many writers seem not to know the basic rules and guidelines of writing a book.

So here it is. Novel writing 101, in bi-weekly instalments.

1. Point of View

This is the very necessary rule which states that, in every scene, you choose whose perspective you are telling the story from, and stick to it. If Mary and Jane are having a conversation, and Mary notes to herself that Jane appears tired and ill, you cannot then say that Jane wondered why Mary was being unusually thoughtful and sympathetic. Even if that scene is in the third person, jumping from head-to-head is extremely confusing for the reader. It is also unrealistic, because in a real-life conversation we only know what one person is thinking - ourselves.

This is what I was worst at starting out, and I'm having to rectify it in my first two books. It's easily fixed, though. In the example above, I might have a scene break (a gap of a couple of lines, or a new chapter) and then switch to Jane's point of view. Maybe it's a little later and she's reflecting on her conversation with Mary and wondering why Mary had seemed so caring and concerned.

The worst example I read of this problem was a self-published book which was written in the first person, from the point of view of a girl who, we learn, has some strange but as-yet-unspecified superpower. We watch as a cop drives up to our house. "As he navigated the potholes, he thought about how attractive I am, about how he might ask me to dinner once this horrible business had played out." Aha! I thought. That's her superpower! She can read minds!

It wasn't. She couldn't read minds. It was just a horrible POV error on the part of the writer.

So that's rule 1. Pick one point-of-view to tell each scene from, and stick to it. Like superglue. Otherwise your manuscript will come back from your editor with "POV" scribbled in red all over it. Still trying to figure out why mine didn't.

Practice Exercise: Try writing a well-known scene from a novel from an alternative point of view. So, for example, Darcy's first proposal in Pride and Prejudice from Darcy's viewpoint, rather than Elizabeth's.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How to Receive Criticism

I just got my third round of criticism back on this particular WiP, from three different readers this time. Different readers give me different things to work on, and everyone has their own style of offering criticism, but one thing always remains the same:

Criticism stings.

Always. Forever and ever, this will continue to be true. Whenever we send our work out, no matter how practical and realistic we are, there is one tiny portion of our brain that thinks, "Maybe they'll love everything about it!" This thought is absurd, of course, for many reasons.

First - I WANT criticism to be tough. Not harsh or cruel, of course, but tough. I want someone to point out the flaws. I cannot eradicate those flaws until I know they exist.

Second - No one ever loves everything about anything. Even my very favorite book has flaws, my very favorite movie has at least one goof in it, my very favorite band has a single or two that I feel pretty "meh" about, and my very favorite people in the world even have ... opportunities for improvement.

Third - The people who claim to love absolutely everything about everything ever... are lying. I do not want someone lying to me about my work. How can I possibly know when something is actually good? How will I know when I'm ready, if the only criticism I receive is false?

I won't.

That's the bottom line, and that's why I want people to criticize my work. There are some rules that go along with receiving criticism, though, and I thought I'd share with you my personal rules for being on the receiving end of a critique:

- Always start with a genuine "thank you." Before I respond to anything else, I thank the person for helping me. They spent their time and energy reading my unfinished, unpolished aspiring-book-to-be, and they didn't have to do any of it. That reader deserves my gratitude, even if nothing else on this list applies.

- Never go on the defensive. This is a rule I co-opted from the Writing Excuses team, but it's a really good one. If I read or listen to a critique and spend the whole time saying, "Yeah, but..." then I'm not really listening. It's true that the criticism might be wrong. But it might not be. And in case it's not, I need to keep an open mind and be ready to hear what people are telling me.

- Always let it stew. I don't jump into revisions the day I get notes back. I read the edit letter, let it stew for a day or two. Then I read the inline notes, let them stew for a few more days. Then, and only then, do I start making changes. Once I've had a chance to think, to get rid of the "Well that's obviously wrong because no one understands my art!" feelings, and to brainstorm some possible fixes... that's when I'm ready to revise and incorporate those notes.

- Never dismiss an idea straight off. Some suggestions will be obviously the exact right fixes for the story. Others will be good fodder for brainstorms, but ultimately off-the-mark. And still others will be wildly inappropriate for the story, for me as a writer, or for the world in general. But I will never know which is which until I've really thought them through, and sometimes I won't know until I try to work the changes in.

- Sometimes go back and discuss more changes. There are times that a CP makes suggestions that aren't quite right, but they do highlight problem areas in my manuscript. In those cases, brainstorming sessions can be extremely useful, and it's incredibly helpful to be humble enough to go back to the CP and say, "Hey, you suggested this thing, and it's not going to work for this reason, but can you help me find a different way to fix it?"

A couple more quick parting tips about receiving critiques:

- Never insult your reader.
- Don't jump to incorporate every change.
- Use multiple layers of critique (send out one wave, revise, send to different readers, revise again, etc)
- Don't delete CP/Beta notes. You never know when you'll want those notes, even if you don't incorporate those changes right away.

What other tips do you have for receiving criticism on your work?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to all of you!
I love Easter.  My childhood is filled with so many happy Easter Mornings of spending the morning with my family and feeling the joy and love of my Savior.  Now that I'm grown and have a family of my own I want to ensure my children know the true reason we celebrate Easter.  We still do Easter baskets filled with goodies from the Easter Bunny, but our focus is always on Jesus Christ and His great sacrifice for each of us.  Earlier this month I had asked my youngest why we celebrate Easter.  We had discussed our reasons as a family before and I was curious to see how much of that discussion was absorbed by my wee little 4 year old.  Her response was, "To get candy?"  I had to resist a face-palm.  Since then I have made it a point to talk about Jesus and his Atoning Sacrifice as often as possible. 
 It wasn't until I was out Easter shopping that an idea came to me.  I wanted to start a new tradition with my family, something that would help us to remember Christ, not just on Easter, but through out the year.  It was then I recalled my own teaching words to my children as we had discussed why we celebrate Christ's resurrection and how it related to spring.  I had told my children that the earth and its plants seem to die during the cold winter months, but in spring time they come back to life; in this way spring is symbolic of Christ and His Resurrection.  At this recollection I made a detour from the candy aisle and headed for the gardening section.  I scanned the seed display and chose a packet of flower seeds.  

I then grabbed a big bag of potting soil and headed for the check out, more excited with my seeds and dirt than I was about the candy and goodies piled in my cart.  
The next morning as my girls got ready for school I asked them, yet again, why we celebrate Easter.  This time both my girls responded by telling me the same things I had tried to instill in them in all our previous discussions.  My heart swelled a little, and I was grateful my words were finally sticking.  My girls were so excited when I told them about the seeds and how we would plant them the day before Easter and watch for the little flowers to grow and bloom.  I told them that these flowers would be a reminder to us all year about how Jesus, like the flowers in spring, came back to life.  

So yesterday we planted out tiny seeds.

So let's remember why we celebrate, and always remember Him, Jesus Christ our Savior.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Choose to Love

By Lacey Gunter

One the eve of Easter there are many wonderful messages I could share. But what seems to be sticking in my mind is the grandness of Charity.

I recently finished a beautiful middle grade novel, Wonder, by R. J. Palacio. It is a book about a boy with severe facial abnormalities and his experience attending school for the first time in 5th grade. It compels the reader to truly examine how we treat others who are quite different from we are and challenges them to choose kindness over fear, anger or ridicule. One of the quotes from the book  really stuck with me today.
"If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary - the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God."
It got me thinking how every one of us can be a reflection of God and Christ.Christ's gift to us was an infinite atonement, a gift that could only be born of an infinite love. A love that big requires many hands to carry and distribute. God needs us to be those hands. When we carry that love out to the world, we are reflecting God and Christ's face, hands and heart. By so doing, we carry more than love out to the world. We start to carry souls, souls who are troubled and hurting. We lift them towards Heaven and put them one step closer to the Healer of Souls.

As we ponder the utterly amazing gift of the atonement, in this beautiful Easter season, I want to be one of those hands that carries his love.  I also challenge each of you to carry that love.  Let it be your gift to Christ and the rest of the world. Choose to love.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Cross


Today is Good Friday.

As a kid, I thought this was a horrible name for the day Christ suffered and died.  As an adult, I came to the deeper understanding that it's a good day for me, as Christ's sacrifice set me free.  Free from my flawed, selfish heart that, left on its own, takes me on a path of arrogance and self-service.  A heart that would deceive me daily, seducing me to believe I am my own god.

So, today is a good day for the human race.  We can all be free, if we so choose.

The cross can be a sign of unspeakable torture.  It can also be a symbol of victory, because that crude structure of planked wood did not keep the Lord down.  It was not the final word.  The story ends with an empty tomb, wrappings left behind, Christ crushing sin and the grave.

For me, the Easter story is wrapped up in a warped little wooden cross that was carved by a friend of my daughter's.

It's designed to fit in the fingers of my hand.

It's a simple prayer tool that is lightweight and smooth.  I went to sleep holding it last night, praying about all kinds of things.  It reminds of Christ's sacrifice, His victory, His sovereignty, my freedom, my love for Him, His love for me, and every other blessing/worry in my life.

Sometimes I grip it harder than others.

It still fits. 

Scripture tells us that God holds us in the palm of His (mighty) hand.  I like thinking I'm holding my faith in all its confusion and wonder and gratitude in mine.

I love this little cross.  By itself, it looks like it's dancing, head to the side, arms flung wide.  This reminds me that someday we will dancing on streets of gold. 

My prayer for everyone this weekend is that Christ will reveal Himself to you in a new way, that your faith will be renewed, or ignited for the first time.  Easter is a day of rejoicing, because it reminds us the suffering is not the end of the story.

Do you have any tools that help you pray/grow closer to God?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Talent Shows

-a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

The Voice (2011) Poster
Image from IMDB.com
One of my guilty pleasures is occasionally watching those singing talent shows—you know, American Idol, The Voice. There’s something appealing about this idea of being suddenly “discovered” and having the ultimate in exposure opportunities. I’m sure it’s appealing partially because, of course, that is many an author’s dream too. You work so hard, so hard, and then suddenly POW! you are discovered, mentored by the big wigs, and suddenly someone wants to publish you and sell your books in an international arena.

I’ve often thought it’s a crying shame that writing doesn’t exactly lend itself to reality talent shows. Imagine, for a moment, that you get on stage and . . . type for five hours. The audience is hushed, the tension fills the room. And then you read it out loud! Ooh, aah. Judges stand and applaud. The crowd goes wild. Um, no.

This week, my ward is hosting a talent show. We’re going to have the usual performances—singing, musical instruments, whatnot.* But we’ll also have displays of various other talents, like sewing and jewelry making and painting and . . . wait for it . . . writing! And the proverbial icing on the cake: refreshments provided by talented cooks in the ward (win!). So I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, and finally I can show off a talent! (Why do I feel this need to show off? I don’t particularly, but I still think it will be fun. Plus, occasionally, don’t we all like a little external validation?)

Then I started thinking about other talents that still don’t show up well, even in a talent show as nifty as this one is going to be. Take my hubby, for instance. He is an epic spreadsheet producer. Seriously, he crunches numbers like . . . like . . . PacMan?****** I don’t know, like something that crunches really well. And he turns them into pretty spreadsheets. Ah, it makes my heart flutter with adoration. He is also amazing when it comes to children. We can go to a park or to church, and kids just come to him. Because he is fun and playful and makes them feel loved and important and just plain good. That, my friends, is a talent.

I have not, however, suggested that he stand up on stage and play with children, because that would just be . . . weird.

So it turns out there are still plenty of amazing talents in the world that are simply never going to make it into a show. I feel like this is probably good to remember when we get lessons in Relief Society about magnifying our talents. It’s not just piano lessons and sewing machines, ladies. If you have the visual creativity of a 2x4, you’ve still got talents.

In the end, I suppose (even though I’m still waiting for that awesome writer reality show), what matters more than being able to show off your talents is putting them to good use.

* I wish I had gotten good at contact juggling—because, come on, who doesn’t want to see contact juggling at a ward talent show? But that would have required more practice than I ever put in (and yes, I actually did practice for a while). So, alas, I have no skill at it.**
** If you don’t know what contact juggling is, think David Bowie in Labyrinth. (Although I’ve just learned it wasn’t really David Bowie doing it; it was this other cool dude. Sigh. Childhood illusions shattered. However, now made up for by having totally geeked out watching said other cool dude on youtube.)***
*** If you haven’t seen Labyrinth, shame on you.****
**** Just kidding.*****
***** Mostly.
****** When I informed the hubby that I was comparing him to PacMan, he said: 1. “Because I am constantly eating cereal?” 2. “Because I am round and pasty?” 3. “Because I have a love/hate relationship with the undead?” Boy, he is a terrible guesser.


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