My Quiet Battle with Lupus

I feel great.

I know it’s backwards to write about a disease when I feel great, but feeling great seems so foreign now, I’d almost forgotten what it felt like.

I have Lupus.

Lupus is an auto-immune disorder which means my body doesn’t get along with itself and decides to attack different systems in completely random order that–ironically–fits well with my random, spontaneous personality. 

Speaking of personality…

In spite of having a blog, facebook, website, twitter, and a whole other host of social media platforms I interact with daily, I’m actually a private person. Extremely private. I’m borderline hermit. I love talking to and with people, but I keep a lot deep down. I live inside my head. Usually, my hubby is the only one who really knows what’s going on. (Poor guy). Which is why I haven’t talked about my disease before on here or any of the other places. But…for some reason I feel the need now.

I have Lupus. It stinks. It’s annoying. But oh well.

Continue reading “My Quiet Battle with Lupus”

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Josh Wright Concert, Classical Pianist

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I wasn’t planning to post today, but I had to drop a quick note about the concert/fireside I went to last night by Josh Wright, classical pianist.

Wow.

I’ve been blessed to know many talented people in my life. I’ve known people who can create things out of nothing and turn the seemingly boring into a masterpiece. They’re crazy talented. And then…

There’s the next level up.

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I’ve been drawn to music since I was little

My mom is a composer and hymn arranger, as well as a piano teacher. My dad is a huge classical music fan and knows the classics better than most. Since the time I was born — in the womb even — I was exposed to all that music.

I started playing the piano before I can remember. I formally started lessons at five. I can play most songs. I sight-read fairly well. I love playing classical music best. I’ve taught piano for twenty years now. I write music, both religious and classical-style piano. I have perfect pitch and so does my husband. I feel somewhat confident in my musical abilities.

Until I go to a concert like that.

Wow.

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In an hour’s time, Josh Wright played — and this is just a guess — twenty million notes

At least it seemed like it.

He was all over that piano, but he played effortlessly. I’ve been to other classical piano concerts and was almost tensed up because I could feel their strain to get it right. But Josh’s music was peaceful and soothing. My favorites were his arrangements that combined classical songs with other familiar songs, like the hymns.

I appreciate Josh’s abilities so much more because I’ve attempted to play a few of the classical pieces he played. I get about three measures in before I’m whipped.

Kind of like when you watch the Olympic figure skaters, and you think to yourself, “Man, I haven’t been skating in a while. I should go.” And then you take that first step on the ice. That’s when you appreciate the magnitude of their talent.

Take this song…

I can play the first few measures. You know, all the easy octaves. :) But after that it’s over my head, or fingers, or whatever.

Crazy Liszt.

My kids loved the concert, too. (Hopefully I won’t have to beg them to practice this week.) My daughter nailed it when she said he plays with so much expression, but he doesn’t overplay. Their favorite song was the Water Song by Ravel.

Now we’re all jazzed and ready to up our musical abilities.

We’re ready to walk out onto that ice.

What’s even better is Josh is a super nice guy. Same with his wife, Lindsey, who is also a classical pianist and treated us with some beautiful Chopin. Both of them were down-to-earth and humble. Josh didn’t shy away from the spiritual either and spent some time talking about his LDS mission.

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Get the CD

So, although I hadn’t planned a post today, I had to tell you to get Josh Wright’s CD if you don’t have it already. It’s beautiful. It hit #1 on Billboards Classical Music chart in just two weeks. His music takes classical music and adds the religious to it, my two favorite genres. I’ll be listening to it all day as I write my novel and work on my seminary lesson.

Good stuff!

(Also, you can pre-order his next CD, My Favorite Things. You can buy his sheet music, too, if you’re feeling daring. I know I am. Check it all out here. Or find his website here.)

Thank you, Josh, for sharing your talent!!!

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Speaking of super-talented people, come back tomorrow for more MARCH BOOK MADNESS, with Whitney-Award nominee, A. L. Sowards.

See you then!

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PS) You know that little notice in the front of books about how all characters are fictional and any likeness to real people is just a crazy coincidence. Yeah. I wrote Sadie a LONG time ago. Don’t think I’m creepy. Apparently people named Josh just really love to play classical music. :)

March Book Madness Is Going To Be Awesome!!!

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I’m soooo excited for MARCH BOOK MADNESS! Some amazingly talented people have agreed to share their thoughts with us, and I know I’m going to learn a ton!

MARCH BOOK MADNESS starts Tuesday, March 5 with Charissa Stastny, discussing how to weed out those pesky words.

See you then!!!

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PS) Here’s a picture of a cake we got yesterday. Yes, that’s a cake. Amazing, right?

DON’T MISS ANY POSTS:

I made the Switch!!!

(blogging)

I just switched from Blogger to WordPress, so excuse my dust while I get my feet back under me. Thanks for your patience. You guys are awesome!

If I can make this work, I’ll let you know how I did it, since a few people were interested in switching as well. Until then, if you could comment below and let me know if your old subscription to my Blogger site redirected you here, that would help. I’m really hoping it worked. *crossing fingers

First Lines Can Make or Break You

(writing)


My middle-school-aged daughter sat down to do her homework yesterday with a grunt. When I asked her what was wrong, she explained that instead of the normal two pages of science text she had to take notes on, the teacher had given her ten. Ten! She was anxious to get to her friend’s and concluded that all teachers hate kids. While I might agree at times–privately–I told her what every good mother would. “Buckle down and get it done.” Oh, and, “You’re not going to your friend’s until you finish.”

To my surprise, when I walked into the room five minutes later, she told me she was finished. Ten pages. Done. Just like that. My suspicions were pricked and I said–again–what any good mother would. “How?”

That’s when she informed me. “I just copied down the first line from each section. Easy.”

I’m pretty sure my eyes popped out.

“Wait!” Her hands flew up in defense, anticipating the coming flood of reproach. “Don’t freak out. The first line is the most important. It tells me everything I need to know anyway. All the other stuff is fluff.” Then she proceeded to read me the first line of each section and I found my fight slipping.

She was right.

I hate it when my kids are right. That first sentence summed up the whole section perfectly. Sure, the details weren’t there, and I wouldn’t recommend this style of studying for any student, but quite honestly with that one sentence, I knew exactly what was coming. But like all good mothers (not that I am one, but I pretend sometimes) I told her that didn’t count and to redo her notes.

Now . . . my mother hat is off. My daughter is in school, hopefully getting a decent grade on her corrected notes. I’ve since donned the writer’s hat, and here’s the question I’m stuck with:

Are your first lines boring?

How is my first sentence?

Not just for the beginning of my book–although that is vastly important–but for each chapter? Each section?

As authors, we want nothing more than for people to be unable to put down our book. Right? One of my favorite compliments starts something like, “I stayed up until 2 this morning finishing your book. I just started it yesterday.”  Yeah. That always makes me smile.

Part of this can’t-put-it-down trick comes from ending chapters correctly. Anyone can end a chapter at the end of the scene. Boring. How about ending it at the climax? Force people to turn that page. 

The first time I read The Hunger Games I read it for pleasure. The second time I read it as an author trying to learn. And that’s exactly what I learned. End your chapters at the very pinnacle of emotional tension. Here are just a few examples from Suzanne Collins.

****SPOILER ALERT

Ch. 16: “For a moment, everything seems frozen in time. Then the apples spill to the ground and I’m blown backward into the air.”

Ch. 9: When Peeta is on camera talking about the girl he’s had a crush on since childhood and Caesar hints that if Peeta wins the games and goes home this girl will leap into his arms. The last paragraphs of the chapter (and section) end with Peeta telling Caesar in front of the world (and Katniss), 

“I don’t think it’s going to work out. Winning . . . won’t help in my case . . . because . . . she came here with me.”


End of chapter. End of section one.

Who in there right mind isn’t going to turn those pages? Suzanne Collins is the master of ending chapters. But she’s also the master of starting them.

If the next chapters launched into a description of the capital’s flowers blooming in the spring, or a fancy, colorful dessert being offered to the tributes, we might have set the book down and gone to bed like normal, responsible people. But no. That first sentence of the next chapter tells us exactly what we need to know: Our hearts can’t stop pounding quite yet. The ride isn’t over.

Ch. 17: “The impact with the hard-packed earth of the plain knocks the wind out of me.”

Ch. 10: “For a moment, the cameras hold on Peeta’s downcast eyes as what he says sinks in. Then I can see my face, mouth half open in a mix of surprise and protest, magnified on every screen as I realize, Me! He means me!” 

Before you know it as a reader, you are flipping through pages without any idea where a chapter starts or ends because here is the secret, Suzanne Collins cheats. Yep. Absolutely completely cheats. Those two examples weren’t chapter breaks. They weren’t even page-break worthy. They were separate paragraphs at best. And it works. You’re so desperate to find out what happens, you forget to sleep, dress yourself, or feed your kids, and finish the book in a day.

So back to my point. I think many authors have caught onto the last sentence cliff hanger idea. I tried that trick early on. But it took me a few years and a stiff comment made by a dear friend to realize my beginning sentences were severely lacking. I got the reader to turn the page but lost them in the first few words of the next chapter, because let’s face it, they were tired and their kids (and own selves) needed food.

Not my concern. And if you’re an author, it’s not yours either.

Sounds heartless, I know. But every author’s job is to make readers forget their life (however wonderful or horrid) for just a few moments, hours, or even days. That’s why we read. To escape. To pretend we don’t have 30 loads of laundry waiting for us, our boyfriend didn’t just dump us, or we’re stuck in a low-paying job with no end in sight. Reading is escaping. Yes, it’s learning too, but that’s secondary. Escape. Pretend. Find a happy ending that often doesn’t exist in real life.

So…how are your first sentences? 

Do your readers HAVE to turn the page? If so, what will they find?



Before my little episode with my daughter yesterday, I forgot to guard my beginnings. So I will throw them out to you without editing, because that would be cheating, and while I plan to cheat soon, I won’t right now just to self-check. Here are the first sentences of my current work in progress, a sequel to Sadie, tentatively entitled, Augustina. 

Ch 1: “The funeral of Sarah Augustina Dawson was held on a Thursday, in the church her mother attended for thirty-five years.”  I’m smiling as I type, because I love that opening. A funeral. Of the main character. Call me crazy. :)  

Moving on.

End of Ch 3: “I can’t do this anymore,” she whispered. She grabbed her crutches and stumbled out the door.” Not bad. 

Start of Ch 4: “The winding roads from Kalispell to Missoula were icy and slow, elongating the already long two hour drive.” Eh. I was bored copying it for all of you. Not a good sign. Needs work.

End of Ch 5: He slid his hand into hers and said, “Okay. We’re ready.””  Okay, I guess. I’m hoping readers will want to find out what they’re ready for. 

Start of Ch 6: “Things are going well, Mr. Vasquez. The markets are turning around.”  This one probably means nothing to you unless you’ve read Sadie, but this is the first we’ve seen Guillermo (the bad guy) since the end of book 1. I’m hoping the reader will be desperate to know where he is and what he’s up to, so I think it works.

Okay, I looked for others, but most involve spoilers. I think you get the gist, though. So here’s my challenge. Let us see your first lines. Whether that’s the first line of your book or just a chapter, wow us. Or even just throw it out there to see it for yourself, separated from the rest of your amazing words. An honest look. And if you’re extra daring, throw in the last line of the previous chapter as well. In return, I’m hoping you will comment on the previous commentator’s lines (nicely) and maybe even offer a suggestion if you think you can help (nice suggestion). 

Let me restate for clarification. First person to comment can comment on my lines and then share their own. After that, just comment on the one above you. Or, if you want to just quote your favorite first lines of any book you’ve read, that works, too. 

How does that sound? Let’s try it. 






Talent vs. Hard Work?



I received an e-mail last week from my kids’ school on “smart kids,” also known as academically gifted, and I’ve been thinking about the concept every since.

The gist of the email was based on an article called, “How Not to Talk to Your Kids: the Inverse Power of Praise,” by Po Bronson (you can read it online here) which talks about a study done on academically gifted students.  

After scoring well on a test, one group was told, “Wow. You’re so smart.” The other group was told, “Wow. You must have worked hard.” The results were a little surprising. The kids who were praised for working hard scored much higher down the road than those who were praised for being smart. 

Why the difference?

Because the kids who were told they were smart got it in their heads that they were born smart and therefore things should come easily to them. If something started to become hard, many would quit and say, “I must not be good at that.” The risk of failure and not being “smart” enough was too great.

Whereas the other group which was praised for their hard work knew that regardless of the outcome, working hard was something they could control. They were willing to try new things and like I mentioned, ended up scoring 30% higher on academic tests down the road.

Lesson?

I know people are born with natural talent. Michael Jordan. Michael Crichton. Michelangelo.  (Apparently I have a thing for Michaels today.) Michelle Kwan. (Ha, threw a girl in there). And yes, natural talent is a great thing, but it’s not the only thing. In fact, I’m starting to think it plays much less of a role than any of us realize.

Michael Jordan could have been born with the most genetically-engineered basketball genes in the history of mankind, but it wouldn’t have done him an ounce of good if he’d never hopped off his couch and shot some hoops. Day after day. Year after long year. Michelle Kwan used to wake up at 3am so she could practice before school. And the second school was over, she was back in that rink. 

The Sistene Chapel didn’t paint itself. 

I guess I keep hearing a lot of “I could never do that because…” from my kids, people I know, and even myself.

Like my oldest son who told me he could never play the piano like his younger sister because she was born with more musical ability. Yes, she is very musically inclined, however, she’s also spent ten times longer (without exaggeration) on that piano bench than he has. Why doesn’t that count for anything?

But I fall into this same trap. I look at people I consider talented or intelligent and think, “Man, I wish I could do that.” In spite of what I think, I can run a marathon. I’m just choosing not to.

So maybe we should stop focusing on how talented or smart people are and start focusing on how hard they work. At the same time, we should stop selling ourselves short.

No more, “I can’t _____________ because ______________.”

I no longer buy that theory.

Because really, the best stories, books, and movies in the world are based on people who ignore the “I can’t” adage and decide it can be done.

Never underestimate the power of a little blood, sweat, and tears. 

What do you guys think? Talent vs. Hard Work?

Friday Funnies: It’s official, I’m a fish murderer

(laughing–when I shouldn’t)



Note to self: When writing a post entitled “Choose to Have a Good Day” be prepared to have two weeks of…well…how do I put this…not-so-easy-to-have-a-good-day days. 

It’s been uncanny. 

You know the saying, “When it rains it pours.” These past two weeks it’s been pouring like a typhoon. In a hurricane.

When the phone rang for the third time in a week at 10:00pm (we go to bed at 9:30), I looked at my husband and said, “What next?” It wasn’t even all directly affecting me, him, or my kids. In fact, most of it was stuff happening in our immediate families, our friends, or people around us which only made me feel more helpless. I couldn’t fix the problems, I could only listen. Without burdening you with the details, I’ll just sum it up by saying that the last two weeks have been heavy.

Anyway, last Friday I struggled to come up with something for “Friday Funnies.” If you check back, you’ll find that I never did. That was in part because I was extremely busy that day, but mostly I was just drowned out by the rain. 

This morning as I was driving my kids to school, I realized it was Friday Funnies today.

I started to wonder what ever possessed me to want to do this little blog post each week. “Do I really have to search my entire lousy week for something funny?” I wondered. When the better half of my brain answered “Yes!” I started thinking back, which sadly lead to me making a list of everything that had gone wrong.

When I got to last night and the last thing to add to the list, I started laughing. Yes. Laughing. I was sitting in the carpool line laughing at…no one. 

Why was I so amused by the last thing that went wrong this week? Because last night is when I finally snapped. Have you ever had that happen when everything in life is going wrong and suddenly, one more stupid, tiny, insignificant thing happens and suddenly you’re hysterical with laughter? That was me.

Here’s the story.

My middle child — a true, neglected middle child — has been wanting fish for some time now. At a garage sale last November he found a little fish bowl for $2. He happened to have $2, so he bought it and we promptly became the proud owners of two twenty-five cent goldfish.

My son was so excited about his goldfish. He named one Gill (in honor of What about Bob?) and the other Oscar. 



I will say that having two goldfish has been great for him. He’s been very responsible feeding and caring for them. So much so that for Christmas he got a full 15 gallon tank from Santa. Within a week he was the father and caretaker of eight beautiful fish of different shapes and sizes. It was great. Life was good.
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Lesson #1: Goldfish and Tropical Fish don’t mix 

By January 6ish, we were back down to five fish. My fault. You live and learn (well, those three fish didn’t, but I did). We spent a few nights talking about whether fish go to heaven, and Gill and Oscar went back into their small bowl. Life resumed it’s happy pace.

Yesterday, my son started freaking out upstairs. “My fish is dead! Oscar is dead! Oh no, Oscar! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to kill you!” (He has the tendency towards the dramatic.) “I didn’t mean to! Oh, Oscar! I’m so sorry!”

I ran up the stairs and sure enough, beautiful orange Oscar was floating at the top of the water. Poor Gill wasn’t looking so hot either. He was lying on his side on the multi-colored pebbles, breathing laboriously. And if you don’t think a fish can breathe laboriously, just ask my son. 
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Lesson #2: Even small fish bowls need to be cleaned — in fact, quite often 

My fault again.

Since this little bowl doesn’t have a filter like the 15-gallon tank, it always seems to be dirty and gross, and as I mentioned, things have been a little busy around the house with all the rain going on.

It didn’t take much to figure out that Oscar was dead and Gill was nearly dead because of my neglect — I could barely see Gill through the murky water. Gross. If I had any hope of saving Gill, I had to clean the bowl. But first, I had to dispose of the dead fish. 


Lesson #3: Don’t buy fish nets that are bigger than the opening to the fishbowl.


I couldn’t get the square fish net into the round bowl.

The only way to flush Oscar was to dump some of the water into the toilet and hope he would float out easily. He did. Something finally went right. Oscar was flushed to his watery grave. 

Gill was still floating sideways in the bottom of the fishbowl, so I determined he needed some good fresh water. That meant pouring out more of the murky water into the toilet.
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My son was crying behind me and I turned the briefest second to console him. Mid-pour. 


Lesson #4: Don’t turn when pouring fish water into a toilet

Next thing I knew, my son stopped isn’t crying. His face went completely blank. He’s staring at the toilet.

I turned back just as the screaming started.

Poor Gill was now flailing sideways in a new bowl, the toilet bowl. 

That’s when I started laughing. 

My son was bawling his eyes out, but I’d had a heavy two weeks and something inside me just snapped. I quickly pulled it together and went through all my options. Fish the fish out with a net that’s too big? That was too gross on too many levels. And quite frankly, Gill was basically dead anyway. The poor thing couldn’t even swim straight. So I made the rash decision. 

I flushed. 

A good mother would have chosen differently, she would have found a way to save nearly-dead Gill from the toilet, even if only for a few more hours of precious life, but quite frankly, I’m not one of those moms. My son will probably go to counseling some day for what happened, but such is life. There was no way I was fishing that fish out of the toilet. 

So I’m officially a murderer. I had a chance to save a life and I didn’t. And did I cry over the lost life? No. I laughed. I’m a horrible person, or at least my son thinks so.

Does anyone else do this? Laugh at the most inopportune times? 


Choose to Have a Good Day!

(learning)


My daughter was telling me this morning that the announcements came to her class last Friday. I asked her what that meant and she explained, “We got to lead the Pledge of Allegiance for the whole school. Then we said, ‘Choose to have a good day’ right after.” 

Choose? Surprised, I looked at her and said, “That was a nice thing to add.” 

She said, “We say that every day after the Pledge.”


Maybe my daughter has told me this little ritual about her new school before, but for some reason it stuck with me today. 

“Choose to have a good day” 

Not “Have a good day,” or “I hope you have a good day,” which are two phrases I use often as my kids rush out the door.

Her school doesn’t even say, “Try your very hardest to have a good day and chances are, you will.” But they use the simple word, “choose,” and they use it each and every day.


Interestingly enough, I taught a lesson yesterday in my church about this very thing. I teach an adult class on the Book of Mormon every Sunday (Gospel Doctrine)–which I love–and yesterday’s lesson was about a young man named Nephi.

Nephi was the fourth son of a prophet who lived in Jerusalem around 600BC. This prophet, Lehi, was told by the Lord that his family must leave their home, their beds, their gold and food, and travel into the desert. Nephi’s older brother’s weren’t too keen on this. In fact, they complained quite regularly throughout the journey. In all fairness, their travels were under extreme conditions–think Saudi Arabia in mid-July without any modern-day conveniences. They’d probably never lived out of a tent before. Probably never walked that far in their life. There wasn’t much fresh water or shade. There wasn’t a Delta Airlines flight to take them where they needed to go. There wasn’t even a Taco Bell around the corner when they ran out of food. So when Nephi’s bow broke–their only source of food–the complaining went hog-wild (without the hog). 


I tried to picture myself in the heat of a desert, without food, watching not just myself, but my entire family including my little kids starving.

Quite frankly, I would have been in the front of the line at the complaint department.

Even the prophet Lehi was dragged into the murmuring. But not Nephi, good old Nephi. He had this attitude that the Lord commanded them to leave, so they might as well make the best of it. He went out, found some wood (in the middle of a desert) and made his own bow and arrow. All without complaint. Needless to say, he came back with enough food to save his entire family, including all the complainers.

In short, he chose to have a good day. 

Too often I get sucked into the popular and all-too-easy notion that things are forcing me to behave a certain way. I didn’t get enough sleep so I’m going to be grumpy today. The kids are fighting so I have to yell back. Yeah. Not cool. But what makes this extremely uncool is that my attitude affects the entire family. My husband might be grumpy, or one of the kids, and the rest of us get along just fine. But if Mom’s grumpy? Forget it. The domino effect takes all of 10 seconds and suddenly the whole family is grouching at each other. It’s horrible, but it’s my reality. It all starts with me. 

So…

I’ve set the goal for this week at least, that I will CHOOSE to have a good day each and every day. It’s a choice. It’s a choice. It’s a choice. Maybe if I tell myself enough times (and put it in writing), it will stick. Like I taught yesterday, attitude changes actions and I’m ready to change some of mine. I’m hoping that if I have a good attitude, not only will I choose to have a good day, but I’ll find a way to actually MAKE it a good day. Or as my friend likes to tell me, “Fake it ’til you make it.”

One of the most inspiring stories of this kind of attitude is Viktor Frankl, a well-known Holocaust survivor. His pregnant wife was taken and killed by the Nazis. His parents, too. Even his brothers. Viktor was stripped of his clothing, his pride, and everything in the world that mattered, yet he chose to remain positive in those concentration camps, which in turn ended up saving his life. He lived to be 92 and spoke often of his experiences. If you don’t know who he is, google him or look him up in your local library. His life is truly inspiring.

One of his most profound quotes is this: 


“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the
human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of
circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” 

So today and tomorrow and the next day, I’m going to choose to have a good day.

Attitude changes actions

Anyone else with me? Fake it ’til you make it?