Monday, December 31, 2012

Persevere in the New Year

Valerie J. Steimle

Today we have the opportunity to start over. Pondering on the months gone by, we can decide what brought us joy and what brought us sorrows.  We can think of our loved ones and our friends, recalling the happy times and how they enriched our lives.  We reflect upon what really counts and how we can spend our time in the New Year.   
From GoogleImages
            We can think about the beginning of last year and notice the improvements we have made.  If there have been no improvements, then it is not too late to change for the year ahead. A chance to renew our determination to do better this coming year can give us the jump start we need to follow through on our improvements.
            Grab a vision of your life and see the picture in your mind of the changes to come.  Hold on to that picture and let it propel you forward just as an athlete competes for a prize.  We will stumble sometimes and our vision will fall but have the courage to be strong and get back up again.  The difference between a successful person and one who isn’t successful is that the unsuccessful person chooses never to get back up and quits the process of trying.
            I’m reminded of Thomas Edison who was persistent in making an incandescent light bulb safe, practical and economical.  After one-and-a-half years of work and persistence in trying over hundreds of times, he was successful in achieving a light bulb with a filament of carbonized sewing thread which burned for thirteen and a half hours.

Here are a few things to remember about perseverance:

            Perseverance, despite all odds, means overcoming all difficulties. Knowing what your goals are and motivation to follow through are two ways you can persevere in the New Year.
            To persevere, one needs the support of everyone in your family and your friends and good relationships must be maintained. Although one can persevere through any distraction or misunderstanding, the support of others keeps the focus on your goal and you will eventually be successful.
From GoogleImages
            To persevere, you must be physically fit.  Your body cannot handle too many late nights and the junk food you take into your body-- so eat right, get enough sleep and exercise. The mind should be at peace and you can become focused on what you want to accomplish.
            Dedication to work is a necessary element towards perseverance.  Remember Thomas Edison and what he accomplished and with perseverance you can accomplish the vision of your life. It just takes perseverance.

From Marnie Pehrson’s, she says, “Think about the rippling affect you will create for others when you set goals for yourself in the new year. When we think about how we can help others, we are motivated to try harder.”
            As writers, we need this same perseverance.  Don’t give up on your dream of a published novel or non-fiction article. Don’t give up on what you want to achieve through your writings. Remember to persevere through the year to accomplish and achieve success.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gratitude for Technology

My father's turning 90 next year and he's about had it with all the burgeoning technological implements at hand. Of course, I can see what he means. My younger brother's family all came over to visit a few nights ago and, within minutes, all the grandkids were either texting on their cell phones or playing games on their iPads. As he puts it, there's so little face to face time anymore.

But all this tech stuff certainly has its he found out yesterday when we were able to Skype with my daughter on her mission. He got to see her, too, and talk with her. Still, he's definitely a curmudgeon about it all. As a writer, himself, he appreciates the computer and that's about all!

But I was so grateful to see her beautiful countenance, glowing with the joy of the gospel. I'm also so grateful for texting because, unlike my mother, I don't enjoy talking on the phone. My weekly writer's group holds our meetings by Skype. I can't imagine not using my Kindle or iPhone or iPad for reading now.

My brother-in-law couldn't believe it when I said I had an iPhone, an iPad with wireless keyboard and mouse, an iMac, and now a MacBook Air (my Christmas present). He asked why I needed both an iPad and a MacBook Air, but I've tried the iPad at writers conferences and I just can't take notes as effectively. Besides, I want to be able to get up from sleep at any time when an idea strikes me and start writing without waking my husband. Until now, I couldn't really do that since my office is in our bedroom.

So, despite what my father says, I see technology as a real blessing...And I think he will too once all our digital photos start streaming in to their brand new digital photo frame. After all, they don't have to lift a finger to turn it on. We, the children and grandchildren, are doing all the technological work by signing up with the hosting website and uploading our pictures to their frame from wherever we are.

And that's as it should be.

Now if only my brother hadn't given my 87-year-old mother a smart phone for Christmas.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas is Love

The First Presidency Devotionals are a wonderful jump start to the Christmas season. The music and warm messages of love from our Church leaders help me focus on what is most important during this season of remembering the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

“True happiness comes only by making others happy. … The spirit of Christmas … makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service.” (quote from President David O. McKay). Love is essential in giving and receiving.  

President Thomas S. Monson said: "There is no better time than now, this very Christmas season, for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the principles taught by Jesus the Christ. It is the time to love the Lord, our God, with all our heart—and our neighbors as ourselves. It is well to remember that he who gives money gives much; he who gives time gives more; but he who gives of himself gives all."

President Henry B. Eyring testified that Jesus Christ was the literal Son of God and the Savior of the world. He was the perfect gift from our loving Father.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf  spoke about being a grateful receiver: "At Christmastime we talk a lot about giving, and we all know that 'it is more blessed to give than to receive,' but I wonder if sometimes we disregard or even disparage the importance of being a good receiver." On this Christmas Eve I pray that we all will be grateful receivers with loving hearts for each gift that we receive on Christmas day and throughout the coming year.

Monday, December 17, 2012

That Man Might Live

This is the first 700 or so words of a short story I've been working on. Please, enjoy, and if you want to continue reading, please follow the link at the bottom of the page to my personal blog. I will put a red asterix *where the story left off, so you can find it easily. 

That Man Might Live
          I stared at the smooth dark table my father made for me when I moved out of the house seven years ago. It was the only thing he passed on to me, besides my woodworking skills. I was different from him in every other way. He died a poor, miserable old man, and I didn’t miss him, though I knew I probably should.
          “Did you hear me?”
          “Yes,” I said.
          I looked up at Mary. Her arms were crossed over her chest, her pale pink lips pressed together tightly. The crease in her forehead--only there when she was upset--was deeper than usual, interrupting the flow of her smooth, porcelain skin. Her dark blue eyes appeared black as they watched me from beneath thin, dark eyebrows.
           “Don’t you have anything to say about it?”
           I looked down at my tan hands, which were crossed over the table. “No.”
          “Why not?”
           My eyes moved to her face, the muscles in my arms tense, and my stomach turning the fish and matzah I ate for dinner uncomfortably, making me want to vomit. “I’m not angry. But I wish you would respect me enough to tell me the truth.”
          A small tear ran down her cheek. She brushed it away and re-crossed her arms. “I am telling you the truth.”
          “You expect me to believe you’ve never been unfaithful to me?”
          “Don’t you trust me?”
          “I thought I did.”
          “Well, what’s changed?”
          I stared at her still-flat stomach, the words unable to leave my lips.
          The next morning, I arose early so I could be at the site before it got too hot. Building houses during the middle of the summer--never a fun job--paid the bills and helped me get my mind off things.
I pulled on my dirty pants and my snap-button shirt, grabbing a baseball hat to cover my messy black hair. I would shower after I got home from work. Buckling my tool belt around my waist, I headed out the door, ready for a day of manual labor and great distraction.  
          The Pennsylvania sun shone brightly outside my apartment, and as I walked to work, my mind wandered back to the summer, three years ago, when I first met Mary. I had been working in Allentown, which was 8 miles down the road. The kosher deli she worked at was a block away from our site, and while eating most of my lunches there, I managed to get to know the quiet but charming girl putting herself through grad school. Those were simpler times.
          Most of the guys were already there by the time I arrived. Andrew seemed to spot me first and cat-called, his dark chest already obnoxiously bare, despite the chill that still clung to the morning.
          “Look who slept in this morning,” he said, rubbing his abs with his already filthy hands.
          “Morning,” I said. Usually, I was the first crewmember on site, but I wasn’t in the mood to talk about what had kept me up all night, especially not with Andrew.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Gifts to Self

It's that time of year. I am making lists and checking them twice--and I'll bet you are, too. Finding the perfect gift for someone can be joyful or stressful, depending on the situation. My lists overwhelm me at times, but I remind myself that I always get through them by December 25th. Even if I have to stay up late on Christmas Eve, everything eventually gets wrapped and tagged and put under the tree. And then, the next morning, all the sacrifices and work are worth it. 

I'd like to suggest a gift we can all give ourselves--the gift of keeping our commitments. I'm not talking about promises to spouses or children, or responsibilities at work or church or in the community. I'm referring to the promises we make to ourselves.

With the New Year coming, we may be thinking about resolutions we want to make, changes we'd like to see in our lives. I like to think of those prayerful, mindful changes as gifts I'm giving myself. Why? Because it's a way to not let them get lost in the shuffle of all the other things going on in my life. But more important, it's a way to increase my integrity. 

When I get up early so that I can do yoga, I'm giving myself health. When I turn off the internet and face that scary blank page in my work-in-progress, I'm giving myself creativity. And any time I keep a promise I've made to myself--no matter how big or small--I give myself honesty and self-respect. 

Our lives are fluid and infinitely changeable. Challenges crop up; emergencies arise. Some days, we absolutely have to let things fall by the wayside so that we can save dinner or a deadline or a child's health or our own sanity. But let's guard against letting excuses gradually take us away from those precious commitments we've made to better ourselves. 

Remember--studies have shown that we each have a finite amount of self-control every day. We only have so much to spread between all those changes we'd like to see, so choose your resolutions strategically. Make your new commitments small at first; they can grow over time as they become ingrained habits, and then you can turn your self-control to other things. Little successes will become great things in less time than you think.

Remember this, too--the pain of self-discipline is far milder than the pain of regret. (I chant that to myself often as the alarm clock sounds or distractions sing their siren song.) 

So in the few days left until we celebrate Christmas and then ring in 2013, spend some time pondering what gifts you'll give yourself in the New Year. Then do your best to receive them--make them a part of you and your routine. I promise you: this time next year, all the sacrifices and work will be worth it. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Insulation vs. Padded Cell

The awe-inspiring ladies of my American Night Writers chapter, the Skyline Scribblers, have a saying. Friends don’t let friends publish junk.
I desperately hope they live this credo because I rely rather heavily on their input regarding my various WIP. And while I am eager to take their constructive critiques, I am also a sensitive soul. I cry at sappy love songs, romantic comedies, epic drama, Hallmark commercials, puppies, this list of things that make me cry . . . you get the idea. I don't have television because I don't want to watch the news. And though I get the Washington Post to my inbox each day as an affirmation that I am an informed individual, truth be told, most of the time I just delete it without reading a single word because I know the heartache and depression that are awaiting in the headlines. I tell myself that I am insulating myself from things that don’t really matter to my immediate reality, but I often wonder if that buffer is just the intellectual equivelant of sticking my fingers in my ears and singing Mary Had a Little Lamb.
I am nearing a place in my writing career where I have to either start putting things out into the world for agents and editors to say, "NO!" or acknowledge that this is just a fun hobby I do when I am bored. I'm not sure that my tender little heart can take something as crushing as a rejection letter, but I have seen the photos of mountains made out of letters collected over the years from really fantastic writers. I know it is part of the journey, the initial and potentially never ending hurdles between where I am and my dream come true. So where is the line? Where is the place where you stop being cautious and self-nurturing, and become the ostrich with your head buried in the sand while everyone stands around staring at your backside?
I was listening to a fantastic webinar by James Scott Bell last week and one of the listeners asked a rather remarkable question. She wanted to know, after amassing a stack of rejections some of which had be less than complimentary, when do you give up? Mr. Bell verbally dog paddled for a moment or two and then said (to paraphrase), "You have to answer the question, 'Are you a writer?' Then decide that this is something you are going to do for the rest of your life regardless of whether or not you get published."
I wanted to latch onto this idea so hard and just never let go. How freeing right? "I am a writer because I like to write and it never matters if I ever get published because this is who I am and what I do!" It sounds so great. But what if it is just more padding on the rubber room? What if I am sending junk out into the world and the reason for the forthcoming no’s is that I am just not good? What if I am deluding myself by holding fast to the belief that I am a writer, when really I should be doing other things?
I can’t imagine that I am alone in tackling this particular gremlin. So what helps you along in your creative pursuits, silver linings or the cold rain of reality?
Anika Arrington Necessary Nurture

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Have you ever been baking cookies and forgotten an ingredient? Maybe you got distracted and left out the baking powder. At first you didn't notice anything missing and maybe it didn't even seem to matter- at first. When you finally discovered that something wasn't right, perhaps you laughed it off but you didn't feel the same about that batch of cookies because it wasn't what it was supposed to be.

Sometimes those tiny ingredients are easy to forget and don't seem as important because it only takes a teaspoon, sometimes less to get the desired effect.  It is much harder to forget something like flour or butter.  You need so much that it is immediately obvious when they are not there. 

Holidays (and everydays for that matter) can be like a batch of cookies- at least at my house.  The bulk (flour and butter) of our time is caught up in the normal busy day to day combined with decorating, shopping, baking, and attending or performing in myriad concerts, and occasionally some of our vital ingredients (baking powder) are forgotten like scripture study.  Like the cookies, it isn't immediately obvious what was missing  but something is not quite right.  This can make the holiday seem like less than it should.

Fortunately, even if we mess up one day, we have the opportunity to try again the next.  It is amazing how just a few minutes given to scripture study can make all the difference in how we feel about and experience our days, and our holidays. It is like our baking powder and cinnamon providing  leavening and just the right flavor.    

Writing, too is like a batch of cookies.  Do we get so caught up in the bulk of the story and getting it done that we neglect important ingredients?  Do we have our research, build our structure, have the whole grand scheme laid out and forget to ask for guidance?  The words we write will influence those who read them. That is the point, right?  If we have our butter, eggs and vanilla all creamed together, and our dry ingredients mixed and waiting to add and we overlook the most important ingredient, the sweetener, we have wasted our time. What good is a sweet without the sweet?  

We have the desire and gift to create with words. God gave us this desire and gift and would like to make our efforts all that they are meant to be.  We just need to make sure to add the sweetness of His inspiration.    

The quality of our cookies, our days, our holidays and our writings depends on us getting all the right ingredients mixed in, not adding in too many ingredients and avoiding the ones that might ruin them (like anchovies).  I wish you all a Christmas holiday season that is all it is meant to be with all the right ingredients, the sweetness of Heavenly Father's inspiration and no anchovies.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Let Go of the Cookie Cutter Christmas

December begins, and so do the dreaded words, “Are you ready for Christmas?”

Relax. What hasn’t been done so far probably wasn’t that crucial. And what remains that is vital can be done more happily with a few of the following ideas.

Savor the Season. Slow down, today, even right now. Delight in the simple pleasures—sparkling lights, annoyingly familiar carols, the fifth plate of gift cookies. These come once a year and remind us to celebrate the season. Appreciate the unexpected and perhaps undesired. Janene Wolsey Baadsgaard shares in Families Who Laugh…Last that one year she found her young daughter in the bathroom in the midst of hundreds of white paper pieces literally everywhere. Confused and in mother mode, Janene told her daughter to clean up the mess. Later, Janene understood after receiving a special Christmas gift—a homemade snow globe.

Can anyone say “mother guilt”?

So rejoice in what comes your way daily, especially the plentiful opportunities to lift someone's load. The other day while at breakfast with a friend we noticed a lady leaning on a walker. We offered to help with her packages and she accepted. In those few minutes I felt a tangible joy from simply being available to help another. These are the experiences that make Christmas fulfilling.

Don't force the celebration. So the cookies burned, or the person bringing the main dish didn't get the message. Live the dream anyway!  Let down and be part of the experience without choreographing a superficially successful one. My husband and I host a company party at Christmas time. Because some of his floor installation crews speak a limited amount of English, I’ve worried about everyone enjoying the evening. However, this year I promised myself to stop stressing and just enjoy the people, even if it meant some awkward silence. And it was amazing. I was able to talk with a woman who had suffered polio as a child and now walked with a crutch. She also volunteered for several organizations and was studying filmmaking at school. Currently, a few of her documentary films on homelessness and domestic violence were being shown in homeless shelters. What a fabulous connection we enjoyed. So let go of being the Stressed Out Happy Fairy (i.e., “Is everybody happy?”) and instead, be in the moment. 

Give people the benefit of the doubt. Watching the play "A Christmas Carol" with my son, I thought of a recent comment on the story. That even though Scrooge had had a change of heart—as incredible as it was—the other people in his life didn't know about the change of heart and still chose to frankly forgive him. The Cratchett's, Scrooge’s nephew and wife, had no idea of the three life-changing visits, but they welcomed his change with open arms.
We can do that, too. Even when a family member hasn't experienced a “mighty change of heart,” that's okay. We can still let go of being irked at their choices and choose to love them for this season. Instead of becoming angry this year, try a quick smile or change the conversation. Or plan ahead for predictable choices (i.e. Uncle Bob is always late, Aunt Midge is typically bossy). We can let Aunt Midge decorate the table as she likes—what does it matter in the long run? Just for now, we can open our arms and hearts without pre-conceived prejudices, and simply let people be.

As Christmas Day approaches, let’s give ourselves permission to let go of the cookie cutter Christmas. Instead, revel in the carols, sample the baked goods, and appreciate the unexpected but profound before us.

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