Monday, December 17, 2012

Caroling for Christmas

I apologize for not blogging much lately. I've been recovering from a minor medical procedure--but I'm pretty much on the mend now. In fact I'm beginning to feel better than I have in quite some time. This is good. As such, I take laptop in hand to bring a holiday blog post your way. =D

In light of recent events. I thought it might be appropriate to dust off a Christmas memory from several years ago. It was a time in our family when things seemed a bit bleak. Although we had experienced a lot of tender mercies, our family was still grieving over the loss of our father. As many of you know, he suffered from a rare medical condition, and during a moment when he was very much not himself, he took his own life.

As a result, moments like the holiday season were often painful reminders of who was missing in our clan.  Healing had begun, but our hearts were still very tender. And that year, my brother, who had served a valiant mission in Canada, had returned home. We wanted that Christmas to be a special time, and yet it was still a challenge to feel the Christmas Spirit.

That year, while my mother searched for a job as a dental assistant, she had accepted employment as a CNA at a local nursing home. The lonely plight of some of the residents of that facility inspired her to come up with a plan to help us all feel better.

The afternoon of Christmas Eve, we gathered together to make Christmas cookies. At first we thought we were making them for our family to enjoy. Then our mother explained that we would be taking them in to the nursing home residents. She went on to say that we would also be singing Christmas carols to these people. For a moment, we all looked at each other in shock. Singing had always been something special in our family. For years we had performed together on various programs with our father, who had possessed a beautiful, deep bass voice. Since his death, the music inside of us had withered.

A few months after his death, I had attempted singing on a Christmas program, thinking I could handle it. This was a bad choice. Ignoring a quiet prompting that warned it was too soon to try something like this, I agreed to perform on the program for a Christmas dinner. I managed to get halfway through the number, then was hit with a wave of overwhelming grief that prevented me from finishing the performance. It was a horrible experience and I hadn't been able to sing since that night. I'll admit that I silently balked at the idea of singing Christmas carols in public. But when my mother handed me a guitar as everyone else gathered plates of Christmas cookies, I didn't have the heart to say, "NO!"

We loaded up in a couple of cars and drove across town to the nursing home. On the way, I offered a silent prayer for help, uncertain that I could come through on my mother's request. When we arrived, I still felt extremely nervous, but obediently clutched my guitar and followed behind everyone else inside the building.

We began by handing out the Christmas cookies to the staff and the nursing home residents. That act alone brought smiles to lonely, suffering faces, and their reaction softened my heart. I could see that most of these people hadn't received Christmas visitors. Their joy over our arrival melted through the icy grief that had engulfed my heart. My mother signaled that it was time for a Christmas carol, and I bravely shouldered my guitar.

At first I thought that I would simply accompany my sisters, brother, and mother. But as the familiar words rang out, I found myself joining in with a soft harmony. As I sang with my family that night, a soothing peace nestled in my heart. We advanced from room to room, making certain that everyone received Christmas cookies, and one or two heartfelt carols. Tremendous healing took place that night as we witnessed a Christmas miracle we hadn't anticipated. And when we returned home, our hearts warmed from the glow of that small act of service, Christmas didn't seem quite so painful. A quiet feeling of joy replaced the grief, helping us to know that eventually, all would be well.

I've never forgotten the happiness I felt that night. It was a reminder that when we reach out to help others, our own sorrow fades. It's the best way I know to experience the true joy of Christmas.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Weathering the Storm

Sometimes it seems like life is one impressive storm after another. This week, as a huge storm (I've heard it called: Frankenstorm) approaches the eastern coast of our country, residents are doing the best that they can to batten down the hatches. Boards have been fastened over windows, services like subways, trains, and flights have been cancelled, businesses and schools have closed, and many people have been evacuated in preparation.

As I watched the news last night, various scenes flashed across the TV screen. One showed people inside of a store frantically shoving items like bottled water, canned goods, etc. into shopping carts. Another featured a stubborn resident who was refusing to leave the area, claiming he had nowhere to go and he wanted to protect his home. As such, he was busy loading up bags with sand from a nearby beach. Only time will tell if this was a wise decision.

A year after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, my husband and I spent two weeks in the area on a business trip. We saw firsthand some of the damage that can take place when a storm of this magnitude descends. Some images will always haunt me, like the flattened homes, others with numbers revealing how many were found dead and alive, and a cemetery with empty tombs--everything had washed out to sea.

It helped to see the determination to rebuild. Everywhere we looked, despite the overwhelming devastation that had taken place, people were stubbornly piecing their homes and businesses back together. Most had done this before, and they told us they would do so again if another storm came through.

Before our trip to New Orleans, I wondered why anyone would want to live in a place that is prone to massive storms. After spending two weeks exploring the area, I could see why. I fell in love with New Orleans and all it had to offer. It is a beautiful city, full of history, art, music, romance, and excellent cuisine. A seafood fan, I consumed some of the best shrimp, oysters, etc. that I've ever had the pleasure to sample during our stay in 'Nawlins. The Cajun spices appealed, although I did draw the line over the deep-fried blue crabs. Spiders are not my friends and in my opinion, those small crabs resembled deep-friend tarantulas. Just sayin' . . .

Regardless, I came away from Louisiana with a deep respect for those who have the courage to live in a storm-prone state. Their sense of culture, tradition, and endurance impressed me greatly. I have often thought of their resilience as I have faced storms in my own life.

We all experience storms during our adventure of a lifetime. Some are more like light mists that barely douse our lives. Others are of such scary magnitude, we want to run screaming the other way. I think what matters most is how we decide to confront these challenges. Do we run in a panicked circle exclaiming the sky is falling, or do we simply do our best to secure our foundation and weather the storm? It has been my experience that we often don't know how we'll react until the storm is on the horizon. That's when we discover our mettle, as my grandmother would call it--and often realize that we can shine the brightest when all around is dark.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Isn't it About "Time?"

The other day someone asked me how things were going. I smiled and answered, "Well, I'm never bored." The reply to that response was: "Aren't you glad?" I've thought about that conversation this past week, and have decided that I am glad I'm not bored. It seems like every day there are so many things that I can try to accomplish--it's like a never-ending list.

I usually try to write in the early morning hours, since that is when my creative juices seem to flow. Then I dive in on the daily adventure which is often a combination of household chores, errands, etc.Though I manage to cross several items off these daily lists, I never quite finish up everything. There are moments when I sigh and wish there were three of me . . . but then again, perhaps there would be three times the amount of things to do. ;)

I do make an effort to attend most family events, since I believe those are the really important items in this life. And since my husband and I both belong to rather large family trees, it seems like there are always weddings, funerals, baptisms, graduations, and new babies to welcome into this mortal world, not to mention reunions, family camping adventures, holidays to celebrate, birthdays to commemorate, and so on.

Then there are crazy days like a Friday I experienced a couple of weeks ago. In that one day I helped my mother pick up the cases of canned food she wanted at the local case lot sale, sang at the local senior center for their weekly entertainment slot, endured a less-than-fun mammogram, entertained my mother-in-law who surprised us with a quick visit for part of the weekend, and cleaned out my abode for the arrival of family members from my side who were coming to hang out during Conference weekend. I'll admit, by the end of that day I fell sound asleep the moment my head hit the pillow. 

It seems like I experience erratic days like that at least once a week. But you know what, there are no regrets. I suspect when my allotted time is over on this mortal sphere, I will experience a tiny bit of satisfaction from knowing that I did my best to make the most out of each day. I may not have always succeeded . . . and there is the glitch I currently endure with having to slow down a bit here and there compliments of my less than cooperative body . . . but for the most part, I have tried to live this adventure of a lifetime with a bit of gusto. 

So, yes, I'm rarely bored, but this is a good thing. Though sometimes I long for a day when I can sit and vegetate, if I ever reach a point in my life when that is all I can do, I will probably not enjoy it much. But maybe even then, I will follow my mother's example, and come up with creative things to do to keep myself entertained. Isn't that part of why we're here--to see how we'll use the time we have been given during this probationary time? The good news is the belief that I have that this life is just the beginning. I believe that we'll have an eternity to continue polishing those talents, friendships, and interests that we've developed on earth. And if that is the case, I suspect I will never be bored--and that is a reason to celebrate. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Goodbye For Now Dear Brandy

At the tender age of twelve, our second son fell head over heels for a young lady. For nearly a week all we heard about was how beautiful she was, and how smart. Finally we went with our son to meet her, and I remember thinking, "This is the ugliest puppy I have ever seen." Grey with black spots, she looked like a dirty dalmatian. The funny part was, the owner was anxious to get rid of her because she was stifling the sale of her brothers and sisters, who were supposed to be pure-bred Labradors. Evidently an amorous Australian Shepherd had upset that plan somewhat, hence the one spotted puppy.

She was offered to us at no charge, and after seeing the look of adoration on our son's face, we agreed to give her a home. All three of our sons were ecstatic over this decision, and soon, Brandy (the name our second son had already picked out) became part of the family.

Brandy proved to be extremely intelligent. This trait worked well for our number two son as he taught her to be a retriever for his bird hunting adventures. Brandy caught on quickly and soon she was our son's favorite hunting partner. One day they returned home triumphant, bearing three wild sage hens. He told us how Brandy had set her front paws on the first two, and then sat on the third to keep them in place until he caught up to her. 

In time, our son also taught Brandy how to retrieve items out of the water. This worked well until we took her with us on a fishing trip. Each time anyone cast out, Brandy dove in the water to bring back our lines, the bait intact. Needless to say, no one caught fish that day.

For some reason, Brandy decided early on that if anything took place that she didn't like, she would punish me by digging out the flowers from my flowerbeds, or chomping off bits of trees and bushes. And no matter what I planted on either side of our front porch, it was fair game for one of her favorite pastimes: dropping rocks into the flowerbeds so she could dig huge holes to find them. One spring, in an act of desperation, I planted thorny barberry bushes, thinking this would discourage her from this practice. Au contraire. We came home from a weekend trip to find that she had eaten a goodly portion of each bush, and then had dug out the rest, leaving cavernous pits on each side of the porch. 

One year for Mother's Day, my sons gave me a cute little flowering crab tree to plant in the front yard. I love flowering trees and I was excited to add this pink-blossomed delight to our yard. Shortly after it was planted, our family left for the day. I can't remember now where we went, but I've never forgotten how shocked I was when we returned home to find that Brandy had chomped off that new crab tree right at the base. There it lay, beyond repair on its side with several teeth marks indicating the guilty party. The boys felt so bad, they bought me a new tree and we planted it on the other side of the yard, keeping a fence around it until it was large enough to avoid Brandy's pruning rituals.

Ironically, the day Brandy ate something nasty she had dug up from a neighbor's place, I was the only one home. After seeing how sick she was, I called the local vet who instructed me to bring her in immediately. By this point in time, Brandy was full-grown, heavier than I thought, and not amused by me trying to load her into the back of our truck. It took forever for me to successfully get her into that truck, but when I finally did, I raced to town to save her life. There she was given several shots, and sent home with a strong antibiotic to turn things around. I babied her for two days as she hovered between life and death. On the third day, she rose from her bed and walked around, apparently on the mend. My husband was at work, the boys were in school, and I headed to town to get some groceries. To thank me for my efforts on her behalf, Brandy successfully deflowered an entire bed in the front yard during my absence that day.

Brandy was a homebody. She never did stray too far, and mostly remained in our yard that she helped landscape. There was one exception to this: one year, in the space of two weeks, our oldest son left on a mission for our church, son number two, her hunting buddy, headed off for his first year of college, and our youngest son started high school. When son number three boarded a bus to go to school, Brandy freaked out. She didn't like it that our boys were leaving home without her, and for the first time in her life, she chased after a vehicle: that large, yellow bus. I saw her racing down the road and called to her, but she ignored me and continued running as though her life depended on it. I assumed she would tire and return home, but by late afternoon, there was still no sign of her. Panicking, we called neighbors, posted a missing dog report on the local radio, and drove all over the place, trying to find her. By the third day, we were losing hope. Then, after I offered yet another silent prayer for help, I felt a strong prompting to search for her again. My husband and I climbed into our truck and drove around town, heartsick. Just as we were about to give up, we spotted her, sitting down by the main highway near a four-wheeler that looked a lot like ours. Stopping, we raced to where Brandy sat in a weakened state. The owners of the house came out and talked to us. They said she had sat there by that four-wheeler for nearly three days, refusing to move, eat, or drink the water they had set out for her. Relieved that we had found her, we drove Brandy home and showered her with love, food, and water. And yes, by the next afternoon, most of my flowers on the right side of the porch were missing, my punishment for her disappearance.

Brandy had several quirks: not only did she enjoy digging up my flower beds, she loved riding on the back of our four-wheeler. In fact, if anyone took off without her, she dug up a few flowers to express her disapproval. She also loved carrying rocks around in her mouth. If she felt you were ignoring her, she dropped the rock on your foot, a signal that she wanted to play: "Chase the rock." Her chosen victim would then throw the rock, and wait until Brandy brought it back for repeated fun. All shapes and sizes, to her those rocks were the best chew-toys ever. We tried giving her more appropriate items, like balls, rawhide chewy thingies, dog biscuits, all to no avail. They always came up missing; I suspected she buried them in protest, since we found a couple of them in our garden one summer.

A veterinarian later told us that this rock habit of hers would lead to her demise. The rocks wore sores inside her mouth and one of those eventually became a malignant tumor. When a veterinarian was consulted, we were told that this tumor was inoperable, the cancer would spread, and it will likely kill her instantly. So for the past couple of years, she courageously faced this health challenge with gusto. She still wanted her "good food," to ride on the back of the four-wheeler, and to play, "Chase the Rock," whenever possible. She was like an eternal puppy, even rolling in the grass after it was mowed because she liked how it smelled.

Brandy passed away yesterday. She lived to be a little over 16 years old, which we've been told is unheard of for a dog of her breed. But then, Brandy was never one to heed rules. I can imagine her in heaven, having a wonderful time digging up flowers, cavorting with other friendly dog spirits, and doing her best to find a rock that is just the right size and shape to enjoy. I have no doubt that she will be waiting for us to join her someday, wondering what in the world took so long. What a wonderful reunion that will be.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Life is Getting Too Crazy When . . .

I apologize for not posting anything for a few weeks. In my defense (and I'm sure many of you feel the same way) August has been a blur of activity. This past weekend would be a great example of what I'm talking about. In our clan we've survived two funerals, one reunion, and a wedding . . . all in a three day span. And that doesn't include a wedding that took place on my side of the family tree, something we were unable to attend because of everything going on in my husband's family.

So while I was doing quite a balancing act preparing food to take to Kennon's cousins who lost their father this past week, and wrapping a wedding gift . . . and other assorted tasks, I couldn't find the sympathy card for Kennon's cousins. I searched everywhere I could think of . . . then came back to the kitchen table where I was certain I had left it. There sat the wedding gift all nicely wrapped . . . with a card attached . . . and a sick feeling descended. On a nearby counter I spied a wedding card. Groaning, I carefully removed the card attached to the wedding gift, and wallah (Or however you spell that word. At this point in time I don't care.) there was the missing sympathy card. Oy! Most uncool! In my haste, I hadn't noticed which card I was signing. There under the large sentence that said something like, "Our sympathy is with you on this tragic occasion," I had written: "CONGRATULATIONS!" and signed our names with much love and caring. Then I had attached it to the wedding gift.

Wow! That would have been all sorts of awkward. We're laughing about it now, but that was truly a near miss of epic proportion. Sadly, I had to throw away the sympathy card, since there was no way to salvage it. I mean, one doesn't send a message of "CONGRATULATIONS" to people who have lost a loved one. It just isn't done.

This experience did make me realize that I possibly need to slow down a tiny bit, and as a dear cousin is always telling me, "Just breathe!" So what if in one day I had to attend a viewing for a funeral, a wedding reception, and a hot dog roast at a nearby park for a family reunion on Kennon's side of the family. In between all of that, I need to learn to relax and focus on getting my brain cells to work to avoid future embarrassment.

I doubt life will slow down much . . . at all. I'm already looking at everything on the docket for this week and cringing. But I will strive to make time for a little bit of R & R so things don't get so cluttered. Good luck to me I say, but that is my goal. How do the rest of you handle multi-tasking moments? Has anyone else ever sent a sympathy card to a wedding?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Old Friends

Several years ago (if I said how many, it would be depressing), I found myself in a bit of trouble. I walked into the school library with a small stack of books, eager to return them. I was eight years old and absolutely loved to read. Books were my best friends at that tender age. I possessed a shy nature and often retreated into a corner to lose myself inside the pages of a captivating novel.

A product of the "Programmed Reading," phenomenon of the mid-sixties, I found that I could read circles around some of my classmates. Words literally seemed to leap off the page at me, and by the time I was half-way through the second grade, I had managed to read through everything the program had to offer. That was when I was introduced to the school library.

What a wonderful world of discovery--an entire room full of potential new friends! I embraced this opportunity with gusto, much to the librarian's dismay. On the day in question, I gripped the small stack of books in my hands and brought them up to the counter to check them in. The librarian scowled at me, her grey eyes piercing through me as she slid her glasses down her nose for emphasis.

"Young lady, what are you doing?!" she demanded.
Gulping I forced a smile and replied, "Checking in these books."
"But you just checked them out yesterday," she countered.
"I read all of them," I meekly responded.
"There is no way you could have possibly read through all of these books in one day," she continued.
Stunned, I merely stood there, tempted to flee the room that had been a safe haven of delight.
"You are making twice the work for me . . . I know there is no possible way you can be reading through these books this fast. I'm going to call your mother and let her know what you're doing."
I nervously shifted from one foot to the other and quietly said, "Okay."

Picking up the phone from her desk, she asked for my number, then called my mother. This proved to be an interesting conversation. It went something like this:

"Mrs. Jackson, I'm calling to let you know that your daughter, Cheri, has been checking out too many books from our library. She checks them out one day and brings them back the next and I know there's no way she is reading them this fast. She's only in the third grade."
"How well do you know my daughter?" my mother asked.
"She comes into the library every day," the librarian returned with a sniff. "I think I know her pretty well."
"And does she cause any trouble?"
"No . . . well . . . she's pretty quiet . . . but she's making a lot of extra work, pretending to read through all of these books."
"My daughter is reading all of these books. Reading is one of her favorite things to do right now. You can ask her questions about any of those books and she'll be able to answer you in full detail. Now, let me ask you a question--what is your job?"
"I'm the librarian."
"Are you encouraging children to read?"
"Well, yes . . . but in this case . . . "
"In this case you will let my daughter check out as many books as she wants, whenever she wants, or I'll come in and have a chat with the principal."
"There's no need for that," the librarian stammered.
"If you have further questions, talk to Cheri's teacher. She'll explain how fast my daughter reads."

The phone call ended with the librarian promising to never give me a bad time again about the number of books I checked out . . . and she never did cause any more trouble for me.

Shortly after this, family members caught on that giving me books for my birthday, or holidays like Christmas, was a great idea, and slowly, I began building my own personal library, made up of my favorite friends.

That has continued through the years. I currently possess 7 bookcases that are somewhat filled with favorite books. I say, "somewhat," because a great tragedy took place this past year. In March, our basement flooded. This was a very bad thing for many reasons, and our family lost a lot of treasures. 

For Mother's Day, the year before, my sons had put together a special library for me in one corner of our basement. It was filled with my collection of precious books. The flood claimed over 121 of these items--something that nearly broke my heart. Comments from well-meaning family and friends didn't help.

"Well, you've read all of those books--maybe you need to get some new ones to replace them."

People who love books like I do, understand that they are treasured friends. If a book is good enough, I love reading it over and over again.

I'm currently doing my best to restore the books that were lost. Thanks heavens for online sites like,  and where one can locate books that are out of print or hard to find. The other day, my husband and I stumbled onto a huge going-out-of-business sale by a bookstore in a nearby town. While I'm saddened that this store is closing its doors, (something that happens far too often these days) I was thrilled to find several books by one of my favorite authors who were just waiting for a good home.

This past week several copies of my lost tomes have arrived via our faithful mail carriers. I cannot put into words how it feels to unwrap them, and place them back on the shelf where they belong. To me, these books are friends. They have taken me to places I may never see in person, and some of them have taught me important lessons. Others provided a much-needed escape when life threw curve-balls. Reference books have answered questions, fantasies have filled my heart with color. Mysteries have intrigued me. So on and so forth. Each book has touched me in some way and truly is a treasured friend.

I'm more careful now about how I'm putting my library back together-- I'm not sure any books will go on the lower shelves of the new bookcases. Though we have taken measures to ensure that this type of tragic loss will never happen again, it still fills my heart with dread to think about future glitches. And I'm finding that these books are even more precious than before, items I will never take for granted again. I guess it's really true that we sometimes have to lose what we love to realize just how much they really mean.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Standing Alone

During the beginning of my seventh grade year, I was invited to join ranks with one of the most popular groups of girls at school. I’m not sure why—it might have been because I was in the same ward as a couple of the girls who already belonged and this was their version of “fellowshipping” me. My family wasn’t as active in the Church at the time and dedicated leaders had already gone to great lengths to include me in mutual activities during the summer. 

Regardless, I weighed the pros and cons and eventually accepted their invitation. I’ll admit it boosted my self-esteem--which at that age was quite fragile. We had moved back to this area a couple of years before and my shy nature had hampered my social status. It hadn’t helped when a girl who befriended me, passed away from a rare kidney disease a few months later. After that traumatic experience, I retreated into a shell of isolation.  

Joining with this boisterous group of girls helped pull me out of my secluded state. They were fun, looked up to by the others in our class, and I no longer felt alone. Then one weekend they decided to have a slumber party. There were about 14 girls in this group and all of us were to gather at one girl’s home Friday night after school.

I felt so excited—knowing this was a major social event. My mother drove me the five miles into town to the house where the party would take place and as I exited the car with my sleeping bag and small suitcase, I was certain this would be a night to remember. It was . . . but for a very different reason than the one I’d anticipated.

It started out as a typical gathering of preteen girls with lots of giggling, pizza, pop, and candy. We played several games outside and when it grew dark, we retreated to the family room downstairs where we rolled out our sleeping bags and prepared for bed. After we had all changed into nightgowns or pajamas, we sat around on our sleeping bags and visited for several minutes. 

Finally, one girl suggested that we play the game of “Truth or Dare.” I wasn’t familiar with this particular pastime and as they started, I began feeling uneasy as the questions asked became quite crude. The dares weren’t much better. I sat there in shock, knowing that things had taken a decided turn for the worst. Then, suddenly it was my turn. I slowly stood and faced these new friends. I refused to answer the vulgar question directed my way. I was then hit with a dare that went against important standards, items I didn’t realize were implanted in my soul until that moment.

I stood quietly for several seconds, contemplating my fate. I knew that if I refused to cooperate, I would probably be asked to leave, and that my membership in this particular group would come to an end. Nevertheless, I stood my ground. I looked around at the faces watching me and said simply, “This is wrong, we shouldn’t be playing this game.” I was then assaulted by several taunts like: “Chicken!” “Baby!” etc. and so forth. I began making my way to my sleeping bag, intent on packing my things and calling my mother for a ride home. Before I could roll up my bag, another girl moved to my side. She stood bravely and faced the others.

“Cheri is right—this is wrong and we shouldn’t be doing it.”

After this girl spoke, two or three others moved to our side of the room and echoed their support.  Gradually, every girl admitted this wasn’t a very good game and those guilty apologized for indulging in it. The atmosphere changed and the rest of the night was fun and lighthearted.

I learned something about myself that night—I was stronger than I had ever believed. It was okay to be different and not follow the crowd, especially when it veered toward items that were wrong or harmful. A couple of years earlier, a wise grandmother had cautioned me to avoid being a “sheep.” I didn’t fully understand what she meant by that until the night of the slumber party. 

If you are acquainted with sheep, you know that they tend to follow around in a group, regardless of the danger involved. If one of the leaders decides it’s a good idea to work their way through a weak spot in the fence, they will do just that, and the others will follow, often with perilous results.

Through the years, I’ve tried to avoid the sheep mentality, and have followed my own path. This hasn’t always been a popular choice. People are often offended or outraged when I ignore the “norm” of the moment to pursue what I know in my heart is the right thing, at least for me. I have made many mistakes along the way, and tried to learn from them. None of us can be perfect in this mortal world, but each day, we can strive to be a little better than we were before.

Someday, we’ll all stand alone, facing our Redeemer with what we have done, and become. I suspect that money and material items won’t mean anything. What will matter is how we conducted ourselves through a variety of mortal tests. Were we kind? Patient? Thoughtful of others? Did we exhibit faith when the way wasn’t sure? Did we stand up for what was right—even if it wasn’t a popular choice? 

As I saw years ago, sometimes making a positive difference  means being brave enough to stand alone. History is full of examples of those who did just that and changed the world for the better. It lies within each one of us to be as they were—we just have to step away from the crowd and follow the path we know is right.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Greatest Director of All

Today I'm going to touch on something that has been a weakness in my life, the fact that I often care too much about what other people are thinking or saying. This tendency is difficult when one is a writer, because criticism is rampant and even if the evaluations are just, it still stings. Learning to rise above all of that, and using the criticism to improve writing skills is crucial to being a successful author. It can be difficult, though, figuring out what to heed and what to ignore since some "helpful" opinions are less than that. ;)

Years ago, when my husband and I were first married, a woman in the community came up to me and said, "You are so lucky--your husband must really love you since he married you even though you're a diabetic." Ouch. I'm sure this person meant that comment as a compliment, but it wounded my pride all the same. It took a while for me to move past what that observation implied.

A couple of years went by and I was called to serve as the youngest Primary president our ward had ever experienced--to that point in time. Once again I faced an onslaught of criticism, and comments like: "She's too inexperienced!" "So and so would have been a better choice," & "What was our bishop thinking?" Feeling a bit worthless, I knelt down and poured my heart out to my Father in heaven. After that prayer, I climbed into bed, tossed and turned, and finally drifted off to sleep. I was blessed with the following dream, something that has helped me keep things in perspective ever since.

I was involved in several dramatic productions in high school and college. I'm certain that's why this particular dream began with me onstage. There I was, surrounded by the cast, ready to share my one and only line in the production. I uttered the small sentence, then ran down into the audience to see if everyone approved of how I had performed. "Did I enunciate clearly enough?" "Was I loud enough?" "Should I have said it a different way?" I asked these and other questions, hoping for positive feedback.

It took a while, but eventually I realized that the entire production had come to a halt because of my  interruption. Mortified by what I had done, I turned my back to the audience and hurried onto the stage so the play could continue. When it was over, I ran into the "green room," off stage and did my best to hide in the corner, still embarrassed over my blunder. Suddenly, it was announced that the Greatest Director of all was coming in to talk to us about our performance. Overwhelmed with humiliation, I tried to make myself as invisible as possible.

When the Greatest Director appeared in the doorway, a reverent hush fell over the room. We all knew who He was, and knelt in deference to our Savior. One by one, He talked to the entire cast, except for me. I continued to press myself into the corner, hoping He wouldn't notice me. He noticed. After He had spoken to everyone else, He approached my hiding place and gently pulled me from the corner. His eyes were filled with compassion and love as He helped me straighten in place. Then He looked directly into my heart and said, "I am the only one you need to please." He handed me another script and assured that I could handle the role I would now play. The dream ended and I woke up, filled with a strong sense of peaceful love.

I've reflected on that dream quite often in my life. It helped me survive my years as the youngest Primary president in our ward (even if we were dealing with 121 kids and new policy changes from SLC, like having to cancel the traditional Cub Scout Rodeo). It eased things for me when I served in other callings that stretched me in various ways . . . and when my first book was published and I faced a new round of interesting comments. ;) It comes to mind every time I've faced a difficult challenge. I often remind myself that even if I can't please those around me, if I've tried to do my best, keeping an eternal perspective in mind, then that's what matters most.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book Review: Million Dollar Diva

Once again I take keyboard in hand (years ago one would say "pen" but times have changed) to review a book that has the potential to change your life for the better. I'll admit, most financial advice tomes are a bit dry and tend to leave you confused. Not this one. Written with the humorous touch of best-selling author, Tristi Pinkston, this wonderful book highlights the advice of two financial wizards, Brett Kitchen and Ethan Kap. Experts in their field, they not only know what they're talking about, but they explain how to get out of debt and get back on your feet financially in simple layman's terms. Their goal is to help people learn to save and survive during these tough economic times.

The entire title of the book is: "Million Dollar Diva, The Smart Woman's Guide to Getting Rich Safely." Only a hundred and seventy pages long, you can read it one sitting. I know this because when my copy first arrived, I sat down to thumb through it, and was still reading it an hour later. I couldn't put it down. Written in first person narrative by Tristi, she begins by sharing her own adventure of surviving a car accident with a semi-truck. She compares this near fatal disaster with how many of us are trying to cope with the outrageous interest rates and rising inflation costs of our current society.

Here's the best part, you can get this informative little book for free, if you click on this link (Click on me) and order it from the website. The only catch: you have to be willing to pay $5.95 for shipping and handling. This offer is only good until June 15th, so be sure to take advantage of it now. I can promise that you won't regret it.

If you would prefer buying the book outright from you can purchase it on this link: (Amazon link)

In Tristi's own words: "I didn't agree to write this book so I could spout out a bunch of feel-good platitudes, and then go on my merry or not-so-merry way. I agreed to write this book because I wanted this knowledge. I wanted to learn it, live it, and have a genuine experience with it . . . If you'll join me on you'll see regular updates from me. I will show you what I've done that week or that month to get out of debt . . . This isn't hype . . . this is real . . . it's working for me and it could work for you, too."

Enough said. Click on the website and order your copy. It will lead you on a journey of transformation that will not only help you improve your life financially, but it will open a door to a sense of peace that is not easily found in today's trouble world.

Monday, April 16, 2012

One Step at A Time

So there I was, minding my own business, having a nice walk with a good friend when the phone call came. I answered my cell phone, then wished I hadn't. A relative was in a coma, near death, and one of his last requests had been to have me sing at his funeral. Nice.

If this sounds like a less than stellar attitude, let me explain: our family has been enduring a very challenging time. Though we're all trying to keep a positive frame of mind, sometimes the heartache of what a loved one is currently enduring creeps through. And in my case, I never know when the tears will surface. One minute I'm fine, then not so much. I find this annoying as I hate to cry in public.

Back to the phone call: as I've mentioned before, I grew up in a musical family. Music is part of my soul. Music touches me in ways I can't explain. It can propel me to spiritual heights, and pierce my heart like nothing else can. Singing at funerals is difficult for me, in part because of that, and also because of loved ones that I have lost--and the fact that I have sung at most of their funerals.

Despite all of this, I usually try to come through for people when this request is made. I understand how hard it is to pull a funeral together and how tender hearts are following the loss of a loved one. Singing at funerals is one way that I can serve those who are grieving. But there is one song I've haven't been able to perform since my husband's brother passed about 4 years ago. I was called upon to sing a song at his funeral that tore at my heartstrings. The emotions of that turbulent time collided with that particular song and I couldn't sing it alone. Fortunately, my kids came to the rescue and performed it with me that day. Things went well for us the day of the funeral, but since then, every time I hear that song, I tend to have leaky eyes. I can't stand to hear it, and I was convinced I would never sing it again.

This was the song I was being asked to sing at the dying man's funeral this past week. As I stood in shock, gripping my cell phone, the good friend who was with me reminded me to breathe. Wise advice, and sometimes all that we can do in these type of situations. As I agonized over what I was being asked to do, silently praying for guidance (it's not easy turning down a grieving almost-widow's request) a strong sense of peace filled my heart, and I agreed to perform the song. I reasoned that the coma could last for a while, and I would have time to get my act together before being called upon to sing. Wrong. He passed away that night.

Long story short, this past week has been a blur. But following promptings, I survived. I called upon a dear cousin of mine to help me pull this song together. With her help, and an outpouring of peaceful support from heaven, we were able to sing the song that was requested, and kept our emotions in check. Prayers were answered in a big time way, and we witnessed a mini-miracle with how well things went.
Once again I learned that when I place my trust in the Lord, despite how painful the path ahead might be, it can be walked with His help.

The day of the funeral as I nervously paced the floor of the room where my cousin and I were hiding before the program began, a dream came to mind. This was a dream that had surfaced for me during another challenging time years ago. The dream began with me trying to climb a set of golden stairs. It seemed like it took every bit of strength and courage that I could muster to take even one step forward. Then my eyes were opened. I could see that a dark force was trying to keep me stymied in place. But angels surrounded me, keeping that dark force at bay as long as I was willing to keep moving forward, one step at a time. How high I climbed was up to me--the angels couldn't make the journey for me. I had to do that for myself, but it was impressed upon me that I would never be alone.

I hope I will remember the lessons relearned this past week. I suspect I may need them in the days ahead as I continue trying to press forward, one golden step at a time.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Upon Life's Billows

A writer friend of mine recently wrote a blog post about song lyrics and since I've always loved music (I come from a  musically inclined family) I decided to share a lyric that has been going around in my head this past week. I won't lie--it has been a tough couple of weeks for our clan. We've been hit from all sides (or so it seems) and it's tempting to sit in a daze and wonder what it was we did to deserve all of this. Among other things, a much loved family member is facing a serious health battle. To her credit, she is doing so with courage, spunk, and humor. In the middle of all of that, our basement (which was finished) flooded while we were out of town. We returned home to quite the mess and spent several days trying to salvage what we could. Since the water (spring run-off that filtered through our septic tank into our basement) was tainted, we had to discard most of what it touched. This included numerous irreplaceable family photos, 121 books, and other family treasures like our sons' yearbooks, mission letters, musical instruments, most of the furniture, etc.

Later on as we were returning home from Salt Lake City where we had spent an anxious few days at a  hospital as Kennon's sister faced a scary surgery, we were involved in a car accident. Fortunately, no one was hurt seriously, including the nice young man who ran into the back of our car with his motorcycle. We limped home with a loose bumper and a deep gouge in the back of our small hybrid, something we'll eventually fix.

I'll admit . . . when I walked back inside my home later that night . . . a home that is filled with boxes of items we were able to save from our basement adventure . . . I started feeling just a little bit sad about everything. Why was all of this happening to us--and all at the same time? Somehow it seemed a bit unfair.

Then I remembered the motto that Kennon's sister and I had come up with a few days ago as I faced an unthinkable mess in my basement, and she was facing imminent risky surgery: "Sometimes you just have to roll up your sleeves and dive in the crap." Words to live by . . . at least for us right now.

Yesterday was also a soothing balm as inspired Church leaders shared comforting Conference talks that hit spot on, as an English friend of mine would say. There were so many good things said about dealing with trials, and the music was also a source of calming peace.

This morning, a favorite hymn keeps going around in my head (I suspect Someone wants me to pay attention). The words are as follows:

When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings; name them one by one
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings; ev'ry doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by.

So amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all.
Count your many blessings; angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey's end.

(Count Your Blessings--Lyrics by: Johnson Oatman Jr.)

These are indeed words to live by. So while I continue to sort through basement items now stored in the garage that we still may have to throw away, I will strive to focus on the countless blessings that have been granted this past week. Kennon's sister survived  a complicated surgery. She is doing amazingly well and is gearing up for a couple of weeks of physical therapy to restore the use of one leg. No one was seriously hurt in the accident we were involved in. We all walked away injury free. And despite the fact that I had to throw away 121 books, I probably saved close to 400. Almost every item lost in our flood can eventually be replaced, and if not--they are just things. What matters most are the items that we can take with us into the next realm, like family relationships, memories, knowledge, and testimonies that are often strengthened when we are tested and tried.

This difficult time will pass. I've survived enough of them to know that is true. The turbulent seas will calm. Life will go on, and the sun will eventually shine again after the storm. Hope exists and blessings do, too, despite the billows life sometimes brings our way.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Letting the Sunshine In

In January I was asked to write/direct our ward's roadshow. Good times. ;) Our theme this year: "Pick an Old Testament Story." I pondered for a time, then settled on the story of Moses, and his task to lead the children of Israel to freedom.

This story has often puzzled me. Through the help of the Lord, Moses was able to perform miracle after miracle. And these weren't just small, ordinary, every day miracles that take place all around us. These were huge, unforgettable show-stoppers, like causing horrible plagues among the Egyptians, parting the Red Sea, producing water from places where water didn't exist, bringing down manna from heaven, etc. The part that has always bothered me is that no matter what wonders the Israelites witnessed, they weren't satisfied. They were always complaining and murmuring, not to mention misbehaving when, say, Moses did things like meet with the Lord to receive important commandments and laws.

So this was the story chosen. I called the script: "Attitude is Everything--Or Why Moses Broke the Ten Commandments." Each line rhymed (an annoying habit of mine when I sometimes compose these type of things) and it was full of humor. When manna from heaven "came down," a loaf of bread was hurled onto the stage for the "children of Israel" to fight over. The birds that fell from the sky were represented by a  rubber chicken that was also thrown onto the stage. Etc. and so forth. I was hoping the youth that were involved in this production would absorb the teaching moment I prayed this production would be. At the end, we sang a song I remodeled. The lyrics are as follows:

Open Up Your Heart And Let The Sunshine In
(Modified by: Cheri J. Crane)
My mommy told me something
That everyone should know
It's all about how life should be
One’s attitude does show

She says it causes trouble
When you frown the live long day
Unhappiness is your choice
If you choose to be that way!

So let the sun shine in
Face it with a grin
Smilers never lose
And frowners never win
So let the sun shine in
Face it with a grin
Open up your heart
And let the sun shine in

When you are unhappy
You make others sad
Being grumpy is quite sinful
It means your attitude is bad

So if you're full of trouble
And you never seem to win
Just open up your heart
And let the sun shine in

[Repeat CHORUS]

I was so proud of my cast when they sang this song for the final performance. As it rang out through the audience, I found myself praying that the message we attempted to portray would be absorbed. We live in a difficult time. Trials and heartbreaking challenges surround us. And yet, despite it all, there is hope--but it's up to us to see it.

As often happens in my life, a strong analogy came to mind, one that had hit me between the eyes several years ago. I had been struggling with a bit of tribulation and woke up feeling less than cheery. In a dark mood, I stomped around, attempting to get ready for the day. As I made the bed and straightened things up in our bedroom, a task I usually complete first thing each morning, I noticed that the lighting didn't look right. Then it dawned on me that I hadn't opened the blinds that cover the window. As I walked over to accomplish this simple task, bright sunlight flooded inside that room. At that moment, a thought came to mind: "It's up to you to let the light in. It exists. It's there, but only you can open the blinds."

I've pondered that wisdom periodically . . . usually on bad days when nothing seems to go right. My attitude is up to me. I decide what kind of day I'm going to enjoy . . . or suffer through. There are days, however, when despite good intentions and positive outlook, tears still surface and heartache pierces through. Some trials are so difficult, we can't walk that path alone. Those are the times when we must trust in the Lord. If we'll simply look (Check out the story about the brazen serpent, found in both the Bible, and the Book of Mormon) we can live. Peace can enter even the most shattered heart. I've seen this happen repeatedly in my own life and I know it's true. Though I don't always succeed, I do try to look on the bright side whenever possible. I suspect that is a huge part of the test we call mortal life.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Book Review: "Retirement Quest: Make Better Decisions"

Retirement. This word inspires several images. For some it may trigger a mental picture of plush condos in a southern climate. {Especially if you live in the frigid north like Bear Lake, Idaho. ;) } For others, it may conjure up something like this:

Some of us are rapidly approaching the so-called, "Golden Years," and it can be a tiny bit scary, considering the current state of the economy. Fortunately, there is now a book that can help us wade through the quagmire of the financial world. It's entitled: "Retirement Quest: Make Better Decisions." This handy book is written by John Hauserman, a CFP, and executive officer of Retirement Journey, LLC. John is a 5-star wealth manager and in 2011, he was named the Baltimore area regional ambassador serving on behalf of the Certified Planner Board of Standards. In other words, John knows what he's talking about. ;)

In the pages of this book you will find unbiased advice that illustrates the highs and lows of the financial world. John explains what can happen in the best and worst case scenarios when planning for retirement. It is a much-needed heads up for anyone who is trying to figure out a financial game-plan for the retirement years. Throughout the book you will find highlighted tidbits like:

"Those who choose to spend their energy longing for the mythical safety of a bygone era, or who fail to find their way to thorough and competent planning strategies are likely to find a very harsh reality waiting at the end of their rainbow."


"The widespread use of 401k and 403b retirement plans, and the forced discipline of automatic contributions . . . can, when executed properly, shift an enormous amount of wealth into the hands of the average rank-and-file worker."

John discusses the current state of the social security system and offers helpful ideas about how to cope with the changes that might be in store. He offers insights into risk management and counsel concerning investments. He also offers a no-cost, online interactive planning map for anyone who is interested in the financial planning process. (You can find it here: Retirement Quest Financial Map)

Toward the end of the book, John offers hope to anyone who is troubled by thoughts of retirement in today's economy: "For previous generations, retirement planning involved working for an employer for thirty or so years, retiring with a stipend, and dying a few short years later . . . Looking to the future . . . A worker who accepts the challenge of personal responsibility, builds a well-thought-out-long-term strategy, and invests accordingly may expect to build a significant amount of wealth. These assets can be used for retirement income, and may also provide an inheritance and legacy for families which might otherwise be destined to toil in perpetual financial want."

You can find John's website here: Retirement Quest and his book is available on this link at Amazon:
Retirement Quest: Make Better Decisions 

Monday, February 6, 2012

And in the Darkness--Light

I recently watched a very inspiring movie, entitled, "Soul Surfer." When I added it to my list of movies to watch from Netflix, I was impressed by the reviews, and that the storyline was based on something that really happened. I was unprepared for the impact this movie would have on me personally.

Now the title doesn't do the movie justice, but after seeing it, it is indeed appropriate. (Click on this link for more information: All About Bethany Hamilton) In a nutshell, this movie tells the story of a young, teenage surfer girl named Bethany Hamilton. She had already won several surfing competitions in Hawaii, and she was about to compete nationally when disaster struck: while out surfing one day with friends, she was attacked by a shark. This random act of violence caused Bethany to lose an arm. Her survival was miraculous, considering the loss of blood, and the distance she was from the nearest hospital.

While she was recovering, a wise doctor told her that she could still do anything she wanted in life--but that she would have to learn different ways to achieve her goals. Bethany still wanted to surf. Instead of giving up something she loved, a grim determination was born. She went back to the sea and her surfboard and despite several challenges, began to compete again.

When she lost the first competition, she was understandably distraught. She gave away her surfboards and decided she was through with surfing. In tears, she asked family members and friends why this had happened to her. She wondered how any of this could fit in with God's plan for her life.

I think there are moments in all of our lives when we reach that crossroad--when we wonder why certain challenges surface, some without warning. We are often left heartbroken, shattered, and questioning our faith. It can be a dark time, especially when the adversary sends forth his fiery darts. (Have you ever noticed that he tends to kick us when we're down?)

That is when we need to look around us for the light that is always there--even when we are shrouded in dark despair. I have found that those dark times are true character-building moments. When I have been driven to my knees--I have always found strength beyond my own. In my own life I have faced two life-threatening chronic illnesses (Type 1 diabetes & lupus) the suicide deaths of two family members (my father and my brother-in-law) financial setbacks, failures, and disappointments. I have survived two car accidents, one motorcycle accident, and as a teenager, an assault in the park across from our home at the time. I have accidentally poured hot oil over half of my body (this while working as a cook for a drive-in) and recently survived rolling a 4-wheeler down the side of a mountain. Through all of these, and other adventures, I have come to learn that no matter what it is that we are called upon to endure, we are never alone. Our Savior, who endured everything that any one of us would ever suffer, understands best how to heal our hearts. He will always provide a way for us to wade out of the dark pools of grief if we will simply look and live. (See 1 Nephi 17:40-41)

Now in Bethany Hamilton's case, she half-heartedly went with a youth group to offer aid to the survivors of the tsunami in Thailand. As she began helping others whose lives had been devastated, she found the hope to continue on with her own. When she returned to her home in Hawaii, she competed again in a national competition. She lost, but told her family she was fine with that since she had surfed one of the best waves of her life during the competition. "It's not about winning," she said proudly, thrilled by her performance. Incidentally, she went on to win this same competition the next year.

Not giving up is the key to moving forward when any of us are dealing with tragic loss or trials. Sometimes we need reminded of that fact. I know I did. It is important to look and live, so that one day we can return home to our Father with no regrets.

"And out of darkness came the hands that reach thro' nature, moulding men. " Alfred Lord Tennyson

Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas Cheer

In lieu of yet another blog post, I decided to share a few photos that best capture how much fun we enjoyed this past Christmas season. All of our immediate family came to Bear Lake to celebrate the holidays and as you'll see, we had a great time. My brother and his wife and daughters joined us, as did my youngest sister, and her hubby. My mother (who lives in nearby Montpelier) loved seeing everyone, especially her two great-grandchildren.

We began our festivities by meeting up with some of Kennon's family in Pocatello for a fun feast on the 23rd of December. Then we journeyed to Preston, Idaho with our son, Devin, and his wife, Emily, to enjoy the traditional festival of lights.

The next day was Christmas Eve and some of our clan enjoyed another tradition: the annual Crane Trapshoot Adventure. (Shooting at clay pigeons, they determine who is the marksman/woman of the year.) Kris, Devin, and Emily had a blast, literally. ;)

That night we enjoyed our annual Christmas Eve Feast. We prepared a plethora of tasty finger foods, plus Kennon cooked up some lovely tenderloin steaks, and our sons steamed up shrimp to go with everything. Here my mother, Genevieve, and my daughter-in-law, Emily, are posing with some of our creations.

Since the next day was going to be a bit crazy (Kris had to leave early the next morning for work; the rest of us were planning on attending church in our ward, etc.) we opened most of our gifts that night. Here Kris is enjoying an entertaining family photo book that Snapfish helped me put together for everyone this year.

Devin is showing off one of his favorite gifts, a fancy new phone.

Kennon looks on as I unwrap the gift he surprised me with: tickets to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert in Salt Lake City on the 28th.

 Derek and Kristen arrived with their cute offspring on Christmas Day. Here my granddaughter is posing with the adorable "Minion" hat her talented mother made.

Our grandson was also sporting a cute "Minion" hat. He took great delight in yanking it off in time to pose with his parents.

 We enjoyed a lovely Christmas Dinner, and then visited, played a variety of games, and watched a few fun movies. The next day, it was time to play in the snow. Here my nieces are posing with my granddaughter before playing in the white fluffy stuff.

 These girls had a great time riding the four-wheeler and hanging on for dear life in the attached sled.

Round two of the annual trap shoot. Kris drove back down for a couple of days, and he, Derek, and my brother, Tom, had a wonderful time blowing up clay pigeons. Later on, they would network between 3 computers and play an old school game, "Myth." A good time was had by all.

 Here I am, sporting my new Christmas Apron, a gift from a good friend. It came in handy as I continued to prepare delightful cuisine for everyone.

In this shot, my sister, Trudi, is posing with her new camera. 

 The next afternoon, Kennon and I left Hotel Crane in the care of our offspring, and headed to SLC for the concert. That night we toured Temple Square and enjoyed the beautiful lights.

 On the morning of the 28th, we enjoyed seeing several of the sights of SLC. Among other things, we journeyed up to explore "This Is the Place" monument, and visitors' center.

 We even made it out to the Tracy Aviary Park, which neither of us had ever seen before. It was a lot of fun, but things were turning off cold by then.

I think even the birds were a little bit chilled that day.

 We had tickets for the afternoon concert, so we headed to the Energy Solutions Arena shortly after eating lunch. It was a pleasant surprise to run into a couple of my cousins who happened to receive tickets to this same concert from their kids. Their seats were one row ahead of us. Quite the coincidence. We all had great seats and loved the show.

It was an awesome concert, something Kennon and I thoroughly enjoyed. If you ever get the chance, it's well worth seeing this band perform.

The holiday fun wasn't over yet. We enjoyed hanging out with some of Kennon's family at their condo over by Bear Lake on New Year's Eve. The next day, we savored New Year's dinner with my mother, and our son, Derek, our daughter-in-law, Kristen, and our wonderful grandchildren who were on their way home after spending a few days in Wyoming with Kristen's family.

Despite a silly camera battery snafu, we were able to recapture one of our 4-generation shots that was lost on Christmas Day. (Yes, I'm still pouting over that one. Grumble . . . grumble . . . complain some more.) We'll have to retake the one of Kennon's mother posing with Derek and his children. (Verdene had come down to join in the fun the day after Christmas.)

I think everyone had a great time. I apologize that not everyone's pictures made it into this post. My silly camera had issues during the holiday week and not all of the shots taken turned out, or even survived. (See grumble, grumble, complain some more comment above.) It was great seeing everyone, and to me, that's what the holidays are all about: spending time with loved ones.

Happy New Year!