Friday, December 19, 2014

The Christmas Raven

Once upon a midnight cheery, while I waited weak and weary,
As I waited by the fireplace as I’d done on Christmases before.
While I nodded nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As a reindeer gently rapping, rapping atop the highest floor.
I whispered quietly:  “It’s him!”
Or perhaps I screamed it like a wild boar.  Time to get my gifts galore.

Ah, distinctly I remember, ‘twas the 24th of December,
And I had just sent several letters saying I’d been good the year before.
Eagerly I’d wished the morrow, no more would I have to sorrow,
For I had wished the perfect gift that no one else had wished before.
Toys R’ Us had many choices, I could surely not ignore.
So, I requested the entire store.

Filled with wonderful elation, waiting with anticipation,
By the fireplace until I heard a knock upon the door.
[Knock, knock, knock]
That was odd I thought, confused.  Why would Santa use the door?
Right, I recalled.  This thing (fireplace) is fake, and simply set up for décor.
In fact, it plugs into the floor.

Perhaps if I’d been slightly stronger, I’d have waited slightly longer,
But I wanted my gifts right now!  So, I ran to reach the door.
Once I had stepped foot inside, then I would offer him a bribe,
And stand and watch as he supplied the many gifts I’d humbly asked before.
Here I opened wide the door.
Darkness there, and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my…
[scream] (Santa is standing inside by the tree)
“Holy snickerdoodle!”
I said, as I lay prostrate on the floor.
“Couldn’t you have just waited outside by the front door?”

“No matter”, said I. 
“I won’t keep you long, just leave the gifts and hum a song,
For I know you have a very long and busy night in store.”
(Santa pulls out a single, unmodern gift and says…)
“Less is more.”

“Ummm,”  I said.  “I disagree.”
Trying not to let him see, that what I wanted most for me,
Wasn’t toys from the first world war.
I did not want one toy, thought I,
I wanted the entire store!
I argued back- “More…is more.”

Then the Santa condescending, his lame and pithy gift rescinding,
Took whate’er that stupid thing was, and dropped some coal onto the floor.
(Santa) “You’re no longer on the nice list, and this present you will soon miss,
Because coal…is stupid!”

Not only had he crushed my dreams, he ruined the whole rhyming scheme!
And his cold, judgmental gleam, did cause a rage ne’er known before.
Time to even up the score.
“You will give me what I’ve asked for, all the toys in the toy store,
Or you will spend this Christmas Eve, bound and tethered on my floor!”

Then back towards the entrance turning, all my soul within me burning,
My adrenaline was churning as I dead-bolted the door.
Sadly it had come to this. [gun cocks]
Getting gifts was such a chore.
“Empty the bag onto the floor!”

 “How dare you dare to threaten me, for I am Santa and you’ll see,
I can’t be pressed to giving better gifts when you want more.
You little children need to learn, that true respect is something earned.”
“Quiet, wretch!  It’s now my turn.”

I fired my Red Rider (BB gun) into the floor [gunshot] and overhead [gunshot]
So I’d seem hardcore.
Quoth the reindeer: [Sound of dying reindeer] Which is reindeer for
‘Ow, you shot me.’
Blitzen would be flying: Nevermore.

The fearful fat man then complied, emptying contents as he cried.
Now old St. Nick was not as smug as he appeared to be before.
But then I saw to my chagrin, the bag had little else therein,
And I cried-  “What fiendish sin!  The toys; why are there not more?”
(Santa) “The North Pole, sadly, all has melted, and my toy shop sank offshore.

We should have listened to Al Gore.”

I am no big fan of Al Gore or of the global warming alarmists out there.  But I do like a good poem now and then; and, I must give proper credit to the funny writers and actors over at the Studio C television show for this hilarious skit.

With regard to all of us improving our universe of writing, I offer a holiday thought: 'Reinventing the wheel' is not a prerequisite for becoming a successful author.  As I've demonstrated, the fine folks at Studio C simply took a familiar and popular holiday story and merged it with another equally familiar and popular poem and... Ta da!

The point is, as we search for ideas and themes to write upon, we might take a step back and see all of the existing writing that we might modify, add to, gussy up, or tone down (copyrights, notwithstanding).  For instance, what's the back story behind the dwarves from Snow White?  What happened to Belle and the Beast after they were grandparents?  You get the idea.

Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year!  May 2015 become our year to take giant strides forward in our writing and authorship.  May the 'Top 10' list be ever in your favor.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Reasons My Kid is Crying...and How that Applies to Life

by Katy White

A few days ago, this happened:

That's a picture of my daughter sobbing on the ground for her milk. Which is also on the ground. Less than a foot from her.

 When I asked her what she wanted, she said, "Milk." When I asked her to grab her milk, she said, "Momma do it." I explained to her that she was closer, that she was capable, that the milk was right in front of her, etc. She didn't care. It was Momma or nothing. 

I'm a very rational person and, resultantly, have a tendency to value reason over emotion. So I found this entire display beyond amusing, to the point that I pulled out my phone and recorded it, with me chuckling in the background. During the video, I asked her again what she wanted and tried to help her see how she could get what she wanted. But as I was doing that, the strangest feeling came over me that she didn't need a lesson, she needed love. At that moment, she looked up at me and held out her arms for me to pick her up, and that's exactly what I did.

She gave me a long hug, and I reveled in it for that tender moment. When she stopped crying, I asked her if she wanted her milk, and she nodded. I asked her if we could get the milk together, and she nodded again. I leaned over and, still in my arms, she reached down, scooped up the milk, and started drinking it. 

Soon after this incident occurred, the words of Jeffrey R. Holland came to mind, where he implored us to:

...cease withholding our means because we see the poor as having brought their misery upon themselves. Perhaps some have created their own difficulties, but don’t the rest of us do exactly the same thing? Isn’t that why this compassionate ruler asks, “Are we not all beggars?”11 Don’t we all cry out for help and hope and answers to prayers? Don’t we all beg for forgiveness for mistakes we have made and troubles we have caused? Don’t we all implore that grace will compensate for our weaknesses, that mercy will triumph over justice at least in our case?

It's easy to look at people's problems and think of a dozen ways they could fix them, if they would just try. But sometimes, people don't need a solution, they need a shoulder to cry on. They need to know they're not alone. They need to know that somewhere, someone is willing to get in the trenches and fight alongside them. They need to know that, however capable they are of getting the milk themselves, Momma is willing to help sometimes, too.

I hope the next time I see that need, I'll recognize it a little more readily.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Making Christmas Presents a Bit Special

by Anna Jones Buttimore

This post probably comes several months too late, but I've been thinking about ways to make Christmas gift shopping a little more special, a little more in-keeping with the season, a little less expensive and commercialise. In short, a little better.

Christmas for a Dollar
Two years ago my family did a £1 Christmas. Every gift for an adult had to cost £1 (about $1.50) or less. I was a little nervous going into it, but in fact it was wonderful. We all got very creative, and the gifts were truly thoughtful and appreciated. For example, my Dad got a pair of touch-screen gloves which I had bought from the local pound shop. He'd never come across them before, but since he has an iPhone, they were a really useful gift. For my mother-in-law I bought a make-your-own calendar (also from the local pound shop) and personalised it but putting in family photos. For my sister-in-law's family I made a cross-stitch family tree, with the materials (Aida and some thread I already had in my collction) coming to under £1. My sister loves books, so I gave her a £1 Amazon voucher. It's not much, but it's still enough to download an ebook or an MP3 track. I received some lovely gifts too - the delicious home-made marmalade was my favourite. And we saved so much money!

Secret Santa
A family I know has an arrangement whereby rather than each adult buying a gift for every other family member, they draw names from a hat and each do a "Secret Santa" for just one other person. In this family they set a budget of £50 (but you could choose your own) and the secret Santa can buy one present, or many smaller presents, up to that value for just this one person.

Local Shops only
The big retailers like Amazon and toy shops like Toys R Us can afford to do great deals at this time of year because of their purchasing power, but it is the little local shops which suffer. Many of them have a great service to offer, and lots of original and eclectic gift ideas, and they need our support. Why not decide one year only to shop for Christmas gifts in family-run smaller stores, and see what treasures you can find there while supporting a community business?

Support an Author
Why not do a "books only" Christmas one year? Again, you might want to exclude children from this one, but you could agree with your family only to buy books for each other. Not only does a book give many hours of entertainment and pleasure, but you could introduce your loved ones to a new series, author or genre. Books are educational, affordable, and you're supporting humble writers like me. Plus, they're so easy to wrap!

So if it's too late this year, why not file away one of these ideas for next Christmas, and make your gift-giving and buying a little different.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Book Signing: Writers as Celebrities

I’m a big fan of the show Castle.  And when Rick Castle has a book signing and he’s autographing everything from his adoring fans’ books to bras, I figure that’s how we should treat authors:  like celebrities. 

(At any rate, that’s how the book signing scenario plays out in my head, assuming I finally put pen to paper and become the Margaret Atwood of my generation….)

Of course, that’s not usually how it goes down, and I'm glad.  Authors—even those that have become household names— are still human beings, after all.  They’re just like us—only more so, if that makes any sense.

Case in point:  I met Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn at a book signing and screening last year.  He was a quiet, unassuming man standing in a movie theatre lobby and chowing down on a burger and fries—the guy had won both a Hugo and a Nebula, and seemed to be on a first-name basis with Christopher Lee (yeah, that would be the guy who played Saruman, for those of you who aren’t drinking the LOTR Kool Aid yet), and there he was, just hanging out. That moment of panic that hits you right before you meet someone famous welled up just briefly as I gave him my book to sign:

(Don’t be cliché. Don’t be cliché.)

“Hey!  I loved The Last Unicorn.”

(Cliché. Idiot….)

Peter S. Beagle.  You should go out and read The Last Unicorn.  And then Two Hearts.  Seriously.

He smiled kindly.  I tried again.  “So I’m an English teacher.  Why do you think fantasy doesn’t get taken seriously as a genre in schools?  I mean, I can’t get my boys to take their heads out of Game of Thrones for five minutes, and we’re expecting them to read Dickens….”

This time he lit up, and we had a lovely 10-minute conversation about his parents (who were also teachers), about George (as in R. Martin, with whom he also apparently hobnobs), about Communism and Virgil (oh, man, does this guy have stories!)

I wouldn’t have stopped talking if my sister hadn’t nudged me in the ribs to point out the fact that there was a long line of irritated-looking fans with books in hand behind me.  

Let 'em wait. 

That’s why I love the book signing as a “celebrity” event:  it represents that personal connection that expands from the page to real-life and reminds us of what is universal about the whole experience we call literature.

On a side note, when I do write something brilliant instead of attempting to teach teenagers how to string together two coherent sentences, I promise to engage in scintillating conversation with each and every one of you, my adoring fans, and sign whatever books or appendages decency may dictate in the name of literature.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Change your life!!

"Today I'm going to give a talk on...."

Ha ha.  These are the typical words that we usually hear from our younger versions, and was my son yesterday in Primary.  You have to understand that he had to stick to the script because he struggles with anxiety that stems from ADHD.  I was so proud of him for being willing to get up and give a talk to begin with.  It's the first time in a long time that he has been willing to do it.  Right before though, he started to get apprehensive and have second thoughts.  I assured him that all he had to do was read straight from what we had written down, and that I knew that he could do it.  Then the primary secretary came up to him and told him that she was proud of him and knew he could do it.  I could tell that our reassurance helped him a lot.  When we got into the primary room and sat down, his teacher walked by and said hi to Joey.  She needed to leave but as soon as he told her he was giving a talk, she said she would stay a little longer to hear him.

His talk was short and sweet, and I couldn't have been more proud of him.  He was trying to conquer!  As I thought about it later, I realized the thing that gave him the most strength.  It was all of the positive affirmations that he received before and after he gave his talk!

I'm currently reading an incredible book called Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod.  He emphasizes over and over what I have read so many times from other self improvement books; the power and miracle of positive affirmations!  Have you ever tried this?  You feel incredibly silly at first, but I'm telling you, the more that you use your affirmations every day, you will notice how much of a difference it makes!  You want to wake up every day and be excited to live your life!  We are bombarded every day with so much negative reinforcements, that we have to counteract them if we truly want to be happy.

I love these two videos that I came across;
A Message to All Men
A Message to All Women

I play it for my kids before they go to school in the mornings, because I have noticed that when I do, they have a better day, and come home in a better mood!  I love how he is powerfully affirming messages that motivate, lift and send a message that we are so much more than what we think!  That we can do so much more!

Here's an example from Hal Elrod's book, (refer to of an affirmation;

"FIRST: I am just as worthy, deserving, and capable of achieving extraordinary levels of success and all of my goals as any other person on earth, and that the only thing that separates me from those at the top is my level of commitment.  So, from this moment on, I am 100% committed to becoming the person I need to be—through daily personal development and living with daily discipline—to easily attract, create and sustain the levels of success that I truly want—and deserve—in my life.

SECOND: I know that to do this, I must be willing to stay committed to my goals and doing what’s “right” (as opposed to what’s easy) at a level that I have never been committed before.  I commit to reviewing these AFFIRMATIONS at least once per day.

THIRD: I will no longer settle for less than the levels of success and fulfillment that I am truly capable of, and deserve. In fact, I have a responsibility to live my life to the fullest and achieve my goals in order to set an example for those around me. To create the life I want, I can’t wait for someday—or some year in the future. NOW is my time. 

FOURTH: I fully realize that I can sustain no success unless it is founded in truth and integrity; therefore, I will always keep the well being of others in mind and engage in no activity that is selfish or that does not benefit all whom it affects. In doing so, I will inspire others to help me because of my willingness to help others. I will eliminate hatred, envy, jealousy, selfishness, and cynicism, by developing love for all humanity, because I know that a negative attitude toward others can never bring me success. I will cause others to believe in me because I will believe in them and in myself. 

FIFTH: I will repeat these affirmations aloud once a day, with full faith that it will gradually influence my thoughts and actions so that I will become the self-reliant, successful person that I know I can be. Today and everyday, I choose to create the best day of my life."  -Hal Elrod

This is only an example!  You can make your own affirmations, but I urge you to remember to read them every day faithfully!  By doing this you will see that it not only changes you, but you will start to see changes in your life!! 

I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas, remembering that CHRIST is the reason for the season!  Spread his love and you will have memories to cherish forever!


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Crocheted Chickens and the Art of Receiving

by Becky Porter

A few years ago, not long after my husband was called to be stake president, we were enjoying a
luncheon between our stake's two Sunday sessions of stake conference.  A sweet woman, whom I did not know, found me, excitedly gave me a hug, and started chatting with me.  Then, she gave me a gift bag.

I pulled out a pair of crocheted pot holders shaped like roosters.

She was so excited to tell me all about the work that had gone into them, and how much she loved and appreciated my husband and his counselors.  Her gift was a deeply heartfelt expression of love.
I had no idea what to say as thoughts traveled through my head.  I know I thanked her and hugged her and went back to my lunch.

I am deeply ashamed now by the nature of those thoughts. . .ashamed that my thoughts were more about myself and the decoration of my kitchen than about this sweet lady.

And I can still vividly recall the stinging rebuke I received later that day from my Heavenly Father.  I have rarely felt such a deep sense that I have disappointed Him. I do not like to think about it, but I know it is good to remember and be humbled anew.

We speak much during the Christmas season about the importance of giving and rightly so.  Our Savior is an example of service to others, and I try hard to follow His example and teach my children the pleasure of giving.

However, our Savior is also the greatest example of humble and gracious receiving.  Think of the touching imagery of the woman, a sinner like us all, who anointed his feet with oil and wiped his feet with her hair.  Jesus graciously accepted this service and spoke kind, loving words to her and about her.

Later, in a similar scenario, the Lord taught Peter about receiving.  As Jesus went around the table, washing his apostle's feet, Peter protested.

"Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet.  Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me" (John 13:8).

This scripture has many layers of meaning for me.  One of these is a reminder that as we both give and receive service, we are drawn closer together.  We would have no one to serve if there was no one to receive.  Our hearts are saddened when we offer a gift and it is rejected.  Conversely, wards and families are united as we all take turns in the cycle of service.

"And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another" (Mosiah 18:21).

One of the great tenets of our faith is that of self-reliance.  I can personally attest to the joy that comes as we actively strive to further our education, manage our finances, and take care of ourselves.  But I also know that there is a fine line between self-reliance and pride.  When we go out of our way to make it difficult for others to serve us, we have crossed that line.  When we are unwilling to share our burdens with others, we close ourselves off from that unity we should be honestly seeking. When we are given a gift and we are not gracious in receiving it, we deserve the rebuke of the Lord. 

Heavenly Father blessed us with families, home and visiting teachers, priesthood quorums, and Relief Society; we are meant to utilize these gifts.  We are supposed to turn to our ward family for help, to allow others into our lives and our hearts, to be a part of the cycle of service.  "The Lord had already established the organization needed to bless the poor and needy—priesthood quorums were in place, Relief Societies were organized, and the priesthood of God was on the earth" ("The Strength of Many",  

More importantly, as we learn the art of receiving, we learn better how to apply the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  We cannot accept this glorious gift if we have become so "self-reliant" that we feel no need for the Atonement.  The gift of the Atonement is freely offered, but we must receive it.

"And as many as have received me, to them have I given to become the sons of God; and even so will I to as many as shall believe on my name, for behold, by me redemption cometh, and in me is the law of Moses fulfilled" (3 Nephi 9:17).

I am grateful this Christmas season and all year long for the great gift of my Savior, Jesus Christ, and I strive each day to be better at receiving and applying that gift in my life.

 I am grateful for the lesson I learned from my crocheted chickens.  They now sit in a place of honor on my kitchen cupboards, a constant reminder of the art of receiving.  Each of their stitches lovingly made is a lesson in how to knit my heart in love with those around me as I both give and receive.  Each day they become more precious and beautiful to me.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Blessed Among Women

By Lacey Gunter

I have been reading the four gospels this past month after being challenged to do so before Christmas by my Bishop, the religious leader over our local congregation. It has greatly helped in keeping the focus of Christmas on those things that really matter.

As I have been reading, I have pondered much on Mary and her role as the earthly mother of Jesus. What a truly great honor, but also what a truly sacred responsibility. We do not hear a lot about her in the scriptures, but we do get a few small glimpses of the kind of woman she was.

Her humility, courage and obedience is beautiful and powerful. What an example of womanhood and motherhood for us. An example we so desperately need at this time in history when so many women seem to feel the need to abandon the things that are truly virtuous and lovely about our sex. I hope at some point in the life hereafter I can get to know her and she might call me sister or friend. I hope to be worthy of that salutation.

One of my very favorite songs at Christmas time is Fanz Biebl's Ave Maria. It is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard, very fitting for such a beautiful daughter of God. Here is a link to it being sung by the angelic Pro Musica Girls Choir. I hope it uplifts you and gives you peace during this Christmas season as you ponder the miracle of the birth and life of Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 12, 2014

We are the Icing, not the Cake


I saw the coolest badge on facebook last week.  It read: 

God never commanded us to trust people.
He commanded us to love people
and trust Him.

I read it several times, because it really made me think. As wonderful as people can be, especially our loved ones - it's important to remember they are simply human and at some point will probably disappoint us. 

Not that they mean to or want to.  We all do the best we can with what we know at the time.  But, we're not God.  We're not the Savior.  We can't fix or repair or heal the way God does. We're not equipped to do that, no matter how hard we try.  Our responsibility is to lead people to the great Healer/Director, and let Him complete the work. 

I think we all get off track on this.  In our teen/college years, we look for "the one" we're to marry and build a life with. After children, our heart becomes enmeshed with our newborns.  Friends become "soul mates", and so on.  We often put our hope and dreams in people, instead of God.  

Don't get me wrong, we are to love people and build lives that are connected and committed to others.  But, we need to be careful about what we worship and rely on.  Only God is fully trustworthy.  He alone is unchanging and unflappable.  People are not.  

Understanding this actually improves relationships, because it takes unrealistic pressure off our loved ones.  Other people cannot make or keep us happy.  They can do lovely things for us and love us to the best of their human ability, but we only have true peace when our first commitment is to God and trust in His plan for us.  After that, people are the icing on the cupcake (and we all know how icing sweetens the cake.)

This facebook badge was a good reminder for meIt's unfair to place 'savior' expectations on anyone. They'll always fail, because that's not their job. It's not my job either, to be the end all for anyone else. 

The best way to love people is to exhibit Christ in our own life.  Period.  God will use that to draw hearts to Him (which is what every heart is really seeking, whether it knows it or not.)  While He's orchestrating that, we are truly free to celebrate and enjoy the cupcake. 

I love it when spiritual truths and desserts dovetail. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Infinity Times Infinity

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

When I was little, I would occasionally have this sort of conversation with my older brother:
“I’m faster than you are!”
“Are not.”
“Am too.”
“Not not not!”
“Too too too too too!”
“Not to infinity!”
“Yes to infinity plus one!!”
“Not to infinity times infinity!!!!!”*
And whoever gets infinity times infinity always wins, because of course you just can’t imagine anything bigger than that, right?***

President Uchtdorf recently spoke about the need to be grateful, not just in our happy, blessed times, but also in our difficulties:
It is easy to be grateful for things when life seems to be going our way. But what then of those times when what we wish for seems to be far out of reach?

“Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation? In other words, I’m suggesting that instead of being thankful for things, we focus on being thankful in our circumstances—whatever they may be.” (Ensign, May 2014)
I have pondered this topic many times (mostly recently for a talk in church that I am shamelessly coopting for this blog post) and continue to work through how it is possible to be grateful in any and all circumstances. What can give us the perspective to do this? How can we be grateful when life seems ugly, painful, dark?

My mind turns to the idea of a scale, with our blessings on one side and our trials and tragedies on the other. It is easy, I think, to toss a decent smattering of items onto either side of the scale. I, for example, find myself almost daily grateful for the invention of the microwave. And for indoor plumbing. And for my beautiful family. The list is easy to build. On the other side, I have a tendency toward depression, a fairly pathological fear of driving, divorced parents, yada yada.

So how do these blessings and trials balance out?

There is, of course, no contest—because I haven’t yet added the most important blessings of all, and these blessings are eternal. They are infinite. Eve, one of my personal heroes, points to them when she speaks of the joy that she has in her fall from Eden and her knowledge of God’s plan (Moses 5:10–11). These are the blessings of the Atonement and the Resurrection. They are God’s gifts to us no matter what else is difficult in our mortality. Infinite and eternal, without cost and without price. Added to those infinite gifts is another—eternal families—which requires only our devotion to God.

On the scale of life, we are given infinite blessings, blessings so overwhelming our minds can’t even process them. So even on the worst days, or in the worst of lives, we still find that infinity minus the ten or twenty or thirty trials—well, it’s still infinity. Which is, I think, part of what gives us the grace to cultivate that disposition toward gratitude that President Uchtdorf speaks of.

Because we are blessed, to infinity times infinity. And that always wins.

* Yes, exclamation point haters, I really did need that many exclamation points.**
** (No I didn’t.)
*** Logicians and mathematicians, don’t get all up in arms at me. Just pretend.


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