Saturday, May 27, 2017

Wasted Fruit

by Jewel Leann Williams

I have a hard-working peach tree in my backyard. It isn’t big enough for the kids to climb in yet, and it is still producing smallish, but oh-so-sweet fruit. Every year when it blooms, my heart gets happy and I start anticipating juicy heaven.

All the birds in Arizona start spreading get the word, too.

Now there are nets you can put up to keep the birds out of the tree and away from most of the fruit. Our tree is too big now. I’ve seen the shiny hanging deterrents. My brother suggested hanging plastic balls that resembled the fruit to try and help them lose interest in our fruit. The thing is, every year we get very busy in the spring and don’t ever do all those things to bird-proof.

Usually, the birds exact their “bird tax” and there is plenty left for us. Not so much this year. This is what it looked like:
Can you see all of the peaches in various states of bird-eaten desiccation?
This picture, you can't see that all of those peaches are bird-pecked, or completely eaten right on the branch--all of the usable peaches have already been picked from this part. 

All that fruit, ruined. Wasted. It's maddening.

There are a few things go we could have done to prevent this. They don’t matter at this point, and the reasons why we didn’t don’t matter either. When I look at my tree, and all of those peaches that could have blessed my family, my friends, my tastebuds.... the reasons don't matter.

We will either learn from this and take the necessary steps to prevent it next year, or we won’t and will lament the pillaging around May 2018 too.

How often is it like this in life? We have so many blessing--some are things that we've worked hard for, others are just things that Heavenly Father has ordained for our good, waiting there for the taking.

We also have the "birds" of our lives--people, circumstances, whatever--that hover around, waiting for opportunities to ruin those blessings or at least prevent us from accessing them.

There are steps we can take to prevent this from happening, fully or partially depending on the circumstance. We understand that life, just by its nature, is going to ruin some of our "fruit," but whether or not needless waste occurs is largely up to our efforts.

Then, knowing that without action on our part, our blessings will be squandered, we do--nothing. Or not enough. Or not the right things.

What it is that we need to do is different for everyone, every circumstance. The reasons why we don't do what we know we should--those reasons don't matter when you come to a realization of what could have been had you only been diligent.

Just a couple of months ago, President Thomas S. Monson gave us this challenge with a promise of blessings:

My dear associates in the work of the Lord, I implore each of us to prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon each day. As we do so, we will be in a position to hear the voice of the Spirit, to resist temptation, to overcome doubt and fear, and to receive heaven’s help in our lives. 

What amazing blessings we are being promised here:

  • We will be in a position to hear the voice of the Spirit
  • We will be able to resist temptation
  • We can overcome doubt and fear
  • We can receive heaven's help in our lives
What do we need to do to safeguard that fruit?  Prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon each day. 

If we want those blessings, we have to do that work. If we don't, we will see those blessings squandered, hanging on the tree waiting for us, but dried up with the waiting. 

A few other blessings (and what we need to do to "obtain the fruit") from this last General Conference:

  • “Your power to do good as a group of God’s daughters will depend, to a great degree on the unity and love that exist among you.” -Henry B. Eyring

  • The Lord promises to direct our paths, but for Him to do that, we have to walk, trusting that he knows the way.” -L. Whitney Clayton

  • My beloved friends, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if we ever find ourselves living in fear or anxiety, or if we ever find that our own words, attitudes, or actions are causing fear in others, I pray with all the strength of my soul that we may become liberated from this fear by the divinely appointed antidote to fear: the pure love of Christ, for “perfect love casteth out fear.” --President Dieter L. Uchtdorf

  • One more, also from President Uchtdorf: 
  • Our service—whether great or small—refines our spirits, opens the windows of heaven, and releases God’s blessings not only upon those we serve but upon us as well. When we reach out to others, we can know with humble confidence that God acknowledges our service with approval and approbation. He smiles upon us as we offer these heartfelt acts of compassion, especially acts that are unseen and unnoticed by others. Each time we give of ourselves to others, we take a step closer to becoming good and true disciples of the One who gave His all for us: our Savior.

    By the way, although I am approaching this from a spiritual point of view, we can extrapolate my poor wasted fruit saga to writing also.  How many times could we reap some benefits, if we would just take action? We can always improve our craft, look for opportunities to expand our writing horizons, network, mentor, critique, accept critiques.... we never know what blessings may arise from taking action--or what fruit we are letting rot on the tree by standing still.

    Wednesday, May 17, 2017

    Book Review: Seeking Mansfield, by Kate Watson

    -a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

    Yesterday was the debut of our lovely alumna Katy White's (aka Kate Watson) novel Seeking Mansfield!

    Let's start this review by talking about the things that I did today. First of all, I am a super responsible adult type of human. So I definitely did all of the adulty sorts of things I was supposed to. I definitely didn't spend pretty much the whole day shooing my children outside to play so I could read. I definitely didn't make hot dogs for lunch because it was super fast and then I could go back to reading. I totally didn't let the kids watch more TV than usual so I could finish the book.

    Nope. I'm way more responsible than that.

    But since I did manage to read the book while also being a fabulous parent and adult, I am now equipped to review it. Hooray!

    Star rating: 4/5. I really enjoyed it!

    Summary: In this modern YA adaptation of Mansfield Park, Finley Price is an aspiring teen director with a crappy past and an overdeveloped sense of what she owes to her godparents, the Bertrams. Movie stat heartthrob Harlan Crawford and his sister move in next door, and Finley starts having to face all sorts of difficult things, including love.

    What I liked: It's been years, admittedly, since I read Mansfield Park, and I think I would have a lot more compassion for Fanny Price than I used to. But when I read it, I just found her to be too much of a doormat. Finley Price is a wonderful modern remake of this character, giving a lot more depth to who she is and how she ended up this way. Also, I found her just much more likable.

    The alternating perspectives were fun, and I really loved Oliver. Again, more than the original. Oliver was far less clueless than his Austen counterpart. It's kind of refreshing to read boys who aren't complete idiots and yet are subject to still being teenagers.

    I also appreciated watching Finley and Oliver talk themselves into things that didn't make sense or fit them. It felt very real--"I'm going to do this thing because it really seems like the sort of thing I should want to do, even though I don't want to." Sigh.

    Really, I enjoyed the book immensely. It was a fun read that modernized a character that lots of modern readers don't like. It also largely avoided the thing I hated most about the 1999 movie adaptation (we'll get to that below).

    What didn't work for me: I think I'm a bit like the original Fanny in that I sometimes have a hard time accepting lots of shades of gray in people. So, for example, I didn't like that Finley really didn't seem bothered enough by Emma's behavior. I guess maybe I would have preferred to see Emma be more like the original Mary Crawford, very clearly a pretty awful person.

    Other considerations: The 1999 adaptation I referenced above has Fanny Price tell Henry Crawford she's going to marry him (even though she doesn't want to and has been morally repulsed by him all along). Then, when she realizes she simply can't and tells him so, he sleeps with someone else. Essentially the narrative is that if she simply hadn't given in, he wouldn't have been a sleazebag. (Austen fans, correct me if I'm wrong here, but my recollection is that the original Fanny continually refused Henry, despite feeling awful about it, because she had a seriously awesome moral backbone.) It was awful and pretty much the worst narrative decision in the film (in my less-than-humble opinion). Watson's Finley is in a different situation in Seeking Mansfield, and while I don't admire some of her taste in boys, I think she puts the woman-blaming narrative of cheating where it belongs--in the trash.

    Clean rating: Yay for a teen romance that I would consider quite clean. It's got a little bit of swearing (what I call the "lesser swear words"), a couple OMGs (which is pretty much my least favorite acronym ever, I admit), and I think one mention of sex? There's also thematic content--alcoholism, abuse, PTSD, and such, so it's not for younger readers, but it's also not dark.

    You should go pick it up and then be a completely responsible adult, like me, and not binge read it all day. Like me.

    Saturday, May 13, 2017

    The Pain in the Neck, or What I Learned This Week

    by Jewel Leann Williams

    Quick story:

    This week my sweet eleven-year-old son managed to roll out of his top bunk in his sleep, and landed on the six-inch-tall pile of dirty clothes on the floor but tweaked his neck. He spent the whole week miserable. I took him to Urgent Care just to make sure it wasn't anything more than a "tweak" and thankfully, that was affirmed by the doctor. She gave us some really awesome gel to use and taught him some great stretches. She told us that, even though it really hurts to do so, the best way to permanently relieve the pain is by gently stretching the area, and instead of holding everything as still as possible, to move it as much as possible. We left the office and I continued for the next few days to remind my son to move his head and neck, to do stretches, etc.
    Two days later, after a night wherein the adorable four-year-old princess invaded our bed, I found myself with an inexplicable but excruciating pain in my upper back--one of those knots underneath the shoulder blade that is about impossible to get to. I commandeered some of the really awesome gel, and the husband gave me as much of a massage in that area as possible. I resigned myself to not doing the things I had planned, because how was I going to scrub two showers when I couldn't lift my arm?

    The doctor's words came back to me:  no matter how much it hurts, the best thing for you to do at this point is to move it. So, I did. At first I was glad that no one was in the room with me, because I swore a little more than a little and was making this whining noise that was quite unbecoming.  Anyway, after a while, I did find that the pain lessened enough for me to start my chores (scrubbing the kids' shower was imperative, it's their job but it had been done poorly or not at all for long enough that it... well, you get the picture).  After about an hour of scrubbing (I'm not exaggerating, and I was only half done--it was bad) I realized that it didn't hurt at all anymore. Moving really, really helped!

    My point in this isn't to wallow in the pity of how terrible my kids' shower was (it was really, really bad. I soaked it in cleaner, scrubbed it, and then soaked and scrubbed it again). It's not even to whine about the pain or the fact that when my little girl sneaks into bed with us, I always feel like I was run over by a train the next day.  While I was contemplating the fact that I would have not had the "move it and it will help" advice fresh on my mind had I not just been dealing with muscle pain for my boy, the Spirit whispered to me that this is an analogy for life in general.

    We have trials, and they teach us things. They make us stronger. They make us more empathetic when other people go through the same things. They also give us knowledge that we can share with others who may find themselves in similar circumstances. In short, our trials are a gold mine if we can look beyond the pain and see them as learning--and teaching--experiences.

    After all, the Savior himself suffered in Gethsemane to personally know how to succor us. In Alma 7, it explains that Jesus took upon himself the pains and afflictions of his people, that is, all of us, so that he would know according to the flesh how to succor his people. He could have known, in His head, by the Spirit, how to provide comfort. But there is something to be said for feeling the same pains--he wanted to physically know--according to the flesh--how our infirmities and trials make us feel so that he could truly know how to provide comfort and assistance to us. What love our Savior has for us!

    This isn't a new way of looking at trials for me; but it is a good reminder that I needed this week.

    In closing, I'd invite you to read Alma 7 for one of the most beautiful descriptions of our Savior's mission and Atonement.  And remember, our trials are there for a reason--they are our lessons in this school of life.

    Saturday, May 6, 2017

    Some Fun Writing Exercises

    By Lacey Gunter

    Published authors often say if you want a successful writing career you should be writing consistently, perhaps even daily. Sometimes though you get stumped in your current WIP and you don't really know what to write.  I have already discussed ways to try get moving on your WIP again here and here.  Sometimes though, what you really need is just a little break from your manuscript.  when this happens writing exercises are a great way to keep you writing and maybe even generate a few new ideas. Here are a few writing exercises you might want to try next time you need a break, or even just for fun.

    1. I call this one Beta Reader Blitz: Have you ever had a beta reader who didn't really 'get' your manuscript and insisted you should change it to sound more like a different genre (like maybe the genre they love writing in). Well just for fun or practice, do just that. Take you current manuscript, or even a much loved book and try and tweak it to fit a different genre and write a synopsis for it or rewrite one of the chapters.

    2. This one I call Sensational Reporting: Go to your favorite news website and find a report on a situation or event that is just developing. It's best if you find an article where some important aspect of the story has not yet been discovered or reported on.  Then write a new article filling in those details or explaining the event or situation using you imagination. It can be realistic or completely farcical, just have fun with it.

    3.This one is the opposite of a modern remake: Take a modern day story, like something that has happened in real life in the past 5 years, or a story that takes place in modern or future times and try to remake to fit in a different era in history, in particular, a past era.  Write a synopsis for the story or a chapter.

    4. This one can be funny or romantic or perhaps even a horror: Take a much loved female character from one story and a popular male character from another story and write about the two going on a date.

    Or come up with some writing exercises of your own. Either way, have fun and just keep writing.

    Wednesday, May 3, 2017

    Afghans or stuffed toys

     When I first learned to crochet as a kid, I thought that serious crocheters must make afghans or tablecloths or wall hangings--big, grand things. I didn't start with big stuff, but I felt like I was working towards that.

    Fast forward many years and I've gotten a few afghans under my belt, but I start to realize I don't really like making afghans. They're big and heavy and take too much time and yarn. But I really like making stuffed animals. They're cute and little and fun to give as gifts, and I can finish them in under ten hours.

    I used to think that the only thing for me to write was novels. Anything else was sort of just a stop on the way to novels. But this past year I've dealt in short fiction a lot, and I've started to realize it's fun! I enjoy it. It's easier to experiment with because you can try and fail without writing 50,000 or more words before your realize it's not working. There are places you can submit short fiction too, which just makes it more fun!

    Both afghans and stuffed toys are valid crochet projects. Both novels and short stories are great in writing. Sometimes you just need variety. So if you're feeling burned out on your current type of project, try something new! It might turn out that you like making stuffed toys?


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