Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Reviews on Two Wonderful Stories

Valerie J. Steimle

Over the last month I had an unexpected surprise of downloading two wonderful books I had planned on reading eventually. I saw these two books were from LDS authors and thought it would be fun to read next on my long list of books to-be-read. I had just finished reading several regency romances and was not in a hurry to start. I’m not a big fan of silly romance novels of giggling girls and predictable story lines but I was amazed to find that both stories ended up being so very enjoyable to read.

The first one is called 
Once in a Blue Moon by Diane Darcy

Here is the review:
From the start of this story—I was not expecting the main characters to be a family in the modern world. This very clever tale is an entertaining adventure story and NOT predictable. A modern family is sucked back into the western world of the 1880s. It seemed a bit corny to me at first but as I read along, this story became a beacon of strength in showing how a modern family can all grow apart and by the fate of the moon grow back together by living a simple life. I love that this story could have been anyone in the modern world who is a workaholic and thinks their job is more important than their family.

Diane Darcy creates realistic conversations and thoughts of two parents trying to raise a son and daughter which helps the reader learn how to be better parents. 
The story was humorous as well as heartwarming and clean. We were taken through twists and turns until a very satisfying end.  A great read and a great moral!!

The next book:

The Ugly Step-Sister Strikes Back by Sariah Wilson is a wonderfully, delightful story of a teen girl who has to deal with her step-sister.

I didn’t know what to expect on this one as well because I knew the premise but once I started reading I was totally drawn in and I could not put it down. I laughed out loud in some of the most hilarious predicaments the main character, Maddie Lowe, finds herself and it was such a joy to read.

Great story for any girl who doesn’t think herself worthy of a happy ending.  I love how Sariah Wilson slowly weaves a believable story of teens dealing with every day ups and downs of high school and develops the characters.  I never read a book twice (other than scripture) but I want to read this one again.  A master piece of YA fiction and clean to boot.  Great story for curling up on a rainy day and just enjoying!!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Big Brothers

When you're young, big brothers can be a real pain. Sometimes, they continue to be a pain as you grow older. If you're lucky, the relationship changes.

Mine is turning 60 in February. As a surprise gift, his own family is compiling a book of all the favorite memories about him offered by friends and family alike. Naturally, I was tempted to give him some payback by contributing a particularly embarrassing or humiliating memory, but I resisted. Instead, I offered this:

All my less pleasant memories of Jeff's "older brother"-style mistreatment and teasing (including when he threatened to come into my walk-in closet in our attic bedroom in Bethesda to see me in my new training bra) were shoved to the back of my mind the day I rolled his brand new "used" car on a mountain canyon road and witnessed his reaction.

He had been bragging about his sporty, yellow Fiat, and had even let his best friend drive it while we were up in the canyon on a student ward activity. I had been driving for over a year by then, having had to wait to get my driver's license at BYU since I wasn't about to learn in Beirut. When I asked him if I could have a turn driving it, he hesitated a moment and then gave his assent. Fortunately, his best friend got out of the car at that point and it was only the two of us. The problem was, it was a stick shift, and I had never driven one before. When he learned that, he almost changed his mind, but I convinced him that I'd paid attention as his friend had driven and he could quickly show me the basics.

To make a long story short, by the time I thought I was getting the hang of it, I saw we were approaching the sharp curve that had given his friend pause. Jeff told me to slow down for the curve and, thinking I could do that by down shifting, I pushed in the clutch but hesitated with the stick shift. Instead, the car sped up. Jeff yelled for me to brake and start turning, and I froze at the wheel. So he reached over and grabbed the steering wheel to get us around the curve but between the speed and the over-correction, we started to roll. I seriously thought I was going to die. Everything turned black.

When I came to, I was somehow in the back of the car (we hadn't been wearing seat belts), lying on its roof and the front passenger seat had come loose and was on top of me. I remember I was wearing a white shirt that day and while my head hurt, I didn't think anything was broken (besides the car, of course, which was totaled) but I did glance down and noticed a few red spots on my shirt. Gingerly, I reached up and felt around where my head was hurting and felt a small amount of bleeding. Nothing really serious.

It was then that I heard this wailing coming from outside the car to my right. I looked over through the car's back window and saw Jeff kneeling in the mud, wailing, "My car! My new car!" I felt awful and knew he would hate me forever. Then something unexpected happened. I watched the expression of grief on his face turn to a dawning realization of horror, and he yelled, "Tanya!" He immediately turned to the car, saw me in there, and scrambled over to ask if I was okay. I'm afraid the realization that my brother cared about me more than the car was so enjoyable that I took an extra minute to respond.

Finally, I assured him I was all right, but he seemed dubious since I wasn't emerging from the car. Somehow, he got the car seat off me and helped pull me out. We were fortunate that a car or truck (I can't remember now) came along that empty mountain road not many minutes later and was able to give us a ride back to the campground where our ward was gathered. Then Jeff, no doubt still in shock, insisted on driving me in our family's blue Chevy Impala all the way back to the BYU Health Center to make certain I was okay.

I like to think that I saw Jeff's real heart that day, not the one he layers in teasing, joking and sarcasm, but the one he relies on to magnify his Priesthood, particularly now that he is a bishop. The only difference is that today it no longer requires a life or death situation, or him going into shock.

How about you? If you have an older brother or sister, what is your favorite memory of him or her?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Last week I went to Kansas to visit my grand babies. First of all, I can't imagine how I suddenly got grandchildren when I'm only twenty five in my head. I swear it was yesterday that I was rappelling off cliffs and flipping upside down for fun photo ops and running down the train tracks during PE to go see friends at the other high school. 

Nevertheless, I unaccountably have three of the most adorable offspring on the planet. Full on truth. A is four and has been planning to run the world since she was one. N is her willing henchman and accomplice when he isn't hounding people to be his baketbaw 'oop.

But the new little cannonball has stolen my heart. I checked. It's quite missing. There's just something so absolutely disarming about having a softy little bundle cuddled up on my chest and nuzzling my neck. It's been years since my own were that tiny. If they tried to climb on my chest now, I'd fight them off and bellow at them. But W was a fixture I wish was still cuddled up under my chin.

The second most amazing thing about him (after world-class softy cuddling skills) were his eyes. Those tiny orbs gazed straight into my soul and read everything I've ever done or planned. He has come straight from his Maker, new-minted and still with angel dust burnishing his brow. I could see it in those amazing, ancient eyes.

As I sat there relishing the contact, smelling his baby head, revelling in the tactile feast, I wondered what kind of a monster could gaze into eyes like those and ever contemplate taking the life of a baby. Maybe we should rent him out to people awaiting abortions. I'm convinced that they couldn't go through with it. How could they?

Similarly, how could someone look at that tiny sucking blister on his rosebud lips and do anything unkind to any child? Sure, he'll grow up to be a product of his parents, and thus offensive to one faction or another. Adults often suffer from the disease of hatred. But now, when his potential is all ahead of him, the thought is unconscionable.

Where is the dividing line between precious babyhood and that moment when he becomes an object of hatred? Why should there be a line? Especially, why should there be ill feeling against him before he has even had a chance to do anything wrong?

I used to think it would be interesting to have a mechanism with which we could read the intentions of another person, other than his face and body. But then I realize that such a device could have possibilities so evil we can't even comprehend them all. True there would be no secret thoughts of mayhem or murderous anger, but also there would be no private thoughts of any kind, no secret hopes and dreams. I dearly hope, after thinking about the ramifications, that we never have to wear such a monstrous device.

What, then, can Baby W. do to combat the mindless hatred he'll encounter in his life? I'm convinced that he'll need to remain close to that place from whence he has just come. He'll have to learn to follow the spirit and listen and learn to treat people with love and respect. That might not save him from every evil, but he'll have a much better chance.

Now if only he can survive the slightly less-than-gentle ministrations of his elder siblings.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Kayaking: An Object Lesson

Kayaking: An Object Lesson

When my husband and I were in Hawaii, we stayed with his sister and her family. Josh had two things he wanted to do: Snorkeling and kayaking. Stephanie and Harold said they would take us to do both. Everything else, Josh could take or leave, he just wanted to do those two things. That's why I felt so bad when I got sea sick snorkeling, and I almost died kayaking.

Don't let the "thumbs up" full you. It was scary.
Here's why I almost died:

Kayaking takes a lot of core work. I've never had very strong abs, therefore I used mostly my arms. Here's a technical tip: That's wrong. I was not expecting to tire out so quickly, but it didn't take long at all before my arms were aching and I started to loose control.

Then, we ended up in a some pretty rough waves. After my arms were already aching, mind you. The waves kind of came out of nowhere: One minute, we were dinking around in the kiddy section of the ocean, the next, we were way out in the bay, being attacked by the vindictive Poseidon  Neither of us stayed in our kayaks very well, and I got tired even faster trying to keep from drowning.

Once I finally got out of the waves, I had to paddle back to shore. It felt miles away, and every part of my upper body ached. I didn't think I could make it. I really wanted to hop into someone else's boat, and have them tug my kayak to shore, but I didn't think that was possible. All of our kayaks were made for one person, and one person only. I wanted to give up and just let the waves have their way with me.

BUT, and here's the object lesson of today's story, Harold, my brother-in-law, ended up coming to my rescue. He took my kayak, attached it to the back of his, and tugged it back to shore. He couldn't take me back on his kayak though, so I got to walk. The water was about mid-thigh high, so it wasn't exactly easy to walk, not to mention the uneven bottom, sharp coral, small and tugging waves, salt water, and sinking sand, but it gave my arms a break. I wasn't close to collapsing from exhaustion anymore, and I made it safely back to shore.

 I learned a lesson about Christ that day: He lets you go, until you are seriously considering giving up and just letting the waves of life pull you back from your destination, but then, He helps you. Right at the last moment, He lightens your load so you can do it. You can keep pushing toward the shore, toward the end. You still have to do some work, and it's still going to be hard, but you can do it. He wants to help you, as much as He can.

It's an experience that I've thought a lot about since our trip, and I'm glad I finally got around to writing it down.

And at least we got to see this guy when we went snorkeling!

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Trifecta

tri fect a  noun  1. a type of bet, especially on horse races, in which the bettor must select the first three finishers in exact order.

That's the official definition of "trifecta." What it has come to mean in our house is this: "a combination of three winning things." Let's say someone aced a math test, had a cupcake party at school, and did his/her chores without being asked. That's a trifecta. Or maybe you hit no traffic on the way home from work, had your favorite thing for dinner, and then read a fantastic book. Trifecta. 

And, these days, here's what "trifecta" means for me--getting three specific, winning things done in a day: 1) scripture study; 2) yoga; and 3) writing. 

Any day I do any one of those things is a better day--and scriptures almost always get done. Two is better--but somehow, the whole of the three is way better than the sum of its parts. Trifecta. I'll briefly address each of the three. 

Thing One: Scriptures. Prayer is wonderful--an essential part of the day--but for me, it's only half of the equation when it comes to communicating with God. In my prayers, I pour out my heart to Him. When I study scriptures, He answers me. Always. Sometimes in ways not expected, but always with comfort and cheer and insight. Those answers may have nothing to do with the actual words on the page; sometimes it's as if they are merely a window through which I glimpse responses meant just for me. 

Thing Two: Yoga. I am not super keen on exercise in general. I don't enjoy sweating or having my face turn as red as a tomato. Playing team sports takes me back to my klutzy, always-picked-last childhood. I have grown to tolerate running, but only barely. 

For me, yoga is different, somehow. It balances strenuous work with regeneration; I find that both my body and mind are fully engaged and present when I practice it. Classes are great, but most of the time, it's just me and a DVD--Rodney Yee, Baron Baptiste, and Trudie Styler are three of my favorites. Yoga may not be your cup of tea, but the intensity with which I enjoy it has convinced me that there is a form of exercise--of some kind--for everyone. 

Thing Three: Writing. Being a wife is a calling; being a mother is another. I believe my church work is yet another way in which I give meaningful service and find joy and fulfillment. But writing feels even more uniquely mine, if that makes sense. 

God created the world with words. When I create a world in a story, I feel like I'm imitating Him in a humble, but primal and important way. It feels like a crucial part of my earthly mission. I am a better wife and mother and church worker when I am writing regularly--even if my daily writing time is very short. 

In the wonderful movie Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell says "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure." Change that last sentence to "And when I write," and you've got me.

With such a glorious trifecta of bliss, why wouldn't I do all three, every single day?

Precisely because all three are so important to my happiness and growth, the Opposition of the Universe/Resistance/the Adversary works overtime to try to get me not to do them. I feel reluctant and lethargic; I'm tempted to procrastinate them until it's too late in the day. The great Steven Pressfield says, "The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it." Substitute "reluctant" for "scared," if you want; but he's right; Resistance is nothing more than fear. 

Do know what it is that brings you lasting, consistent happiness? If not, sit down and see if you can make a simple outline for yourself. Maybe it'll look like my Trifecta; maybe it'll be totally different. But if you know your Bliss, and then get yourself to follow it as consistently as possible, I promise: you'll be happy.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Mom in the Arena

There is a quotation by Teddy Roosevelt from his speech “Citizenship in a Republic,” that is commonly referred to as the “man in the arena” quote. It goes:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Motherhood is the daily decision to step into the arena. There is no way to be a mom that will not, sooner or later, invite the comments of the critics. They will find you and find ways to make you feel insufficient, unkempt, and unworthy. The trick is to step back into the arena the next day regardless of what you may feel about your efforts. There are mornings where all I want to do is get in my minivan and drive myself to the nearest beach. Instead I tell myself that the beach is cold, I hate sand, and my six month old is adorable.
If you have special needs children in your family, the decision to be really present with them, not merely going through the motions, is all the more vital. It is hard to emotionally invest every day in a child’s needs when they struggle with basic self-care. It is hard to stay cheerful and positive when report cards and tests come back below average after night upon night of review and homework. It is hard to make today a new opportunity for learning and growth and fun, when you wake up knowing that today will hold all the same struggles as yesterday.

I think the trick to maintaining the courage to stand every day in the arena of motherhood is to not go in alone. If you are fortunate enough to have a spouse, take them with you by greeting them at days end with your tiny victories and asking about theirs. This way you each stand with the other though apart during the day. Make your children stand with you by giving them choices (See Parenting with Love and Logic if you haven’t already). And most importantly, never walk into the arena without the Lord. Believe that He can do all things, including getting through that next load of laundry, dishes, homework, cupcakes for the PTO, scouts, and the hundreds of other "things" that are part of daily being a mom. More importantly the Lord will help you find the strength to say, “I can do this.”

As writers we put ourselves in the arena by being true to our works, by not second guessing the things about which we are writing. They resonate with us for a reason. We should be bold enough to put them out into the world. It is not enough to dabble with words and stories about which we feel passionately, and then shy away from sharing them with excuses about not being educated enough, polished enough, pretty enough for the limelight. These are all voices of fear, doing their best to keep us standing just outside those arena doors. But if we learn anything from Teddy’s quotation, it’s that failure is part of the success equation. We will fall down, get rejected, kicked in the face. And while the world might sit above us in the audience, pointing and laughing, they will never know the exquisite joy of success, the thrill of starting anew, or the triumph in getting back up from the place where you fell.

What arenas are you afraid to enter? Which ones are you proud of confronting? Are there times that you are the critic, sitting above it all? What new arenas will you enter this year?
Inspiration for this post came from the following youtube video. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Believe in yourself and write what you know....

A little over two years ago I finally took courage and began to pursue one of my life long loves, writing.  I have written or made up stories for as long as I can remember, but my education in this area consisted of what I got in school, Kindergarten through High School and one semester of Creative Writing at the Community College that I attended after High School.
  Two years ago I signed up and went to my first Writer's Conference.  The experience was amazing and a bit intimidating.  In one of the classes, the teacher said to "write what you know."  As strange as it sounds, this was not reassuring at all.  After all, what did I know?  Why would anyone want to read anything I had to write anyway?  I am not well traveled.  I have never been outside the country, and only in twelve of the states and then only certain places in those states.  I have never had a career.  I got married my first year in college and because of financial lack and after a few years, children I have never finished more than an Associate of Arts degree.  In this new to me world of published authors, editors, agents and people who seemed to know everything, I felt like I didn't know anything.  That whole first year I did my best to follow the advice from the conference and from the writer's group that I also joined.  I still felt like a child surrounded by giants, like I would never have anything meaningful to contribute to my group, much less the world.   
So over the course of the next year I decided to figure out what it is I know.  The teacher at that first conference also said that imagination is something you know.  I love that! Albert Einstein said, "Logic will get you from A to Z, imagination will get you everywhere."  I could work with that.
  I began to make lists of things I know.  Sometimes I would write something down that I know, but wasn't confident about.  Horses comes to mind.  I was raised out of town on horse property my entire childhood.  Much to my mom's stress, my dad took me out tucked into one of his over-sized  coat pockets on horseback when I was two weeks old and I rode pretty much every day of my life afterwards until I graduated from High School.  All of my education of horses is personal experience and a couple of years of 4-H.  This sounds great, but my knowledge was habit, routine and whatever is in the blood of horse people.  I had no polished education, so when people questioned what I knew, I began to doubt.  Perhaps the doubt also came from having been away from the horse and country scene for 23 years. Whatever the case I had to find a way to figure out if I really knew about horses.  So I went to my sister who still has horses, and I found that it was still in there, and now, I can articulate what I know!  So exciting! 
I won't go on forever about what I know, it may not be much, but enough to bore you to tears in this format.  One final thing I will mention is what keeps me from writing the most, but gives me most of my inspiration and that would be children.  I have been a mom for over twenty years, given birth nine times and raised more kids than I can count-not all of them mine biologically.  No one on this Earth will ever be able to tell me that I don't know about kids or being a mom.  
Now that I have rambled my way around I will get to the point.  Somewhere out there, someone else may feel this same way, maybe that they don't have much to contribute or that they don't know much.  I want to say that this isn't true.  We have all been given a voice, and if you have a desire to write, it is a gift, you know all you need to know because your experiences and your imagination.  One of my favorite authors and a mentor for writing- even though he doesn't know it is Dr. Seuss.  He put it this way
                "You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself any direction you choose.  You're on your own.  And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where you go... "  from Oh the Places You'll Go

So take courage, believe in yourself and write what, where, and when you can.  I'm rooting for you!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Power of Change

A few years ago I was unfocused, unfulfilled, and fat. In a pivotal moment (translate: my chocolate stash ran out), I asked myself three life-changing questions: What isn’t working? What do I want to do differently? How can I make it happen?

That moment became a powerful catalyst for my “Year of the Change.” I wrote my ideal life vision, then chose a few achievable goals; namely, to lose weight so I could stop looking like a bloated walrus. Using simple time-tested principles and a home gym, I lost twenty-five pounds and gained great energy.

That change spilled over into other areas of my life. Having been a partner with my husband in our hardwood floor business, I stopped helping (nagging?) and let him do the honors. I researched and tested principles to organize our home, and better manage my time. Lastly, I began speaking part-time, sharing the concepts I had learned and tweaked with other women.

After more than ten years, I’m still reaping the blessings of that “Year of the Change.”
What’s one life change you want to make? Whether it's weight loss, finances, or relationships, I invite you to answer those three previous questions: What isn’t working? What do I want to do differently? How can I make it happen? Then decide how the answers can help you create your ideal life. As you write the answers, remember not to self-edit. Sometimes we eliminate our dreams or high-level goals because they seem unrealistic, or unsupported. But as you focus on what you do want and what you can do, step by step you will make it a reality.

One woman I life coached was moved to tears. She felt frustrated with her marriage, a lack of progress in developing her talents and abilities, and an absence of joy in her life. But as we discussed key issues such as her physical, emotional and spiritual wellness, she continually veered into talking about her husband’s life. Several times I gently reminded her that we weren’t talking about her husband’s choices, but about hers. Instead, I helped her focus on writing a Life Vision, a few sentences detailing her ideal life. Then a few key goals to start, and a simple plan to make it happen. I encouraged her to create a Life Board—a wall space, poster board, or foam board to post her goals, quotes, and pictures of her ideal life.

Shortly after, I received an email from this good woman about how positively life had changed, and that she could hardly handle all the good that was coming her way!

Our present is our future, and it's up to us to choose it. No matter your circumstances, you can truly change and succeed in ways you hadn’t previously imagined. So give it a try. Sit down for fifteen minutes and answer the three questions above. Focus on answering them honestly, from the gut and the heart. Then post the answers somewhere you’ll see them frequently, allowing your heart, mind, and soul to simmer. If you’re a praying person, make this a part of your personal prayers and watch the daily miracles begin.

My deepest desire is to help others create and live their ideal life. To jumpstart your desire to change, email me at for a free podcast, “Forget Resolutions! Set, Achieve, and Enjoy Goals that Work!” You’ll also automatically be entered to win my e-book, Create a Powerful Life Plan! 3 Simple Steps to Your Ideal Life.

It’s a brand new year, what will you do with it? An anonymous quotation reads, "If not now, when? If not me, then who?" Make this your year of the change and live the joy!