Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, May 31, 2007

School's Out! Time to Partay!

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Today is the last day of school for my children and to tell you the truth I’m glad. I’m ready for a change of pace—to not have anywhere we absolutely have to be and just kick back and relax. We have a family summer schedule which I love and the kids seem to as well. (Or they’re really good at hiding it). But one of the most fun things about the last day of school (besides deciding which papers and artwork to keep and burning all the rest LOL) is reading the yearbooks. My kids and I sat back and read out loud all the funny things people wrote and I thought I’d include the top ten funny ones. Keep in mind, though, that some of these are from a junior high. Continue reading at your own risk.

10. I’m signing your crack, does it tickle?

9. If I were a dog and you were a flower, I’d lift up my leg and give you a shower.

8. Hard work pays off in the future, but laziness pays off now.

7. Bon Voyage, eat fromage

6. It tickles me pink, it makes me laugh, that you would want my autograph

5. Bam, look at that bacon sizzle

4. If at first you don’t succeed, do it like your mother told you.

3. May your life be like a roll of toilet paper—long and useful

2. When on the ladder of success, don’t let boys look up your dress.

1. If you’re reading this, you must be way bored. Call me.

So to all our blogger readers: Here’s to the start of a great summer.

Or, in yearbook speak:



Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sweet Sixteen

by Stephanie Black

It’s a significant day in our household. Tonight we’ll be lighting sixteen candles on a turtle cheesecake (that’s chocolate, caramel and pecans—no reptiles involved). Sixteen years ago today, my oldest daughter, Amy, was born.

Unfortunately, cake and Happy Birthday to You is about all we’ll have time for tonight. Between a Police Explorer meeting, Mutual and ball practice, we’ll be eating dinner in shifts. I haven’t yet figured out what to have for dinner that would be kind of fun, yet easy and nicely re-heatable. Pizza, probably. (Amy wasn’t terribly keen on my suggestion that I could microwave a hot dog for her. Go figure.) When we get a free evening—probably next week—we’ll take Amy out to dinner to celebrate the big one-six.

In honor of this momentous occasion, Amy is having a party on Saturday. We don't throw a lot of birthday parties. We’re not big party animals around here. We’re not even small party animals ("we" meaning my husband and me. The kids are ready to party whenever). But on Saturday night Amy will be playing the role of Inspector Somebody-or-Other as she and her guests work to solve a murder mystery. The mystery is set on a Bahamian cruise ship, so this is a great opportunity to decorate with the 700 pounds of seashells my children have collected over the years.

Ah, sixteen. My daughter is sixteen. I was pregnant with Amy during my last two semesters at BYU. I graduated in April, and Amy was due May 14th. In our youthful naiveté, my husband and I thought a due date actually meant something. Oh, intellectually we knew babies weren’t necessarily born on that date, but it still seemed . . . significant. The alarm clock had gone off. The timer had pinged. Ding ding! The baby’s finished! But come May 14th, there was no sign of the baby, nor any sign that she was close to arriving. Days passed with still no sign of impending baby and it felt increasingly unreal to imagine that this baby would ever come at all. My husband placed a note in the crib with an arrow and the notation, “Place Baby Here”, but plainly, Amy was quite comfortable where she was. When she was over a week late, we went for a four-mile walk, hoping that might stir up some action. Nothing. Finally at two weeks past the due date, the doctor induced her, and Amy made her reluctant debut on May 30th. Due dates, my friends, are a hoax, a fact I didn’t fully understand until subsequent pregnancies.

And now, sixteen years have passed. That darling little baby has grown into a beautiful young woman who is nearly as tall as I am and whose shoes I can borrow. Happy sixteenth birthday, Amy! We love you! Now go clean your room.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What I Did, and Did Not Do, Over Memorial Day Weekend

by Robison Wells

As I mentioned last year, my wife's family takes Memorial Day to all kinds of crazy extremes. For example, they actually honor those who have died, rather than go boating.

However, they stretch this traditional cemetary hopping into a three-day event. And, since my wife is aware of my general dislike of family parties (because that's what these festivities really are--they were actually planning on bringing pizza to the my father-in-law's grave!), and since my wife is very tolerant about my familial intolerance, I didn't have to go.

Saturday morning, I took Sammy (almost two years old) up to Heber City to ride on Thomas The Tank Engine. I've raised him to love trains, and one of the few words he can say is "choo-choo". One thing I've noticed about two year olds, though, is that the fun of the event is directly proportional to the amount of screaming involved--the more fun, the more angry shrieking.

On Saturday, there was a big tent where kids could play with Thomas toys, but when it came time to actually ride the train we had to leave the toys behind--and there was much screaming. And when we got on the train, it was just so dang cool that Sammy had to run around--but he couldn't because there were a jillion people and it was, you know, a moving train. So, I held him on the bench, and he screamed. And then we took him to see the petting zoo, and the little baby goats freaked him right the heck out. I mean, these were baby goats, little tiny things, and Sammy screamed like it was Beelzebub himself, in baby goat form. Fortunately, when we got back in the car I had a toy Thomas The Tank Engine for Sammy and a bag full of cookies. All was forgiven.

One thing I didn't do on Saturday was go to the grand opening of Ikea. For those of you who don't live in Salt Lake, we finally got our very first Ikea, which appears to be a furniture store of some kind. And, for some reason which no one can explain, the world exploded. Three hundred people camped out for the grand opening; the police blocked streets and handed out special passes to allow nearby residents to access their own driveways; dogs and cats were living together. But, holy crap, it's just furniture, people. You'd think it was the opening day of Pirates of The Carribbean III, which I also did not attend this weekend.

In my long-term quest to understand everything in the world, I googled Ikea to find out just what the big deal is. And the verdict: I still don't know. Supposedly, it's fancy furniture at cheap prices. But I saw the ads, and... blah. Big deal. However, I found the following comical controversies surrounding Ikea:
1) The founder of Ikea was a Swede who was formerly a Nazi. Which, I guess, is dangerous because he's hidden secret Nazi messages from Hitler in his household products. For example: Mein Comforter.
2) Norway's Prime Minister criticized Ikea's illustrated instruction booklets for depicting men only. "Women can assemble furniture just as well as men--better possibly, because their fingers are smaller," he's not quoted as saying. "And my wife is all day with the yak yak yak. I'm the freakin' Prime Minister of Norway--can't she put the credenza together her own dang self!?"

One thing that I did do this weekend was watch the Jazz game, and I felt something akin to what Kerry Blair felt a few weeks ago, when corrupt officials and a morally-deficient NBA predetermined that the Spurs would win. Now, I'm not one to buy into conspiracies (as evidence by my conspiracy-free novels), but someone is in someone else's pocket. My guess, based solely on size, is Jeff Van Gundy is in Tim Duncan's pocket. That fella has some mighty big pockets, I imagine.

Another thing that I did this weekend, while watching the Jazz game and eating brownies, was feel the tremblings of an earthquake. We all felt and heard a big bump, and my friend hopped up from the couch to see if his aging father had taken a spill down the stairs. But he hadn't. This morning the news reported a 2.9 magnitude quake in South Jordan. I think that Mother Nature herself was annoyed by the referees.

One thing I didn't do this weekend, though now I kinda wish that I had--especially if it had been on TV during that worthless ball game--was watch the Miss Universe pageant. Now, I'm not a big pageant fan, but some hilarious quotes emerged from this thing.
1) Miss USA tripped and fell during the evening gown competition, and later Miss Japan, after winning the $250,000 crown, proceeded to drop it.
2) The crazy Swedes--remember Ikea's founder?--dropped out of the competition because they said it didn't "represent the modern woman". What? This coming from the country that gave us the Swedish Bikini Team? I'm so disillusioned.
3) The competition took place in Mexico City, where the fans vascillated between really angry and really flattered. With Miss Japan, they were stony faced until she shouted out "Hola Mexico!", which, despite being really only one Spanish word and one name of a country--and about as nothingly blah as you can get--sent the crowd into patriotic conniptions. Later, they booed Miss USA, and heckled her and America generally, until she whipped out "Buenas noches, Mexico. Muchas gracias!" and they all whooped and hollered and fired their guns into the sky, Pancho Villa style. (Or something like that.)
4) Finally, there were protestors outside the theater, chanting the very catchy, grammatically-questionable slogan "Neither ugly nor beautiful, should a woman be considered an object!" Yeah, I don't get it either.

Anyway, the main thing that I did do this weekend was I wrote books. In fact, in the last three weeks I've written 27,000 words. I'm very pleased with the progress of this current book--it's something completely different from my others. You should see it soon in stores near you. Possibly Ikea.

Monday, May 28, 2007


Thanks, Kerry. I couldn't have said it any better. Today amidst all the bar-b-ques and family activities, let's all take a few minutes to honor the men and women who can't be with their families because they are across the ocean defending our way of life, and those who gave their lives for the freedom we enjoy.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

In Memorium

The Frog and I couldn't let Memorial Day pass without sharing this letter. It was written on Friday by a woman who lost her son in Iraq two years ago. She posted it to an online group of military moms.
As Memorial Day fast approaches, I am caught up in the emotions of celebrating all of our Marines and military, past, present and future for their service and sacrifice for the freedoms we are blessed with in this great nation of ours -- the United States of America. Freedom isn't free we learn; it has been bought and paid for with the blood of young men and women throughout the history of our country.

This is the second Memorial Day without my son Jesse. Some ask how we go on. It is by the Grace of God. I refuse to let my son be remembered by the grief his death caused his mother. Rather, I want him to be remembered for the love, joy and pride his short life gave to me and all who knew him and for his pride in being a Marine serving his country.

So, on this Memorial Day I honor my son and keep safe his memory and the memory of all who have given their lives in service to our country for the freedoms we are blessed with. God Bless America!
Amen. Today and always may God continue to bless Jesse's mom as well as the thousands of other mothers' sons and daughters who have picked up the fight since Jesse's call to duty on high.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Cradle and All

By Sariah S. Wilson

I should probably clarify a little from my last Saturday’s post - I was hardly a perfect child (as my mother will attest) - I was probably a little more like Rob in that I abused the administration’s perception of my perfection to skip classes. Senior year I missed more than I should have, especially once I got accepted to college - which was an unfortunate habit that followed me to BYU. I figure this is why I still have nightmares about skipping classes for an entire semester and then having to take the final. Because it actually happened.

But my shock came from getting caught and getting detention. Not from doing something I shouldn’t have.

Anyway, I’m currently working upstairs in my room trying to get it finished for our baby set-up. I have a special bed for the baby that goes right against my bed without any barrier between us (so essentially three-walled). This way I think the baby get the benefits of co-sleeping without the risks. I’m personally terrified of smothering my baby, and any thoughts of co-sleeping went out the window when I woke up one morning with my eldest child to find him on the very edge of the bed. I don’t know how he got there or what would have happened if I’d pushed against him or rolled at all. I don’t like to think about it. But I do think it’s nice to have the baby right there next to you for the first month for easy access and because of the studies that suggest it helps the baby to remember to breathe when she hears her own parents breathing. I’ve saved my room for last because it is the least fun chore right now.

I’m huge and I’m not sleeping and I’m sick of not having sugar, so all in and all, I am ready for this little girl to make her appearance in the world.

Which should happen a little after 7:30 a.m. (EST) on Tuesday. My doctor wanted to do a C-section last week, but I told him he couldn’t do that to me because he wanted to go in the day after my second son’s birthday. I need more than one day between the birthdays. It’s bad enough that all their birthdays will be in May. So I’ve been living in morbid fear that this baby would decide to come early, just to wrench up all the plans and things that had to be done before she could come.

But fortunately we’re now at a point where even if she did come a day or two early, we’re on the right track for when everyone has scheduled time off. My boys will be staying with the grandparents, which they’re thrilled about (particularly since Grandma has her pool up and running again).

I’m looking forward to my hospital stay. When I meet moms who talk about how much they hated the hospital and how they couldn’t wait to get home, I am truly mystified (in fact, I have become very bummed out at being informed that instead of being able to stay five days as I have in the past, I will only be able to stay three days. Insurance sucks). The hospital is the BEST. I have 24-hour round-the-clock care. Someone brings me all my food. If I want to sleep for the night, the nurses take the baby so I can sleep (which I do take advantage of because it’s my best chance to recuperate from having just had major surgery). It’s like staying in a really clean hotel with room service you don’t have to pay for. Yay for hospitals!

So be thinking of us on Tuesday. C-sections are scary and it always worries me a bit. But I suppose this is the consequence of producing humans who are over 12 pounds at birth. Although, honestly, I don’t think she’s anywhere near that big. I don’t look like a sideshow freak like I did with my first two (people would stop and stare at me because I looked like I was about to give birth to a baby whale).

I’m guessing she’s 9 to 10 pounds. I have no scientific basis for this theory, just a guess. She could shock us all and come out a reasonable 6 pounds or so (but I’m not sure I would know what to do with a baby who didn’t make my arms feel like they were going to break.)

Anyone else want to make a guess on how big this baby will be?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Romper, Stomper, Bomper, BOO!

By Kerry Blair

I must admit I’ve found a few of the posts and comments this week frightening. I never got in trouble in school. I was one of only two people in class on Senior Ditch Day. (Yes, the other was teacher.) Frankly, I was a teacher’s pet worthy of a monogrammed collar and flea dip. I blame Miss Nancy. Robert Fulgham learned everything he needed to know in Kindergarten, lucky guy. I was indoctrinated by Romper Room.

I’m here to tell you that what Night Gallery, Dark Shadows and Twilight Zone were to adults, Romper Room was to us sixties-era preschoolers. I never missed it. In fact, I learned to tell time in the pre-digital clock years (sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages) so I wouldn’t be a minute late turning on the TV. Good Do Bees were never late to Romper Room, and I was so scared of the teacher, Miss Nancy, that I was the undoubtedly the best Do Bee in fifty contiguous states.

The first thing we did each day was stand to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I still put my left hand over my right lung because that’s how I thought Miss Nancy did it. (Turns out televisions and mirrors are not exactly the same technology.) Next we sang the Do Bee Song. Do be a good Do Bee. Don’t be a bad Don’t Bee . . . The lyrics weren’t much and the melody wasn’t catchy, but I sang it fervently. It was during this lesson that my core values formed. Do Bees were turn-takers. Don’t Bee were friend-shakers. (I only sang it; I can’t explain it.) In short, Do Bees are trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.* And Don’t Bees? Well, there simply weren’t any Don’t Bees on Romper Room.

That was Terrifying Toddler Truth Number One: Good Do Bees who went bad went away. I swear. Many days I sat with my pudgy little palms pressed to my cheeks crying, “Be a Good Do Bee!” to Robbie or Jeffy or Johnny, little boys who insisted on taking an extra cookie or stomping around too enthusiastically on their Romper Stompers. (Romper Stompers were yellow plastic buckets with green nylon ropes attached. All the true-blue Do Bees owned at least one pair. I had two.) I almost fainted when a kid sassed Miss Nancy . . . and without raising his hand! Saintly Teacher never scolded, but one side of her lips turned down while the opposite eyebrow rose. I knew what that meant and despaired. Sure enough, after the next commercial Jeffy was gone, replaced without explanation by a Do Bee with no cowlick and better manners. For years I've searched cornfields and studied the backs of milk cartons, hoping for a clue to what happened to all those little boys. Alas, only Miss Nancy knew, and she probably took the secret with her to her grave. (Let's hope that's all she took there!)

As hard as it is to believe, I hated snack time. In the first place, the blessing on the cookies really bugged me. God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. Excuse me, but even a Dumb Bee knows that good and food don’t rhyme. In the second place – and speaking of bugs – my mother served oatmeal cookies with raisins. Everybody knows that raisins are pickled flies, but I ate them anyway. That’s what Do Bees did on Romper Room because if Do Bees didn’t they were Don’t Bees and even home-bound Don’t Bees quailed before the second terrible truth.

Terrifying Toddler Truth Number Two was that you didn’t have to be in the Romper Room itself for Miss Nancy to see you and send you away by remote! I’m not making this up. Miss Nancy possessed heck’s cheap imitation of the urim and thummim. At the close of every show she raised the device, narrowed her eyes, and chanted this incantation: Romper, Stomper, Bomper, Boo! Tell me, tell me, tell me, do! Magic Mirror, tell me today: did all our friends have fun at play? Then began the appalling litany: I see Stephanie. I see Julie. I see . . . By the time she’d said “boo” I’d already scurried for cover under the table or behind the couch. There I crouched with the newspaper and two pillows over my head, praying that Miss Nancy wouldn’t see me, or if she did, wouldn’t discern that I watched Romper Room only out of mortal terror. Every time she’d say “Gary” or “Cheri” or similar near-misses, I’d fall into a paroxysm of panic. That was silly of course. Nobody was safe. Miss Nancy’s last words to us were always: And I see YOU too!

I believed that with all my impressionable, pounding little heart.

As a first school experience, Romper Room affected me profoundly. (“Scarred me for life” is another way of putting it.) I carried Miss Nancy’s code with me to Kindergarten and beyond. While I never actually saw a Don’t Bee disappear from the public school system, I wasn’t willing to take the chance. After all, boys were taken into the principal’s office, weren’t they? Sometimes they were gone for hours at a time, right? What if Miss Nancy and her ilk had advanced from Magic Mirrors to Stepford technology? I wouldn’t it past her, nor could I take the chance.

Although I’m long out of school I’m still a very good Do Bee. I’d like to credit goodly parents or the gospel of Jesus Christ for keeping me on the straight and narrow, but I suspect I owe it all to Miss Nancy. For sure I still raise my hand, drink my milk, and pick up my toys. After all, I can only assume Teacher has retired. What if she's still out there? What if she’s still sitting in a black-and-white Romper Room somewhere, squinting into her Magic Mirror and just waiting for me to finally screw up?

Anybody want to share half my oatmeal cookie . . . just in case?

*You only thought that was Boy Scouts. They probably got the oath from Miss Nancy.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Shock and Awe of it All

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Can I just tell you how shocked and appalled I was at the behavior of some of my fellow bloggers? No? Okay, you got me. I wasn’t really shocked to find out that Rob is a sluffer and Jeff was a prankster. It made their blogs really interesting to read, but alas, it put me in a tough situation.

I was a good student.

I loved high school overall---I loved being a cheerleader, playing on school sports teams, being on the school newspaper, being with my friends and whatever cute boy I liked that week and I loved most of my teachers. School was fun, but I also knew that I wanted to get good grades so I could get into a great university. Which I did. I graduated from high school at seventeen years old and was planning on attending the University of Alberta, but then I got my acceptance letter to BYU, so I headed to Utah. Best decision I ever made. :)

So, my point is, I really didn’t think I could add much to the getting into trouble at school blog, but as I was mulling over my school days, I did remember two incidents in elementary school that could be construed as getting into trouble. In fourth grade, I had a teacher named Mr. Heggie and he did not like it when people talked in his class. His class rule was, if he saw you talking he would count to four and when he said FOUR he would lob his chalk brush at whoever was talking. Well, one day, we were working on a project and I had turned around to talk to my neighbor and didn’t hear Mr. Heggie counting at all until the chalk brush landed on my desk. It scared me to death and I was totally humiliated when everyone laughed. I turned around and put my head down so that no one could see how upset I was. Mr. Heggie came and collected his chalk brush, looked down at me and all he said was, "No talking."

Then, in fifth grade, I got in trouble for looking at a clock. It’s true! The class was boring that day and I couldn’t wait for the bell to ring so I had turned in my desk slightly to look at the clock. Mr. Lee caught me and was so upset he made me stand up, face the clock, and stare at it until the bell rang. In front of the whole class! Then, I had to go to the library during recess and fill out both sides of a foolscap paper with the sentence, "I will not stare at the clock." Yeah, it didn’t make much sense to me either, since my original punishment was to stare at the clock, but whatever. I did it.

Oh, and one time I got sent home with a note to my mother on my report card because I'd tried to check out more than the maximum allowed books from the library.

So there you have my sad tales of woe from school. If the theme had been greatest moments from high school or the teacher that influenced you the most or something I would have had more to work with. Sorry about that, it’s all I had!

But, come to think of it, even though I didn’t get in trouble at school, I did have two claims to fame I could tell you about. In eleventh grade I was sitting in French class, pretending to half-listen to something French while I was copying out the lyrics to Forever by Kenny Loggins (don’t ask) and I sort of felt fuzzy and a little dizzy. It’s hard to explain, but I got up from my desk and went to tell my teacher that I needed to go to the ladies room. She nodded her head and I turned to the door, but everything just went black and I fainted. Unfortunately when I fainted I banged my head on the filing cabinet next to the door and they had to call the ambulance. So there I am, strapped to the gurney, being wheeled past the cafeteria where EVERYONE was eating lunch and when they saw me, they proceeded to line up at the glass windows to watch me be carted away in the ambulance. Probably one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.

My second claim to fame was during exam week. It was right before the Senior Dance (the Canadian equivalent to Prom sort of) and we were all sitting there in silence, writing our exams. All of the sudden, some rock music comes blaring over the intercom which was funny, but it didn’t stop right away either. We heard a commotion in the hallway and teachers started running for the school’s radio room where student DJ’s play music and stuff, but the door was locked. It quickly spread throughout the school that the boy who was taking me to the Senior Dance had locked himself inside the radio room so he could play music for us while we took exams. The students thought it was funny, but as you can imagine, it didn’t go over very well with the principal. All in all, the boy was still able to take me to the dance, so it turned out okay. For me, anyway.

So many fun memories. * big sigh*

Great, now I have Forever by Kenny Loggins playing in my head. *sways and sings along* "Forever in my heart, forever we will be, and even when I’m gone, you’ll be here in me . . ." Wait, is that a French teacher’s voice that I hear? Je ne sais pas. I’m sort of feeling fuzzy and a little dizzy now. Step away from the filing cabinets and someone call the ambulance! Thank goodness I don’t have any cafeterias nearby . . .

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

My School Confessions . . . Such As They Are

by Stephanie Black

Speed blogging is the order of the day today. But it’s just as well that I’m short on time, because I don’t have a heck of a lot to say. Unlike our resident miscreants and reprobates, whose Tales of School Stinkerhood could apparently fill several volumes, I was a well-behaved little student who even—brace yourself—went to class on a regular basis. At least until my freshman year in college—oops, crud, maybe I do have more to say than I thought, but never mind.

I really didn’t like getting in trouble at school. In third grade when Mrs. Nutt sent me out for talking, I sat in the hall and bawled (I’m sure my parents wished I were that traumatized by getting in trouble at home, instead of being endowed with the gift of smart alec-ness).

Here’s an example of how much I didn’t like getting in trouble at school. My junior year in high school, I had some friends who were on the yearbook staff. One day I went with them at lunchtime while they took some pictures for the yearbook. I can’t remember where we went or why I was there, but we were late getting back from lunch, so I was late to math class. I walked into class and explained to the teacher that I’d been out on a yearbook-picture-taking-adventure. He responded that someone had seen me with Dave J. (the guy I was dating). I said yes, Dave J. was there too. Looking very serious and solemn, my teacher said he would need to talk to me after class. It was clear he thought I was lying about the picture thing—that instead of being out on a legitimate yearbook errand (well, it probably wasn’t even semi-legitimate, but I thought it was at the time) I had been hanging out with my boyfriend. I turned beet red, and sat there in my seat in a horrible state of suffering--my teacher thought I was a liar!—until my two grinning yearbook friends walked into the room and all was made clear. The teacher had been party to a practical joke. My friends had beat me to class and asked the teacher to make me think I was in trouble. I’d like to say that a good laugh was had by all, but I was not amused. I did manage to wait until after school before I started bawling, but it was just NOT funny to me.

Moral to the story: Robert and Dave W., you are stinkers, and if you’re reading this blog, send me a check for my therapy bills.

Other moral: 2/3 of the guys I knew in high school were named Dave.

Last moral: Mean Aunt, don't you say a word. I don't have to confess everything and aerobics are still good exercise no matter when you do them.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

It's Hard To Get In Trouble At School If You're Never There

by Robison Wells

We might as well make it a theme week.

I must admit that I have never once been in detention. I rarely acted up in high school because I was never there to act up. School was for losers and communists and, starting my sophomore year, I skipped a LOT of class.

It all started very innocently. In ninth grade, I didn't want to go to gym class. A year earlier, I'd broken my back in an unfortunate horse-related accident, and gym hadn't been pleasant since. Sure, my vertebrae was healed, but I was still a skinny little weakling who had missed out on Basketball 101: How To Dribble.

My high school, West High, is two blocks away from Temple Square, so I--a nerdy Mormon boy--sluffed gym class and went on a tour of the visitor's center. I was quite the social deviant.

As luck would have it, Parent-Teacher Conferences were that very same night, and my gym teacher asked my mom "Where was Rob today?" and thus ended Volume One of Rob Never Goes To Class.

Volume Two opened sometime toward the end of my sophomore year, and was related to the fact that my brother (one year older) and I had started hanging out with a group of girls. And so, if you can imagine the horror, we'd go over to one of the girl's houses and hang out with her mom.

DISCLAIMER: at this point in my high school career, I was sluffing a couple times a week and getting really bad grades. This was not a good idea. YOUTH OF AMERICA: THIS IS NOT THE EXAMPLE TO FOLLOW.

However, youth of America, you ought to follow the example of Volume Three, wherein I almost stopped going to school altogether, and got much better grades--it was the best of both worlds!

Man, something snapped in my little head, and I realized two things: (1) if you turn in your homework, you'll get decent grades; and (2) going to class is for lame-a-zoids and dweebs.

I remember very vividly learning about President Hunter's death. It was about 9:30am on a weekday. We were at Village Inn eating pancakes. That kind of thing was pretty normal for 9:30 on a weekday.

It only went downhill from there. My senior year, I convinced one of my teachers that I was taking her math class as Independent Study for one quarter, and then every morning I hung out with my friend in his art class.

As a senior, I was Mr. Extracurricular (side note: Mr. Extracurricular would be a lame superhero) and I had all sorts of good excuses to never be in class. I was a Student Body Officer, a member of two choirs, and on the TV crew. Any one of those things offered myriad excuses for skipping class, and I made good use of it. The school administrators would conduct Hall Sweeps--they'd lock the doors so you couldn't get away and then walk through the school, herding truants and sluffers into a corner--and I'd just go trottin' on through the halls, tipping my hat to the principal and going my merry way. ("Never mind Rob," they'd tell each other. "He's surely on some matter of important business.") It was really fantastic.

I distinctly remember sitting in the Seminary Building one day, and being struck with the thought "Shouldn't I be somewhere? Oh yeah! I haven't been to World History in three weeks!" (Okay... so I didn't get a good grade in that class.)

I tried various other work-avoidance tactics. I secured a place on the school paper, and in the space of three quarters, I didn't write a single article. I can't even remember being assigned to do anything.

Now, the harsh reality: Volume Four. I got into college, and I was taking a required math course. I already knew the stuff, though. (Remember the math class I was supposedly taking Independent Study? It was IB Math Studies--IB is the step above AP--and I got a perfect score on the test. I may be lazy, but I ain't no dummy.) Anyway, the college class was so far below my l33t math skillz that I didn't bother going; I had the syllabus, and I knew when the tests were, and that was all I needed. I'd show up on the designated day, take the test, and pass it easily.

And then I showed up for the final, and I settled into my desk eager to show off my mathematical prowess. And, to my shocked dismay, the professor started handing back the tests! I asked the kid sitting next to me what had happened, and he said "Oh, the class voted to changed the date of the test. We took it last time."

And there I was, with awesome grades on the small exams, and a zero on the final. It was the first and last class I ever failed in college. I had to retake it the next semester, and you can bet your sweet bippy that I attended every session, listen to announcements, and deeply regretted the $800 I'd wasted on a failed math class. What a maroon. There was no Volume Five.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Seven Bazillion Times I Got In Trouble In School

by Jeffrey Savage

So Sariah’s comments got me thinking about the things I got in trouble for in school. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I couldn’t cover that list with less than seven or eight blogs. It’s not that I was a BAD kid per se—I just didn’t usually color within the lines. In elementary school, our principal used a long paddle and I was well acquainted with both the principal and the paddle. But never for things like fighting; It was usually for looking out the window instead of studying, or looking for fossils instead of coming in from recess.

A sixth grade teacher of mine once stood me up in front of the class and said, “Jeffrey, you remind me of a man sitting in the seat of a steam shovel, sound asleep, while a little boy with a spade digs a bigger hole.”

I thought about his comment for a minute before answering, “Maybe the man in the tractor doesn’t want to dig.”

That didn’t endear me to Mr. Abegg. Of course it didn’t help that I dropped a handful of waxy paperless crayons in his coffee a couple of weeks later.

I guess I must have kept up pretty much the same all through high school. The things I loved, I devoured—I read every book I could get my hands on, and ran out of colors my first year in the SRA program, I loved drama, and took every creative writing class my high school had. On the other hand, I flunked US History because all we did was memorize facts, I loved programming computers, but hated math. Go figure.

One of my favorite teachers was an English teacher named Mrs. Carlson. Mrs Carlson was a terror to most students, but she and I shared a really bizarre sense of humor. Once I cut another class, picked a handful of weeds that were nearly as tall as I was, and slipped into the back of her class in camouflage. All the students, who were taking a test, looked up to see what she’d do. She looked up from her desk, smiled, and went back to what she was doing. Even when I sneaked around and whispered fake answers to the other students, she didn’t look up.

It wasn’t until I started to go through the door of an adjoining classroom that she looked up and softly said, “I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.” Turns out it was an ESL class and she was right.

She once took me aside and said, “Jeff, I don’t know what to make of you. I love having you in my class, but you are barely pulling a D. You are the only student I’ve ever had who never brings his book to class or does his homework, but got a perfect score on the English section of the PSAT.”

Am I proud of the fact that I spent more time driving my beat-up MG to the beach than I did in class, or that I once got early morning seminary canceled by taping a sign on the door of the seminary building that said closed for heater repairs? Absolutely not. (Hear that kids! Not a good idea.)

But I did learn the value of writing before I finally graduated by the skin of my teeth. My senior year in high school, my psychology teacher held me after class. “You are currently failing this class,” he warned. “And if you fail this class, you will not graduate. The only hope you have of passing is if you get at least a B+ on your psychology project.”

Let me say here that the senior psychology project was HUGE at my school. Kids spent months on it. It was like a combination of science project, film festival, and public debate. Everyone went all out.

Which means that the night before the project was due, I was going, “Hmmm, wonder what I should do for my project?” Never mind the fact that graduation was less than a week away and my grandparents were coming down for it.

Well if necessity is the major of invention, desperation is the father. That night at about 11:00 I started writing a paper. It was titled “Pavlov’s Dog; A Doggone Good Biography.” It was about twelve pages of constant dog and psychology puns. I guess in any other world, I would have gone down in a ball of flames. I would have been the black sheep of the family (Instead of saving that for my youngest brother. Love you Mark!)

But in this particular world my two psych teachers had great senses of humor.

I still have that paper, complete with my first real positive review of a piece of fiction I wrote. It still bears the red comments, “Very Punny! I loved it!” and the A+ I earned. Maybe that’s why I’m still spending my spare time writing stories.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Here's looking at you, Miss Snark

One of my favorite bloggers announced her retirement. I am still verklempt.

Best wishes to you in all your endeavors, Miss Snark. You will be missed.

The One and Only Time I Got in Trouble at School

By Sariah S. Wilson

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was the first graduating class from my high school. When the school district saw it would be necessary to create a third high school in my quickly growing area, they didn’t want to move upperclassmen from their schools.

This meant that we were always the oldest class, and it also meant that throughout high school we often had the same teachers all four years (and a special thank you to Ms. Meyers for making certain that by the time I graduated I had no understanding at all of Algebra II, Geometry/Trig, Pre-Calculus and Calculus). My Honors/AP English teacher, Mrs. Wilson, was my English teacher for all four years. I would say that our class had a special relationship with her because of our unique situation.

You also need to know that despite the fact that I was an often moody and sullen teenager, I was a great kid. While the majority of my Laurel class got drunk/pregnant at parties, I was quite the upstanding citizen. I was hyper involved organization wise (cheerleading and student government). In some ways I was like a character out of “Pleasantville.” I was not the kid who got in trouble.

So one day in my junior year Mrs. Wilson had to attend a conference at a local university, which would take her out of the classroom. She gave us all stern warnings to behave ourselves for the substitute. She also told us that she expected more from my class, because apparently being smart automatically means you’re good. We were given instructions to read quietly from the novel we were reading at the time.

You should know that I had every intention of following those directions.

My best friend in high school, a girl named Angela, sat in front of me in class (not because our teacher let us sit where we wanted, but because her last name started with R and mine started with an S). We usually managed to keep our talking/note-passing at a minimum.

The closest thing we had to a troublemaker in our studious class was a guy named Victor. I saw Victor whispering to two of his buddies, Craig and Nat, as they passed a sheet of paper around. I should have known something was up when Victor passed it to Angela. Within minutes I could see Angela’s shoulders shaking from suppressed laughter. She finally passed it back to me.

It was the Poopy List, which now you can easily Google and find (this was pre-internet).

I admit that it wasn’t the most sophisticated thing, and obviously I’m easily amused. I don’t know if it was the completely silent classroom or that I was a teenager or that I knew I wasn’t supposed to laugh or find it funny, but I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard and so silently at the same time.

I had tears streaming down my face, my body shook just like Angela in front of me from the laughter I couldn’t let out. My throat actually hurt from holding the laughs in. We both kept emitting little strangled gasps. Our reaction made Victor, Craig and Nat’s silent laughter even worse.

Finally the sub got wise to the fact that something was going on. She confiscated the Poopy List from me and wrote down our five names for having misbehaved.

Mrs. Wilson was not pleased. She issued us detention in her class for our actions. I remember how shocked I was - detention? Me? But it ended up being a detention where she sat down and chatted with us the entire hour. I remember how much fun that detention was, how much we laughed and talked. (We even dubbed ourselves “The Breakfast Club” because we had a basket case, a princess, a jock, a criminal and a brain.) As punishments go, it was a fairly nice one.

Did you ever get in trouble at school?

Friday, May 18, 2007

And They Call It Puppy Love

by Kerry Blair

This is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. According to government statistics, man and woman’s best friend bites more than 4.7 million people a year. I think I know the dog responsible.

No, it’s not my pit bull. One piece of bling on Bandit’s designer collar is a silver charm that says: I’m a lover not a biter. It’s true. That’s not to say she couldn’t seriously injure somebody. If a burglar crept into our house at night he would likely trip over her in the dark and break his neck. (Bandit is sound asleep by nine, and nothing -- thunderstorms, fire alarms, cat fights, cat burglars -- rouses her before dawn.) The authorized daytime visitors to our home are equally at risk. They might be smothered by smooches and/or crushed the moment they sit down. (The big galoot passed the lap dog stage more than 65 pounds ago, but we have yet to convince her of that.) So, while it’s true that you take your chances coming here, being bitten is the last thing you need to worry about. Well . . . assuming that the bunny isn’t loose and you don’t smell like bananas.

Sadly, this is not the case everywhere in Chino. A mile or so down the road is a lovely rose-covered cottage wherein resides the sweetest, dearest lady you’d ever want meet. At her feet is Buffy the Vampire. Masquerading as a small, mild-mannered cocker spaniel with adorable pink ribbons on her ears, Buffy is likely responsible for at least half the aforementioned statistic. In the year or so my mother-in-law has had her, Buffy has bitten all the grandchildren, the bishop, the vet, the Relief Society president, and any number of friends, neighbors and people hired to landscape, clean . . . or possibly just provide tender new ankles for the dog’s nipping pleasure. I once tried tactfully to suggest to Gary’s mom that she teach her beloved pooch one simple command. You know, something along the lines of: “Buffy! Take your fangs out of that child!” But so far it hasn’t happened. Now I keep a pair of steel-reinforced galoshes in my car to put on over my flip-flops before I enter the house. That and the fifty-foot pole I use to pat Buffy on the head have thus far done the trick.

But I wonder: what is it that attracts angelic little old ladies to devil dogs anyway? My grandmother never owned a dog that didn't bite. When she died, did I inherit her jewelry? Her antique cedar chest? Her valuable art books? Well, yes, but I also inherited Benjy, the mini-schnauzer from you-know-where. I tried to give that dog a home, I really did. Tried and failed miserably.

After Benjy bit my husband, my children, the mailman (trite, but true), and literally tore the shorts off a neighbor kid, I put a cautiously-worded ad in the newspaper. I hoped to find a home wherein the dog could reside longer than two weeks before being fatally injected. (Not that he probably didn’t deserve the death penalty, what with making Hannibal Lector’s craving for human flesh look benign.) I rejected the first few respondents. Too young. Too old. Too anemic-looking to risk blood loss. At last the perfect couple arrived. They were robustly thick-skinned plus they were rich and could therefore afford as many new clothes and/or stitches as necessary. They were even long-time schnauzer owners. Best of all, they lacked just enough sanity to fall for Benjy’s peculiar charms. (Probably they lacked just a little more than just enough.) When the deal was done and they were about to pack Jaws into their Lexus and drive off into the sunset, the woman turned to me and said – I kid you not – “Does he have any hobbies?”

After a moment’s hesitation I replied, “Well, he does like to bite children.”

The woman nuzzled Benjy, beamed at her husband, and said, “Isn’t it nice that we live so close to the park?”

I’ve often wondered if she misunderstood me or I misunderstood her . . . or if Benjy passed the rest of his days blissfully terrorizing toddlers.

At any rate, for sound advice on how to best approach (or flee) strange dogs this week look here. But the best advice of all: If my mother-in-law invites you over for a bite – don’t fall for it!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Book Review

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Backtrack by Betsy Brannon Green
Published by Covenant Communications

Most of you know that I’m a huge Betsy Brannon Green fan. I’ve read and own all of her books. I’ve been privileged to meet her in person several times and I am always impressed and enchanted by her sweet Southern manners and adorable Southern drawl.

When her new book, Backtrack, came out recently I ran right out and bought it. I started reading it that afternoon and was soon immersed in the story. We have the lovable Miss Eugenia promptly ensconced in a new mystery, a love triangle, and a religious debate. She involves Jack Gamble, one of my favorite characters from the book Until Proven Guilty. But Jack is somewhat distracted because his wife Beth is going away with her oldest and dearest friends to a secluded cabin in the mountains. His overprotective vibe kicks in when a sudden storm knocks out the electricity and strands the women in the mountains and there’s a murderer on the loose.

Betsy always has a twist to her stories and that’s one of the things I love about her style so much in that I usually can’t predict what that twist will be and it keeps me turning pages long into the night. Unfortunately, the back of the book somewhat gives away the twist this time so I was able to see it coming. I was also a little surprised at some of the violence in this book that seemed to have a little more bite to it than her previous novels. Betsy delivers her usual spine tingling mystery, with a lot of new lovable characters. The one thing I did notice, though, was that this book felt like she had smushed two mysteries together into one book. She easily could have made two books out of the two mysteries in this story. Both are equally interesting and engaging, but sometimes it felt a little like a tennis match going back and forth between the two. Betsy does address some current social issues of drug dependency and dealing with life threatening diseases during this book and she does them justice. All of her characters are believable and her setting is outstanding as usual.

Overall, Betsy delivers another fine mystery novel that I truly enjoyed reading. I especially loved finding out what happened to Jack and Beth Gamble. Until Proven Guilty was one of my very favorite books and so I was delighted to see their story continued.

Backtrack is a double the fun, trademark Betsy Brannon Green book that is well worth your time. And, as a bonus, there are recipes in the back that are sure to tickle your palate. I know I’m going to try them!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Confessions of an E-mail Addict

by Stephanie Black

My mother considers e-mail to be a great blessing in her life. I agree. E-mail allows our family to remain close in a way that would have been impossible in pre-Internet days. My parents and two brothers live in Utah, I live in California, one sister is in Arizona, one is in Pennsylvania and one is in Virginia. Without e-mail, we’d still have the phone and the USPS—but how often would we actually sit down, write a whole letter, make six copies and mail them out? Not often. And phone calls are great, but are usually between two parties—not the whole gang. E-mail can be a group conversation. Rather than long letters sent only occasionally, we can fire back little messages and updates and encouragements and pictures on a frequent basis and get rapid responses. We can cheer each other on and help each other through the rough times.

I love e-mail.

Besides the keep-in-touch factor, I also love e-mail for practical reasons. Administrative/planning issues that would have once taken a jillion phone calls to organize can be dealt with through one e-mail sent to multiple parties. Or do I need to discuss an upcoming YM/YW event and the YM’s president is on a business trip? No problem. All hail e-mail.

E-mail makes being a writer much easier. A decade ago when I wanted feedback on a manuscript, I printed the manuscript, put it in a binder (and it was big—somewhere between 400-500 pages), packed it in a box, took it to the post office and paid to ship it my sister in Houston. Now, when I want to send a manuscript to test readers, this involves clicking “new message”, “attach”, “select file” and “send.” Send it next door or send it to Germany, it’s a snap either way. I can get multiple reads on the manuscript without spending a penny for postage or ink cartridges. Love it. Then when it comes time to submit a manuscript to my publisher, it’s the same process—a few clicks and it’s there, with no more fussing over manuscript boxes and printed pages and postage. E-mail is also great for little questions that don’t seem to merit a whole phone call. I can fire off a quick e-mail with a formatting question and my editor fires an answer right back.

The problem I have with e-mail is that I’m addicted. I remember learning that intermittent reinforcement—where you don’t get the prize every time you push the button, but sometimes you do and you never know when it will be—is the most powerful type of behavior reinforcement. E-mail is serious intermittent reinforcement. Even if I just checked my e-mail three minutes ago, there might be something new there. It might just be Amazon ads, but it might be a fun e-mail from my mom, or an interesting post on an online writer’s group, or a message from my editor saying they’ve picked the title for my book. No way to know unless I check! Sometimes I try to turn my e-mail off while I work, but then when my mind wanders, I think hmm, maybe I’ll open it back up just to see if there’s anything interesting there. . .

I need help. Somebody e-mail me the name of a good counselor.

First time in nine years

The Jazz go to the Western Conference Finals!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Movin' on up to the east side

by Robison Wells

It’s not unusual for me to dream about my mission. Usually, these dreams consist of me (with kids and a wife and a job) getting a phone call from the Church Office Building: they’ve made some kind of accounting error, and it turns out I went home three months early! So now I have to go back and finish up. It sounds like the plot for the next Halestorm movie. (Starring Kirby Heyborne as my conscience. He carries a banjo.)

In real life, however, I’m getting a similar call: after many years, it’s time to go back to school. This August I’ll be starting BYU’s MBA program, learning about how the good flat world has a great long tail (or whatever). In conjunction with this, I’ll be moving out of scenic West Jordan (motto: “We may not have paved roads, but at least we don’t have any Democrats!”) and down to Wymount, BYU’s married housing. The location change isn’t that big of a deal, really. I hate living in West Jordan—I understand that the people are nice and all, but seriously: it could sink into the ocean for all I care. (In my ideal version of the Salt Lake Valley, everything south of 45th and west of Redwood would vaporize. All the rest is just an endless waste of subdivisions and supermarkets.) (This will be a major tenet of my campaign platform when I run for governor.)

But my point is not that I hate the suburbs, with their Wal-Marts and their stylistically depraved architecture. No, my point is that, despite my hate, I’d rather stay right here than have to move. Man, moving sucks.

Here’s one major problem: my apartment right now is a spacious 1400 square feet delight, and my BYU apartment is just a shade over 700. For those of you who aren’t math majors, that means that the floor my new apartment has approximately the same dimensions as a Ritz cracker. I assume we’re going to have to sleep standing up.

Because of this size restriction, I want to get rid of stuff. My wife claims to be in agreement, but every time she comes home from her mother’s house, she brings more and more overflowing boxes and bags. (When we moved my mother-in-law from her house to an apartment, all of us relatives contemplated taking a few of the MANY truckloads of stuff to goodwill, and see if she ever noticed.) (We didn’t do that, of course, but if we ever have to move her again, I’ll just burn down her current place and buy her all new furniture—to be delivered by the store.)

Anyway, we’re moving, and I keep trying to think of what we can toss. In our seven years of marriage, we’ve lived in seven apartments (because we don’t pay the rent) and we’ve had our share of annoying moves. We once had to carry a piano up three flights of stairs (and, of course, we later had to carry it down). We once had to literally fold our mattress and box spring in half to get them through a tight curve in a narrow stairwell. If you’re asking “how can you do that without severely damaging the structural integrity of the box spring?” the answer is “You can’t, genius. You thought taking a saw to your box spring was a good idea? You’ll be buying another one of these soon.”

And our new apartment is missing two important items: a dishwasher (except for my wife—har!) and an air conditioner. Now, you already know my feelings about heat. Spending the better part of the summer in an apartment/sauna is not my idea of fun—and I’ve already told you that going outside is not an option. Curse you, Heat Miser! Curse you!

Still, in spite of it all, it’ll be nice to get down there. When the purifying rains of brimstone and damnation fall upon West Jordan, I’ll be safely holed up on church property. I’m pretty sure BYU students get, like, free passes to survive the apocalypse.

The Little Team That Could

by Jeffrey S Savage

Imagine being asked to field an NBA basketball team. Only you have less than 5% of the budget the other teams have. You play in a high school gym, and mostly you can only recruit players from junior colleges.

You could have a lot of fun, you might occasionally find a talented player or two, you might even have a pretty decent coach. But honestly what would your chances be of winning many games? I’ll bet most of the other teams would sneer at you. They’d look down on you and insinuate that you weren’t a “real” basketball team.

But then imagine that a really great coach came along—a coach who had vision. And he joined an awesome GM who had an eye for hidden talent. Imagine that they put together a top notch staff and began to recruit players no one else noticed. Suddenly they started to win some games. Of course people still looked down on them. Surely their wins were flukes.

Except the wins kept coming. As the season progressed, the little team that couldn’t, did. Other coaches began to take notice of them. All around the league, people were talking. Who was this team? Where did they come from, and how were they winning games when they were supposed to be satisfied with their place in the cellar? After a long hard fought season, the playoffs came. And this team that shouldn’t even had made the playoffs knocked off one opponent after another.

Now the media finally took notice. They pointed out what great players the team had, and how good their coach was. All of the top stations were talking about this team. And just when it seemed it couldn’t get any better, the team did the unthinkable. They won the NBA title.

Pretty exciting stuff huh? I’ll bet everyone was surprised. Everyone that is except the team. When the coach got up to the podium, he announced that he and his staff had planned all along to win the championship. They knew they had talent, and they knew how to use it. For them, winning the title was not an impossible dream. It was a goal set and achieved.

I could be talking about the Jazz here. They did come from obscurity, and they have a real shot at going all the way.

But I’m not. In truth, I’m not even talking about a sports team. Nope I’m talking about a publisher.

Last year, Shadow Mountain—an imprint of Deseret Book, and a relative nobody in the world of the publishing behemoths, set a goal. They decided they wanted to get a book on the New York Times Best Seller List.

Right. Like that was ever going to happen. You can’t just put a book on the NYTBSL, it takes major marketing dollars, big time author, the distribution arm only the big guys have. Other than books by general authorities, that kind of thing doesn’t happen in the LDS market. In fact most authors published by “national” publishers didn’t even consider them a real publisher. “They’re just a regional, right?”

But this last week Shadow Mountain attained their goal. Fablehaven by Brandon Mull hit number 8 on the NYTBSL for children’s chapter books. If you haven’t read Fablehaven, you should. It starts out just a little bit slow for my tastes, but after a couple of chapters you are completely pulled in and wrapped up by the charming creatures, unexpected twists, and wonderful imagination of the author. I absolutely fell in love with it.

Still, a great story isn’t enough. You have to have great editing, excellent cover and artwork, amazing marketing, and a staff that is willing to put everything that have into a title. So today, I would like to wish Bandon Mull, Lisa Mangum, Chris Schoebinger, and the rest of the SM staff a big congratulations. Chalk one up for the little guys. You’ve earned it!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

On Mother’s Day

By Sariah S. Wilson

So to give an accounting of my recent activities - I have approximately 15,000 words to go on the book (and I really hope there’s that much left of the story to tell - I won’t know until I get there), the baby’s room has been cleared out and painted (now we need to put up the wallpaper border and get the furniture moved back in), the boys’ birthday parties are ready go to, invites sent, everything coordinated, cakes ordered (and the first one will be happening tomorrow night), and we have yet another Mother’s Day baptism to add to the list - my oldest is getting baptized today after church in a program entirely made up of family members. There are times like this when large families are the absolute best!

I’m breathing a little easier these days, although I’m still feeling pretty overwhelmed. I can hardly wait until the baby comes and we can both slow down for a little while.

If anyone picked up “Of Infinite Worth,” the Mother’s Day compilation that both Kerry and I participated in, you already know that I think my mom is pretty amazing. I wrote that essay not even knowing the book would be about being a mother. I was asked to write a positive pro-woman sort of essay and I didn’t have to look further than my own backyard.

I know that everyone has their own tales of mothers who sacrificed for them and their siblings. Or of mothers who led particularly hard lives. I suppose that’s part of what it is to be a mother, to love so unconditionally that other things fall to the wayside.

I also never knew that many of the hardships in my mother’s own life would become things I would have to deal with in mine, and how grateful I am for her example and her wisdom in helping me through these times.

Her life has also differed drastically from my own - for example she had a very difficult poverty filled childhood with an alcoholic father, although I haven’t ever heard her complain about it.

She chose to have nine children. She wanted all of us, and as I go through my own pregnancy now, I know exactly what she went through with us. She threw up all nine months like I do. She suffered tremendously through each pregnancy (so much so that with the last couple they wanted to hospitalize her, but she couldn’t), and then the woman gave birth naturally to each of us, because she didn’t want us harmed in any way. I think that alone earns her the highest level of the kingdom. ;)

She had an extremely handicapped child, who when she was a teenager had the mental capacity of a toddler. She ran a daycare out of her home so that she could be home with her own children. When I look back, I honestly don’t know how my mother did it all.

She had to endure the death of my handicapped sister from a freak seizure. My mom often reminds me of Job - her life seems to be filled with one hardship after the next.

Even now - as my brother serves his mission in Russia - at his farewell many people told my parents to prepare for a sudden upswing in their financial situation. I had heard the same thing myself, that parents supporting missionaries often found themselves doing extremely well in their businesses. Do you know what happened the day my brother entered the MTC? My dad lost his job.

So even now they still struggle. My mother will admit that this is because of the choice they made to have a large family, which they did because they felt it was what the prophets taught and what they thought was right for them.

She has had many blessings in her life amidst all the crises. She will be the first to tell you in how many ways the Lord has blessed her.

Like today, she will get to watch as her oldest grandson, a boy that we didn’t know if he would ever speak or interact with the world around him, enters the waters of baptism. She will get to see the benefits of living the life that she did, of children who surround her and love her and raise their own children to be like her.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Yet Another Good Reason to Avoid Church on Mother's Day

by Kerry Blair

Sometimes I despair being part of this blog. Jeff always has interesting, important things to share. Rob is funny and belongs to a distinguished guild of FableFabricators or TaleCrafters – or something like that. (I applied on Tuesday, what with resistance being futile and all, and haven’t heard back. What should I assume if even the writing Borg won’t take me?) Stephanie has a luminous new manuscript and deadlines over which to obsess. Sariah has a top-ten bestseller and soon-to-be-released new baby. Julie has fanatic fan fic fans and the cure for writer’s block. Can you see how intimidating it is when Friday rolls around and it’s all I can do to take up cyberspace?

What I really need is a claim to fame. These things aren’t easy to come by but, frankly, I think I’ve found one! Who else do you know who was baptized on Mother’s Day? Twice. Both times were more or less against my will, although the second dunking was for a good cause – to prevent a death in the family.

To appreciate the story, you must first know that I grew up surrounded by my grandmother’s sisters: Olivia Yozelle (Zella), Thelma (Toots) Iona, Wyona (Nona) Elise, and Pauline (Polly) Esther. (My grandmother’s name was Dallace Alma, but everybody called her Dutchey. Maybe it was a law in 1900-era Kansas that women couldn't go by their given names. Or possibly, given these women’s names, they all chose to go by something else.) At any rate, the grande dame of the clan was their aunt, my Great-Great Aunt Dode. She was already ancient when I was a child. She was also the only force on earth that could get my parents to church. Once a year, that is. Every Mother’s Day, one or the other of them drove me and Aunt Dode to a tiny little church in a tiny little town about forty miles outside of town. I’m not sure this is gospel truth, but I think Aunt Dode started going when she heard that each year the pastor presented a lovely wrapped gift to the oldest mother in the congregation. At any rate, in one of the early years, Aunt Polly was visiting and went with us. It was she who saw to it that I was finally (and thoroughly) “saved” despite my howled protests that I was really quite happy as a heathen. Thus befell my first Mother’s Day baptism.

The year I turned sixteen, my parents figured Aunt Dode and I were a match made in heaven. I could drive her to church and they could devote a fifty-second Sunday to yard work. (The yard did not improve noticeably, I’m sorry to say.) Who could have foreseen that this would be the year my aunt finally got religion along with that lovely wrapped gift?

It began innocently enough. After we were “comfortably” seated on the rough wooden benches, a chorister led us in a hymn. A deacon (not the twelve-year-old kind) led us in prayer. The pastor gave the sermon. More deacons (still of the geriatric persuasion) passed the collection plate. At last the service was over and it was time for all the mothers in the congregation to rise. Then, under the pastor’s direction, everyone under the age of thirty sat down, followed by everybody under forty . . . and fifty . . . and so on. At last the only mother standing was Aunt Dode, and that was only because I was holding her up.

With her fame maintained yet another year – and gift in hand – I figured we were good to go. Except that the meeting wasn’t over. It had merely been adjourned long enough to allow the congregation to make a fifty-yard trek to the river bank where we were to reassemble for a baptism. I was shocked. Possibly appalled. (In the Methodist church less than an inch of water, sprinkled lightly, sufficed believers.) But Aunt Dode insisted on following the crowd. She loved to see people “dunked” and she wasn’t missing the show this time. Ever the dutiful niece, I pushed her wheelchair across the meadow to muddy banks of the Hassayampa River. There we gathered in tree-dappled sunlight, sang a hymn, recited the Lord’s prayer, and listened to the pastor relate a truly touching account of our Savior’s baptism in the River Jordan. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. So moved was I that I didn’t notice my aunt had also moved – down the bank and into the pastor’s arms to petition for baptism. As he looked over her snowy-white head at me I did the calculations:

Seventy-degree-weather + icy cold, muddy water + frail, 94-year-old woman = double pneumonia and certain death.

I could explain myself to my grandmother and formidable cadre of aunts at Dode’s funeral. Not. I scrambled down the bank after her. Unfortunately, Lot’s wife post-pillar would have been easier to reason with. Fortunately (or not) the pastor possessed the wisdom of Solomon. Surely, he told my aunt with evangelical zeal, the Lord had led her to the banks of baptism, but wasn’t it possible that she was an instrument in His hands? Perhaps, having lived a good life and found favor in His sight, God’s gift to her this Mother’s Day was to look on as her dear niece accepted His Son.

Me? Here? Again? Come to think of it, it was probably only sixty degrees under all those trees, the creek contained more mud (and leeches) than water, and I didn’t have dry clothes – or even an old Kleenex to dry off with. Nevertheless, as you already know because I gave away the punch line in the second paragraph (where is Jeff's writing advice when I need it?) I drove home soggy, muddy . . . and probably happier than I’d ever been.

I did it again about fifteen springs later. Well, sort of. Stepping into the warm, crystal clear water of a font at the Mesa Temple, I was baptized for my grandmother, Aunt Nona, Aunt Zella, Aunt Toots and, of course, Aunt Dode. (Aunt Polly was still standing on street corners handing out anti-Mormon tracts.) The temple experience was glorious – and leech-free – and I knew absolutely that my marvelous great-great aunt was happy and whole and very near, anxious to accept the only truly valuable Mother’s Day gift she’d ever been offered.

So, even if I only have one claim to fame in life, probably that's the one to have. (Is it wicked to admit, though, that Mother's Days still make me cringe?)

And what in the world will I write about next week . . . ?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Conquering Writer's Block

by Julie Coulter Bellon

A good friend of mine who is also an editor and a writer (waves to Meredith) posed a question on a public message board asking people how they got through writer’s block. Since I suffer from writer's block occasionally I found the answers really interesting and helpful, so I thought I’d pass some of the best ones along.

How Do You Conquer Writer’s Block?

1. Showers-- I have broken through to the heart of [writer's block] so many times in the shower that I probably have hundreds of drafts scrawled on soggy paper. The repetitive motion, the monotony is intensely comfortable and breeds new ideas. Thank goodness showers are relatively easy to come by in our time and place. I couldn't care less about getting clean--I just need the first line. I get a lot of my best thinking done in the shower, and I can talk out loud and no one hears me over the water!

2. Walking and driving are like showering but with visual aids. Again the repetitive motion, the body on automatic, frees up my mind, and then there's all this bonus material--trees, garbage cans, ladies yelling at their dogs, dogs yelling at their people. Good stuff. A friend once got me a tape recorder for those driving moments, but I still cheat and write on index cards at stoplights.

3. If I have the time, I sit and read poems by someone I admire, or someone I've never heard of, or I crack open the Bible and look for something surprising. Those amazing images, that rhythm--who isn't inspired by God as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night? Really, even a total atheist has to admit that's a pretty cool image! I'd follow that through the desert just out of curiosity if for no other reason.

4. The best thing for writer's block for me is five or six hours just to myself. As a mom, this almost never happens. But when it does, you can bet I can write.

5. Music I must have the right music. Nearly everything I've ever written has a song lyric/title/album name for a title, and the theme derives from the theme of the title. Not necessarily the song, but always the title. The right music puts me in the right place to write, and often the right lyrics help me figure out the tone and flow.

6. The gym is the best place for working out kinks. I go over the structure, the pace, the tone, even bits of dialogue in my head, and it makes the workout go by faster and helps me hammer out potential trouble spots. All the free flowing, stream-of-consciousness thinking really helps me streamline the story.

7. I watch a movie or TV show to get in the mood. Something old that I haven't seen in ages, usually something saved in my DVR, because even if it has nothing to do with what I'm writing, I saved it for a reason because it made me think or touched me in some way, and it opens the right emotional channels to get into my zone.

8. Read old stories I’ve written -- when I see how far I've come, and how well I think I addressed certain points, it makes me want to create something so wonderful all over again.

9. Take a ride on the BART/Train/Subway--just to get away from my settings. Looking out the window as you ride by the neighborhoods, looking into windows, building, backyards really gave me a surge of creative energy. I would think about what was going on in their house, why they had so much stuff in their yards, what the kids on the corner were talking about. The best part about the ride was listening to other peoples conversations. People who are complete strangers have the most interesting lives.

10. Sudokus or Cryptoquotes clear my head. If that doesn’t work I do some freewriting and force myself to write about about something other than the topic causing my brain cramp. When I'm truly blocked, I'll work backwards. Write the ending, and work backwards from there.

*Sends good thoughts to the writer’s muse for all my writer friends*

May you never be blocked, but if you are, may these ideas stick to you like flock on a Christmas tree.

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Beauty of Deadlines

by Stephanie Black

Deadlines can be a beautiful thing. Who knew?

On the one hand, deadlines can be stress-fests as you scramble, struggle and sweat to complete a project in time. On the other hand, deadlines give you a cut-off date, a kick in the pants to declare the manuscript finished and send it in. I love rewriting, see, so it’s easy for me to linger longer with a manuscript and tweak it just one more time . . .

With my first novel, I was scrambling to meet deadlines. I was rewriting the novel at the same time my family was going through an international move (note: do not try this at home). My editor gave me all the extra time she could, but needed the manuscript back in time to work editorial magic on it and meet production deadlines. I had a lot of rewriting to do—I needed to cut a hundred pages from the book for starters. By the time I finished the rewrite, there was no time to wring my hands, gaze anxiously at my prose, contemplate changing a few more things or throw a farewell luncheon—I just needed to click “send” and get the book to my editor’s inbox pronto.

When it came to reviewing the edited manuscript, the time crunch was on again. The edited manuscript arrived in my inbox on the day I returned home from the hospital after the birth of my fifth child. For the days following the baby’s arrival, I was working all day long on that manuscript. My new daughter, bless her, probably thought a laptop computer was a permanent part of my lap. She was a sweetie, good-natured and patient with all the writing, and my mother (bless her) was here taking care of the house, the other kids, and everything else while I worked on the book and nursed the baby. And here’s an unusual example of an answer to prayer: I always get the baby blues after the birth of a child. Nothing serious, but I always feel weepy, overwhelmed, emotionally off-balance and stressed out for two weeks following childbirth. I passionately dislike that period of feeling like an emotional wreck and I prayed that I wouldn’t experience it so acutely this time—and I didn’t. I was so swamped with work on the book and so focused on finishing it that I never ended up in the usual emotional/hormonal tailspin.

Well, I think I remained emotionally stable, but my editor might beg to differ. After I proofed the typeset, I called to tell her the problems I’d noted, and she’s probably still recovering from the tedium of this conversation, which consisted mainly of me worrying about 4523 different spots where I thought there should be commas, along with worrying over the word “in” versus “into” and the word “toyed.”

Revisions, editing, proofing, the audio cut—I was always up against a deadline and thus had no time to agonize. But with the revisions on my new novel, I have—gulp—plenty of time. I didn’t need to do nearly as much in revisions, and the book isn’t due out until next spring so it was okay if I took some more time, so I did . . . and now I’m finished. . . and I’m having trouble letting it go. I can take a little more time if I want; it’s not urgent yet, and maybe I should keep it a little longer in case I get an “ah ha!” moment at 3:00 A.M. and want to change something . . . or maybe I’ll tinker with that phrase a bit more . . . or maybe . . . Okay, I told my editor I'd send it to her next week. Seven more days to plan that farewell luncheon.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Resistance is Futile

by Robison Wells

I'd like to make an announcement, and I'd like to clear up a few myths. The announcement: if you are a published author, you're hereby invited to join the LDStorymakers.

If you haven't been paying attention, here's a quick explanation of the LDStorymakers: it's a group of LDS authors who get together and chat and hold an annual writers conference. The purpose of the group is to increase the quality and quantity of LDS fiction available, by both helping writers and increasing readership and literacy. And that's about it.

However, the LDStorymakers group has evolved over the years, and it has gone through many different forms. Because of that, there's a lot of lingering, erroneous ideas about what the Storymakers are. I'm going to try to clear those things up right now:

MYTH: The LDStorymakers is a group of lousy writers who are bitter and outcast from the rest of the LDS publishing world.
FACT: Yes, Jeff Savage is an LDStorymaker. We're thinking of kicking him out.

Haha! I kid. No, the LDStorymakers is far from a group of crappy outcasts, as evidenced by our long list of credits. There are authors from nearly every single LDS publisher, including Deseret Book, Covenant, Cedar Fort, Granite, Spring Creek, and more. Several of the authors are nationally published or have national agents. A few of the authors are successful enough (both nationally and in the local market) to be full time writers.

MYTH: The LDStorymakers is actually a publishing co-op in disguise.
FACT: Yes, the Storymakers HAD a publishing wing, and in the past years published eleven books. However, as of this month, the publishing arm of LDStorymakers has been dissolved. This was done for several reasons, some of which are outlined in a blog Tristi Pinkston wrote last week.

Just between you and me (and the rest of the internet), I was one of the ones arguing to abolish the publishing arm. The Storymakers has great potential to be the definitive LDS writers guild, and the publishing co-op was doing nothing to help us. I understand that many people are sad to see it go, but I think it signifies an important shift in our direction; we're now striving for professionalism and legitimacy, and we're willing to do what it takes to acheive that. I'm very happy.

MYTH: The LDStorymakers is a silly name.
FACT: Yes, this one is true. And what's with the double-purpose 's'?

MYTH: The LDStorymakers are run by a clique of friends who kinda do whatever they want.
FACT: The proletariat has rebelled against the factory owners, and now the Storymakers hold annual elections for the management committee. This is yet another example of the Storymakers changing from a small, informal group into a larger professional organization.

MYTH: Publishers look down on the Storymakers and their silly little group.
FACT: Deseret Book's acquisitions editor, Lisa Mangum, had this to say about LDStorymakers (and those who attended the Writers Conference): "Here are the writers who are devoted to their craft, who are willing to work hard and be persistent, who understand the business of writing and of publishing. Here are the writers who are going to revolutionize the LDS writing world."

MYTH: It's difficult to become a member of LDStorymakers.
FACT: This used to be kinda true, but it's not anymore. Here are the eligibility requirements:
1) You must be a member if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and in good standing.
2) You must have one book published with a reputable publisher in the last three years. (i.e. no self-publishing, vanity press, etc.)
3) You can't work for a publisher.

And that's about it. For all the fine print (of which there is very little) go to the Storymakers' group page. As a matter of fact, you could sign up at that very site, right now, today.

MYTH: Robison Wells foolishly volunteered an idea, and now is in charge of an groundbreaking new project which you'll all be very excited about when it's announced in the near future.
FACT: This cannot be confirmed at this time.

Seriously, though: I'm painfully aware of the past negative perceptions of LDStorymakers (some deserved and some not), but I'm here to say that this group is fantastic. Many of the authors involved have declared that much of their success is due to being part of the Storymakers. Some of my very best friends in the writing world are members--people I wouldn't have met otherwise. I have never regretted my decision to join, and I encourage you all do so, post haste!

(And seriously, we'll try to kick Jeff out. We know that's why you've been reluctant to join.)

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Rich Really Do Get Richer

By Jeffrey S Savage

Ever wonder why the best selling books, movies, or music are the bestsellers? Is it because they are the best of the products that are out there? Did The Da Vinci Code sell so many copies because it was the best thriller? Is Harry Potter the best fantasy? Will the best authors, singers, and actors naturally rise to the top? Or is there more to it?

Ever wonder why publishers, recording companies, and movie studios have so much trouble duplicating previous successes? Why can’t an author just write a similar book? Why not just find a music group with a style and sound that is like the hot band?

Imagine for a minute that your favorite author, actor, or musician was given a chance to do it all over again. Would they still be the mega-star they are now? A recent study says no.

Recently a group of researchers at Columbia set out to test a theory. According to the theory, people tend to like what other people say is good. As social beings we are attracted to the TV shows other people are watching, the movies they go to, and the books they are reading.

According to the researchers, “Ultimately, we’re all social beings, and without one another to rely on, life would be not only intolerable but meaningless. Yet our mutual dependence has unexpected consequences, one of which is that if people do not make decisions independently — if even in part they like things because other people like them — then predicting hits is not only difficult but actually impossible, no matter how much you know about individual tastes.”

This “rich get richer” effect states that a book which is slightly more popular at just the right time may exponentially take off far beyond the quality of that book. Like a snowball, the popularity grows—not necessarily because it is better, but just because it is popular.

“As a result, even tiny, random fluctuations can blow up, generating potentially enormous long-run differences among even indistinguishable competitors — a phenomenon that is similar in some ways to the famous “butterfly effect” from chaos theory. Thus, if history were to be somehow rerun many times, seemingly identical universes with the same set of competitors and the same overall market tastes would quickly generate different winners: Madonna would have been popular in this world, but in some other version of history, she would be a nobody, and someone we have never heard of would be in her place.”

But how would you test such a theory? Just jump in your time machine and jump back a couple of decades? This is the truly ingenious part of the study. The researchers actually created different worlds via the Internet and loaded each world with music from bands most people have never heard of.

“In our study, published last year in Science, more than 14,000 participants registered at our Web site, Music Lab (, and were asked to listen to, rate and, if they chose, download songs by bands they had never heard of. Some of the participants saw only the names of the songs and bands, while others also saw how many times the songs had been downloaded by previous participants. This second group — in what we called the “social influence” condition — was further split into eight parallel “worlds” such that participants could see the prior downloads of people only in their own world. We didn’t manipulate any of these rankings — all the artists in all the worlds started out identically, with zero downloads — but because the different worlds were kept separate, they subsequently evolved independently of one another.”

So what do you think happened? Obviously people’s tastes differ, so one would not expect the results in each world to be exact. But with 14,000 participants there should have been enough consistency so that the best songs rose to the top while the worst songs dropped to the bottom right? Right?

I mean you’d never read an author (cough, cough, Dan Brown) just because everyone else was would you? You’d never watch a TV show (American cough Idol) just because everyone was talking about it? Right?

If we are all as independent minded as we like to think we are, the results of the tests should show that the best songs rose to the top in every world. Social influence should not play a role in which songs became hits.

“What we found, however, was exactly the opposite. In all the social-influence worlds, the most popular songs were much more popular (and the least popular songs were less popular) than in the independent condition. At the same time, however, the particular songs that became hits were different in different worlds, just as cumulative-advantage theory would predict. Introducing social influence into human decision making, in other words, didn’t just make the hits bigger; it also made them more unpredictable.”

Ouch. Guess we’re not as independent thinking as we might have hoped. Apparently Julie and Sariah are huge Madonna fans because of social influence. And Kerry can’t get enough of Survivor because she’s been subtly brainwashed by the masses around her. And Rob—who knows why he can’t get enough of Brittany Spears (even after she shaved her head)?

In the at-least-we’re-not-total-lemmings news, individual preferences do place a significant role. In general the highest independently rated songs finished with the most market share in the influenced worlds, while the worst songs finished in the bottom half. But the impact of individual preferences were easily overwhelmed by the reactions of others.

“The song “Lockdown,” by 52metro, for example, ranked 26th out of 48 in quality; yet it was the No. 1 song in one social-influence world, and 40th in another. Overall, a song in the Top 5 in terms of quality had only a 50 percent chance of finishing in the Top 5 of success.”

So what does this say for us as writers? As many of us have suspected all along, luck plays a big role in who become the bestsellers. Coming in early, writing more books, getting a lot of press—all of these can affect sales. Even negative publicity can improve sales. The good news is that generally the best selling books are going to be reasonably well written.

As an author it is to my advantage to win over the early adopters. If I can get people talking about my book—even predicting how well it will do—it may actually become a self fulfilling prophecy.

But there’s a bigger picture as well. Take something like presidential ratings. If we read in the paper that the President’s ratings are going down, we are likely to rate him or her lower. This may explain why the race to elected office is starting earlier and earlier. Candidates understand that their popularity can make or break them months, or even years, before the actual election. “Everyone likes Candidate X” we may think to ourselves. “So undoubtedly that must be the best person for the job.”

Even scientific “facts” could possibly be swayed by consensus. Everyone knows the world is flat.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to see a movie or read a book because you want to discuss it with your friends. Likewise it is perfectly natural to be influenced by what we hear from others. But I know that in the future I will be looking more closely at my own decisions to try and determine how much is influenced by what I think, compared to just going along with the crowd.

If you’d like to read the article for yourself (instead of just agreeing with me) you can access it at:

Sunday, May 06, 2007

If April Showers Bring May Flowers, What Do May Showers Bring?

By Sariah S. Wilson

Yesterday I felt the full weight of my procrastinating self.

First, a former visiting teacher (Hi Stephanie!) threw me a baby shower. It was such a nice time, and we didn’t have to play any baby shower games for which I was very grateful. Recently I saw the episode of Gilmore Girls where they threw Lane a baby shower, and one of the things they did was have out white onesies and fabric paint. I thought that was such a great idea, and especially since girls from my Primary class came with their moms, they ended up decorating onesies for me. They are so cute. I got a lot of fun pink baby clothes and a new high chair, which I desperately needed.

I didn’t get to eat any of the yummy food though. Why? Because with this pregnancy I got gestational diabetes. Apparently I wasn’t suffering enough what with the swollen limbs and not sleeping and constant puking and heartburn. Yes, now I must eat foods that make me throw up even more in an attempt to level out my blood sugars, and I have to eat constantly. I never thought I would say this, but I am so very sick of eating. I’m sick of pricking my fingers to test my blood.

Then on top of that, in a craze of madness, I decided that since for the first month of June my boys are going to be confined to the house (because I am one of those mothers that does not take my baby anywhere for four weeks) that since both of their birthdays are in May (with the baby being our third May birthday, my birthday in April, my husband’s birthday in June, our anniversary in June and Mother’s and Father’s Day in May and June) that we should throw them a big blowout birthday party because very soon their mother will be incapacitated and busy with a newborn. So I’m trying to get a handle on that and get those all planned and taken care of.

We also have to prepare the baby’s room. It’s an extra room that we use as storage currently, and it needs to be cleared out and painted and everything made ready to go. I thought I would have time to get it finished, but now as the baby is coming in only 23 days, I’m not sure how I’m going to get it done. It has to get done before she comes, because she has to have some place to sleep during the day since my husband has his office in our room.

I also have a book I need to finish and do some last minute research on. I’m about 3/4 done with it, but it is very slow coming and difficult for me to write. I wish I was one of those people who could just sit down and write and have the words flow out of me, but these days I feel like I’m fighting for every single word. Deadlines are no fun.

Also, my oldest will be getting baptized next week. My husband insisted it would be more special if the baptism took place on his birthday, which also happens to be Mother’s Day, so I don’t expect a big turnout for it. I didn’t realize all the planning we had to do and how much we have to get done in the week before it.

So now I turn to you for help - can you please suggest music/Primary songs that we can sing at the baptism that would be appropriate? Any program suggestions that you might have would be highly appreciated.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Can We Talk?

by Kerry Blair

Call me an addict, but I watched five hours of television this week. Four hours were about The Mormons, and one was about people in Herculaneum in AD 79. Both programs were produced by PBS. I liked the second one better, but nobody’s talking about the Herculaneumians. Everybody’s talking about Mormons instead.

Everybody but me. I stopped by several web sites before beginning this blog so I wouldn’t disseminate false information. As of this morning, PBS had logged more than 2,000 responses to Helen Whitney’s (insert your own adjective here) documentary. The Washington Post had received almost double that number after carrying a live chat with Ms. Whitney. The Church’s web site says its hits have increased ten fold. (This proves again that good comes from everything.) Church leaders have not only responded quickly, publicly, and mostly positively – albeit carefully – to the show’s airing, they’ve set up their own open forum for discussion. (Wow.) Other LDS blogs have been abuzz. Times and Seasons received almost 150 comments on one of their posts about it.

Apparently I’m the only one who doesn’t want to talk about “The Mormons.” With apologies to PBS, The Washington Post, the LDS public affairs office, and fellow bloggers, after thirty years as the only “Mormon” in my extended family, well, I’m just all talked out.

One month from today marks the anniversary of my baptism. I was nineteen, a feminist history major with a pre-law 4.0 average (in other words, a faux intellectual), and close kin to people who stood on street corners declaring to all who would listen that Mormons are the spawn of Satan. (“Stood” is past-tense in that sentence only because my aunt has passed away. If she was still alive, she’d still be standing on street corners handing out anti-Mormon tracts, I assure you.) For years when a bishop or stake president asked if I had any association with people actively trying to destroy the Church I’d respond, “Does Thanksgiving count?”

Surrounded by loved ones like Aunt Polly, one Mormon can do a lot of talking. (Especially when one is talking to the biological equivalent of a fence post.) About twenty years into my conversion I grew tired of telling my family why I was still a Latter-day Saint and decided to write about it instead. My first book, The Heart Has Its Reasons, is a conversion story – in some ways my conversion story – thinly disguised as romantic fiction. It’s not, therefore, erroneous to conclude that I would not be an author if only I were a better missionary.

It worked . . . and it didn't. One family member read my book and then accepted a Book of Mormon. (That she later rejected it is another story, and a sad one.) Others who were most important to me – like my father – seemed to finally accept that I would never abandon my covenants even if they would never understand (in this life) why I had made them.

If I learned anything from television this week (besides some rather frightening facts about Mt. Vesuvius), it’s that one witness of the Spirit is worth a thousand words from scholars, naysayers, and cultural historians. In “The Mormons” polygamy, priesthood, and Mountain Meadows were sensationalized (as usual), but Elder Jensen and the smattering of members interviewed were simply sensational. Did you see them? Those people glowed brighter than Moroni in an old Church video. Admittedly, one often sees what one is looking for, but I looked at the members who represented us to America and saw intelligent, humble, happy people who had put Christ at the center of their lives – people with enough faith, hope and love to melt hearts and move mountains.

I’m firmly convinced that the positive responses to the documentary are due largley to nonmembers responding to our members. Of course they do. Who would you want to worship with or live next door to? The intellectual? The scholar? The person who wouldn’t recognize truth and compassion if (s)he tripped over it in an empty room? I’ll take the drug addict who let Christ heal her soul; the father who doesn’t understand the Lord’s will, but accepts it anyway; and the talented young woman who faces early death with a smile on her face and her eyes fixed on eternal life. If these are Latter-day Saints – and they are – thank heaven I associated myself with them when I did!

And I do thank heaven I found the gospel. I thank God every single day of my life. (Okay, okay . . . There was this early morning at Girls Camp once when I fervently wished I were still a Methodist!) My conversion was fast, admittedly, but it wasn’t easy. There is likely nobody in the kingdom today who had a harder time believing that story about the farm kid in upstate New York than me, and yet I did believe it. Do believe it. In Primary we’re learning an incredibly beautiful song, This Is My Beloved Son, about the Father bearing witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ. The third verse begins:

Joseph saw two glorious beings, Shining brighter than the sun. God again presented Jesus: “This is My Beloved Son . . . ”

I’m so sure that statement is true that each time I try to sing it my throat constricts. Still, it is the final verse that truly resonates within me:

As I read the scriptures daily, Words of Christ, the Holy One, In my heart I’ll hear God tell me: “This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him.”

I can’t explain it better than that – although I’ve been trying for three decades now. I read the Book of Mormon, listened to the missionaries, and in my heart I heard God tell me: This is the church of His Beloved Son. All the documentaries – and commentaries on the documentaries, and commentaries on the commentaries on the documentaries – can’t possibly impact that witness.

I’m still writing novels as you know, but now I’m doing it in the hopes of putting a little money aside in case I get a chance to be a fulltime missionary someday. And if I don’t, well, there’s always Aunt Polly to work on. I’m sure she’s waiting for me on the other side. But I’m not worried. I’m not only better prepared to talk to her now, I’ve done enough temple work for our shared ancestors that I think I can count on a few reinforcements!

And isn’t loving our family, our Father's family — all of them, at all times, and in all times — what being a Mormon is all about? I just wish I knew how to go about doing the temple work for all those people in Herculaneum. They’re the ones I’ve been worrying about all week . . .