Monday, November 12, 2018

The Overdue Blog Post: It's About Time (No, it really is about TIME)

  Image result for clocks and watches

  Life is crazy and I’ve been trying to think of a blog topic for weeks. Between substitute teaching, my church calling, and endless family drama (ask me about the tenant we evicted from our NC house -- no, on second thought, don’t ask), my writing has been on the back burner for months. I. Hate. It. I’ve been sewing quilts to feel like I’m accomplishing something. The only problem is that every time I go to the fabric store, I think of new quilts I want to sew, and the writing gets more neglected. Yesterday I sat down to read over the few chapters of Vesta Divided I wrote somewhere back in September, and drew a total blank on what I planned to write next. Even with the book’s detailed outline on a piece of paper next to my laptop. Help, someone kidnapped my muse, and I think the villain is Time.
  I’m convinced we are our own worst enemies when it comes to beating ourselves up over how we use our time. For example, the time I spend on Facebook since I signed up for it could have been used to write six novels by now. Instead I waste time online, arguing with strangers over Constitutional rights and posting photos of the quilts I’ve sewn. I know it’s a black hole for my time, but why do I spend hours on it?
  Why is time so easy to waste? When I’m at work, I want to be writing. When I’m doing housework, I want to be writing. When I’m reading or editing someone else’s work, I want to be writing. When I’m writing I want to be actually writing instead of moving commas around and changing my indent spacing.
  As a creature of habit, I have a few requirements that need to be in place for the writing muse to visit. You might call them excuses (you can omit ‘might’), but I’m not one of those authors who can write anywhere and keeps a daily word count goals. (NaNoWriMo? Get thee hence!) I must be at my desk, in front of a window, room temperature ideal, and no distractions. Which means if my family is at home, I’m not going to get much done.
  To be fair, I’ve trained my family not to talk to me when I’m at my desk. If the matter is urgent (like the house is on fire), they can interrupt after I look up from whatever I’m typing. For years my husband couldn’t understand why I got irritated by what he considered reasonable interruptions – “What’s for dinner?” “Who cares? Go away.” “Do we need to pick up (name of son) from work?” “By ‘we’ do you mean ‘me’? Go away.” – Until I painstakingly explained to him that stopping in the middle of a thought or sentence was maddening. “Can it wait? Then go away!”
  I consider writing the highlight of my life, so why isn’t the bulk of my time focused on it? Am I so distracted that I can’t rescue my poor muse and keep her safe in the land of no distractions? Don’t I want to finish my book? (Yes!) So what’s the problem?
  There’s a season for everything (cue music, “Turn, Turn, Turn” by the Byrds) and since I’m not in school (as a student), don’t have small children at home, don’t work full time, and am not in the middle of renovating my house (yet), I should have tons of time to write, right? How I envy authors who manage to crank out 5,000 words a day with small children, a full-time job, and a house renovation in progress! I should be the master of time, not its servant, so what to do?
  Getting off the internet would be a start. Keeping my phone in my purse where I can’t hear it beep when I get a text. Stop reading – that’s like saying “stop breathing” – but books are a distraction for me. Stop loading new ebooks onto my Kindle (staying offline would help with that issue). Delegating chores like meal preparation and laundry to my fully-capable adult sons would make life easier. The job I can’t cut back on, or the calling, and I can’t ditch my family (although sometimes I’d like to), but I can figure out where my time management goes off the rails and fill that void with writing.
  Guilt is never good motivation to get things done. If all we did was give, give, give, we would be hating life in short order. Yes, there are things we, as functioning adults, are obligated to do every day. But “take time to smell the roses” is important too. So some days I waste an hour or two reading, cooking something decadent (and eating it), painting my toenails, texting or having lunch with a friend, or staring out the window at the falling snow, but these selfish moments help recharge me for the next round of duties.
  As we get into the Christmas season, doesn’t it feel as if we have even less time to work with? Suddenly the calendar fills up and stress levels rise. I evaluated how I spend my time in December years ago and came to the conclusion that I would be happier if I gave up baking. Less cleaning the kitchen. Less weight gain. And since I’m off gluten, there’s no temptation lying around to be consumed. It’s a win-win because I feel less busy, less stretched. Christmas is about Christ, right? Not cookies.  
  So I’m done rambling – I think. My goal is to stop wasting time where I can and get back to writing. What will you do with your time? Is it your servant or your master?


Monday, June 25, 2018

Utah: A Transplant's Perspective

            Utah: Life Elevated – that’s the message on the license plates, but does it ring true for the people who live here? Having lived in hot and humid North Carolina for most of my life, the cross-country move to Utah last August took my family way outside our comfort zone. I’d been to Provo and Salt Lake City a few times, so my expectations for Logan were low. I was pleasantly surprised by the area. There is no other word to describe Logan except ‘beautiful.’
As an outsider, I was familiar with the stereotypical Utahan, who is LDS (Mormon), has a large family, an even larger garden, and always seems to be smiling. Many Utahans come from pioneer ancestries and the surnames reflect that heritage: Benson, Bingham, Eccles, Hansen, Jensen, Jorgensen, Larsen, Madsen, Marriott, McConkie, Monson, Mortenson, Olsen, Nelson, Petersen, Smith (got lots of those), Zollinger – and that’s just in my ward (LDS congregation), which covers four square blocks of my neighborhood. Contrast that to my former ward which covers fourteen square miles. All of our neighbors are Mormons like us. Is that cool, or is that kind of weird? Maybe a little of both. Here’s what I’ve observed about the natives:
Utahans love the outdoors, and who can blame them if you live in Cache County? It’s absolutely beautiful with rolling fields, Logan River, farms, mountains, Utah State University campus, and an old-fashioned downtown, crowned with the Tabernacle and the Logan Temple, which can be seen from almost any spot in the valley. Most Loganites (is that a word?) own an ATV, camper, boat, mountain bike, skis, or all the above. We live right at the mouth of Green Canyon, which is a beautiful place to bike and hike, and we’re just two miles from the mouth of Logan Canyon, which is spectacular year-round, and offers a forty-mile scenic drive to Bear Lake, which is also gorgeous. Did I mention this place is beautiful?
It’s true about the big gardens. Most residents have one, plus fruit trees, and some have chickens. And we’re not talking about farms – we live in the suburbs. These are backyard gardens that are kept green with ‘water shares’ – another Utah quirk. It’s dry here so the pioneers took advantage of the snow-capped mountains, moving the melt waters down into the valley for the spring and summer. Logan has lots of canals, and most houses can tap into them for irrigation water.
Let me mention the houses because they’re all different. I come from an area of cookie cutter neighborhoods with militant HOAs that must be appeased to paint your shutters a different color, and they send you stern letters if you leave your garage door open for ten minutes. There’s none of that in Logan unless you want to pay a premium to live in a fancy neighborhood up the mountainside (called ‘the benches’ in Utah-speak). Logan is a hodge-podge of architecture. If you find a spot of land to build on, you can build whatever type of house you want, and people have been doing it for 150 years. Brick ranches sit next to Craftsmen, with a smattering of modern, farmhouse, and what-were-they-thinking houses. It’s never boring. People often sell the back portions of their long lots so there are interesting newer houses built behind old homes on ‘flag lots.’ There are no two houses alike, which is refreshing when you come from cookie-cutter.
And you can never get lost! The numbered grid street layout is unique to Utah, although I think parts of Idaho and Arizona do it too. It’s so easy to find your way around. Sure there are streets with names, but you have to pull out Google maps to find them. Once you know where you are on the grid, it’s easy to find your way around. And it’s no exaggeration that there are LDS chapels on every block. We can walk to our church building, even in winter. It’s only two blocks from our front door.
Speaking of houses – most Utahans have a unique room in their basements (everyone has basements!) called ‘cold storage’. This is where the suburban farmers store their food. All those lovely cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, green beans, tomatoes, corn – Loganites have to do something with them, so they’re canned for later. Most cold storage rooms also have a bin for potatoes. Potatoes are inexpensive since we’re so close to Idaho, but these spuds are nothing like the fist-size ‘Russets’ you buy at Walmart. These are the size of footballs. Two are all you need to make mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner. Utahans love to grow, freeze, can, and otherwise preserve their own food. Being self-sufficient isn’t just a lofty goal here, Utahans take it seriously. Ever heard of a ‘case lot’ sale? This is when the grocery stores sell canned goods cheap, by the case. We like our cold storage rooms, and we prefer to keep them full.  
Speaking of cold, let me be the first to say I love the weather here. Yes, we get snow. Lots of it. Unlike NC, where a dusting shuts down everything for days, Utahans adapt well to snow. We shovel the driveway and get on with our lives. The summer is shorter, but that’s a good thing. The air is dry so it’s actually difficult to work up a sweat – unlike NC, where you sweat anytime you step outside the air conditioning from April to October. Here, we run the AC maybe ten days the entire summer. It cools off at night so we leave the windows open and enjoy the night air. Did I mention there are very few bugs? Yes, I relish the long snowy winter because it means no mosquitoes!
Let me get back to my original thought: Life elevated. The people here are genuinely friendly to LDS and non-LDS alike. They make great neighbors. There is little crime (I can only speak for Logan – I know the rest of Utah isn’t perfect.) Even if you’re not LDS, you might appreciate the temples that dot the state. Each is unique, beautiful, and important to the LDS faith. I’ve only been inside a few but hope to visit them all. The temple is the pinnacle of our faith, and I urge you to attend any temple open house so you can see inside the House of God before it’s dedicated. (After dedication, only members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in good standing can enter the temple.) The covenants we make in the temple are sacred, not secret. To me, ‘life elevated’ is reflected in the spires of the temple, to know that families can be together forever.
Enjoy the journey. Look to God and live. I could say a lot more but I know I’m rambling at this point. I’m thankful we moved to Logan, Utah. It has elevated our life in ways we couldn’t have imagined. This NC transplant is very happy here.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

My Love Affair with Harry Potter

  My oldest son was in fourth grade when I first became aware of Harry Potter. His grandmother gave him a copy of Goblet of Fire for his birthday. It was 2000 and I was amazed that his class was reading such a large book together. My interest was piqued when I poked around in a few bookstores and saw that Harry Potter was popular in young adult fiction, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. I had five young children and didn’t have time for reading except when I locked myself in the bathroom. 

  My fourth grader decided to dress up as Harry Potter for Halloween that year. Since Hogwarts cloaks weren’t as available in stores as they are now – and we didn’t have much money – we improvised a costume with a black graduation robe with a hand-drawn paper Gryffindor crest pinned on the chest, and we drew glasses and a scar on him with eyeliner. He looked legit.

  When Sorcerer’s Stone hit theaters in 2001, my husband took my sons to see it. It again flew under my radar. We rented the first movie when it came out on DVD and went to see Chamber of Secrets in 2002 as a family. I went back to see Chamber of Secrets again by myself during the day when the kids were in school and preschool. I realized then I needed to read the books on my own. I also started reading the series aloud to my kids. You don’t realize how long the books are are until you start losing your voice about 25 pages into a single chapter.

  Being an author myself, I was a bit disappointed in the first book. I could tell JK Rowling was new to writing. She had a great idea and was creating an interesting world, but some of the scenes seemed not well thought out. (Example: Harry overhears Snape and Quirrell’s argument by following them into the dark forest on his broomstick – no invisibility cloak. It would have been impossible for him to get close enough to hear them without being seen.) It didn’t surprise me that many publishers turned her down (I’m sure they’re kicking themselves now) on Sorcerer’s Stone. The movie presented the plot more logically, in comparison. (Harry is under the cloak when he eavesdrops on Snape and Quirrell.) Book two was better and by book three, I was hooked.

  When Order of the Phoenix was published in 2003, I dragged my older sons to the midnight release party. We didn’t dress up, but I seriously considered it. I sat up and read Order of the Phoenix that same night, until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was one of those people who waited with bated breath for each book to be released.

  I liked the movies well enough (I went to see them more than once in the theater) but I loved the books. I read and re-read them when I probably should have been doing other things, like making dinner.

  I knew I was besotted with Harry when I started writing fan fiction. I created an American school of magic (long before Rowling wrote the screenplay to Fantastic Beasts) and new characters who used the same spells I knew so well from the books. I never published any of it, but it was fun to write. It rekindled my love of writing, which I’d put on hold while I had babies in diapers and toddlers determined to destroy the house.

  I couldn’t help but admire JK Rowling’s tenacity in her quest to publish and her endless imagination. I like fantasy but science fiction has always been my favorite genre. Naturally, any author would love to be as popular as Rowling, but to create a cultural icon on several continents is definitely a rare feat. With her work as my inspiration, I got serious about my own writing. Whenever my ideas run dry, I pull out the books and read them again, back-to-back. Last summer I read the set in three weeks. My family didn’t get many home-cooked dinners during that time. Or clean laundry. Nada.

  Over the years, I have come to know Harry Potter intimately. In 2010 when Deathly Hallows Part 1 came out in theaters, my husband was able to get two tickets to an IMAX pre-screening. I took my oldest daughter to see it. Before the movie, they held a trivia contest with various T-shirts and knick-knacks as prizes. The grand prize was a complete set of the books. My hand was the only one in the air when they read the final question: What was Snape’s mother’s claim to fame when she was at Hogwarts? I shouted out that she was captain of the Gobstone’s team. I knew the answers to the other trivia questions but waited to answer the last one to get the grand prize. My daughter was embarrassed by how excited I was to win the books. Yes, I’m a total Harry Potter nerd. I own a wand and lots of Ravenclaw apparel – the house I belong to – and I have a Pottermore account.

  The books have also helped me connect with my youngest daughter, who has learning disabilities. She has no reading comprehension. I had the idea to read the Harry Potter series to her. Since she had seen the movies, I thought she might be able to envision what’s happening as we read the books. It took us three years to get through them. Many details not in the movies were hard for her to envision, but her eyes would light up whenever I read a scene that she remembered. We would often pull out a DVD and watch the scene again to jog her memory. She now owns a wand and a Gryffindor T-shirt, but she doesn’t go crazy for Harry like I do.

  In 2017, my husband had a work conference in Orlando, Florida. Although Orlando is home to a huge number of theme parks, including Disney, I wanted to go with him for one reason: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We went and I had the time of my life. My husband’s never read the books and hasn’t seen the movies past Chamber of Secrets (he didn’t like Dobby) so I had to explain many details to him, but that didn’t diminish my thrill at being in the park. Yes, we paid $7 for a butter beer, but it was worth it. It was a wonderful experience and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves Harry Potter. Even waiting in lines for the rides is entertaining as you get to experience Hogwarts castle and Gringotts.  

  My five oldest children are grown now and roll their eyes whenever I mention Harry Potter or suggest we watch one of the movies. They know I’m hopelessly in love with a cast of fictional characters and the fictional world they live in. The universe JK Rowling created inspires me to be more creative in my own work, and for that I will be forever grateful to her.